The idea of minimalism is largely known to people in some form or other. However the term minimalism being used to represent this idea may not be very popular or mainstream. The interesting part though, in my personal experience, has been that those who do know the term minimalism have strong opinion on it. They might be strongly in favor of it and consider it a life enhancing tool or they might be strongly not in favor of this and consider it a waste of time and a blight on human nature.
I was largely unaware of this term a few years ago. And I don’t remember when I did start understanding the term but I remember calling myself a minimalist at least a few times in the last 5 years or so. I happened to watch a documentary, sometime in 2017, on Netflix called Minimalism and that helped coalesce some of my thoughts into more coherent opinions. If you would like to watch it, check out this website.
Merriam Webster defines Minimalism in context of art, music or design as a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity. However in the context of this blog, Minimalism can be defined as (by myself), a way of life (or philosophy) that pertains to living sustainably without the need or desire to accumulate material goods. It can be used as a verb or an adjective. Now that we have set some context, I want to add a disclaimer that I cannot call myself truly a minimalist based on how I live. Not yet.
Why did I get attracted to this idea? There are 2 major relevant reasons:
- Based on the Global Footprint Network data, we (all humans on earth) consume enough resources that we need 1.7 earths to survive sustainably. However if we all lived like an average American, we would need 5 earths to survive sustainably. The reason we can continue existing with this math is because we are utilizing resources faster and we are definitely doing this at the cost of future generations.
- Human psyche wants things it does not have, especially when advertised attractively. But it may not need these things. And it definitely will not utilize all the things that it has simply because the novelty wears off. This is why sharing economy like Uber and AirBnB is becoming extremely popular. Because we have more than we need or can use and at some points we are starting to put these extra resources to use. Let’s take an example: There must be 1000’s of vacation homes in US that are used in summer (not 100% but at least somewhat) that just lie vacant rest of the year. There are millions of cars lying around on this planet that are not used more than once every month.
There was also a big personal reason: My need to organize things. When I start organizing my material belongings, I ended up always with a bunch of items (10-20%) that are un-necessary. I might have bought that shirt assuming I love it but never ended up wearing it. I might have collected 20 USB cables, always convincing myself about how I need 1 in each room, 1 in my bag, 1 in office, 1 in wash room etc. But I don’t need 20. I don’t need 3 cellphones or 3 laptops. I don’t need 4 tables or 2 cars. For that matter I do not need 20 pairs of jeans. I probably need 2, I might want 3, I can have the luxury of 4 even. But 10 is just wasteful.
My mental definition of not wanting to accumulate things I did not need was also driven by trying to make financial decisions. Money was always a limited resource. So should I spend the $100 on buying another jeans or getting that fitness tracker?. Should I spend $500 on a good smartphone with camera or $300 on a phone and $300 on a good camera?
The more I asked myself these questions, the more I started to find accumulating things as wasteful. The final nail in the coffin was my mental need to move cities (or at least apartments) every year or 2. Every time I need to move, I realize how much junk I have accumulated. And each move made me question my purchases even more.
So at this point, I can confidently say I am trying to be a minimalist. I can’t say I live sustainably. But I feel like I definitely do not like accumulating things that I don’t need. These are some of the things I do:
- Be very careful on buying clothes: I honestly do not feel like I need 5 pairs of shoes or 10 pairs of jeans or 20 shirts.
- Sell something when I buy something
- Buy things after asking myself: how was I living without this? And how long can I live without this?
- Thinking about how I would get rid of this item if I needed to is a big deterrent in buying things.
- Consolidate multiple objects into one. Like having the same cell phone doubling as a camera, tablet and phone.
- Wishing that I could use the same laptop at both home and work.
- Recycle things responsibly.
- Donate things you don’t need instead of trashing them. A lot of people in the world can really use the things you are about to trash.
- Try to use the public transit as much as possible.
Obviously not everyone agrees to these ideas. At the core of this is our desire to be at par with or higher than our social circle. Some of it is also the need to be different from people around. This means we will continue to consume things (and resources) in a manner that is not sustainable. A lot of this accumulating and consumption also comes up to bite you (and be a big problem in future) when you have to deal with getting rid of these items or pay for the up-keep / maintenance of items.
One final note. Asking yourself How did I live without this thing? And how long can I live without this thing? Is very important part of living sustainably. The answers to these are not simple Yes or No. Sometimes you may be able to live without something but having it provides convenience or comfort. In most cases there is no rule book around what’s the right answer. Sometimes it might be useful to rephrase the question into Can I live without this object without any difference in quality of my life and comfort? If the answer to any purchase is Yes, perhaps a second thought before buying is warranted.