Minimalism: Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about nothing.
I wouldn’t call it anything like an embrace of the void. I’m not that advanced. I’m talking about minimalism.
It occurs to me that I’ve known very few poor or even middle-class minimalists. They’ve all be pretty well-off.
When you’re poor and have — literally — nothing, life really kinda sucks. You want things. Your whole existence is canted toward mere survival: Food, shelter, warmth. To have things, just about any thing at all, seems a great benefit — even if it’s just a tarp to huddle under in the rain. You’re fixated on things.
Then, if life gets easier, some things are taken for granted while other things are seen as displays of wealth. Once you’re at the point where your life is about accumulating more things above and beyond those needed for survival, any remaining complaints are about relative deprivation. Your heart aches for that new Telsa or a nice party barge and a big SUV to tow it to the lake. Or maybe you just deserve a better watch. And life is good. But you’re still fixated on things, just as you were while living under the tarp.
But eventually, you realize you’re in an arms race against your fellow man to have the most things, and there’s not enough of you to enjoy all the things you have. You end up paying late-fees for insurance and registration on vehicles you don’t have the time to drive (like I once did). At that point, you start to see things as detriments.
But you’re still fixated on them.
So some well-off people have turned this revelation into a sort of cultic worship of the minimal. They’ve seen the error of their ways and are now trying to get back to what they consider sanity.
The trouble is this: None of them seem anxious to surrender all of their money and live a really minimal, threadbare poverty. Neither are they realizing the real answer to the problem of “things”. No.
So they clean out their junk drawers and sell the cars and move into a tiny house, keeping their focus on living as minimally as possible, in some cases keeping count of their possessions. In some ways it’s a race to nirvana by means of a competition to see who can live on the scarcest material basis.
The thing is, the people who need to work jobs and actually live in reality can’t afford to clean out their junk drawers. Say that they need to fix one of their kid’s shoes. There’s probably some glue or tape in there they can use. Maybe they have a tube of epoxy they bought months ago, used once, and kept around in case it was needed again. Maybe the moulding comes off the doorway and they need a nail to put it back in place. It’s good to have a pile of loose hardware around, sometimes. It beats driving to Home Depot and paying $4.99 for a pack of screws when they really might only need one.
Perhaps if they had tried to live the ideal, minimalist lifestyle, they would find they have only screwed themselves. I don’t think you’re really experiencing minimalism if you can just suddenly not act like one at all thanks to the simple use of an American Express card.
So, just as with other idealisms, minimalism is best honored as an ideal rather than a lifestyle.
Right now I live in a 1000 sq. ft. condo. I use about 400 sq. feet of it on a daily basis. It’s nice to have the extra space, but I don’t let it bother me. It’s not hurting anyone, and renting a 400 sq. ft. apartment around here wouldn’t be much cheaper.
In the corner of the living room there’s a stack of old stereo equipment I should probably do something about. I don’t really feel any pressure to do so. I might end up using it one day. Same goes for the plastic bins of cables and adapters from DishTV receivers and such I used to own. Some of them can be useful on other projects. Beats buying new. But I probably wouldn’t miss them if I donated them.
In addition to a small car I have an old pickup. The truck is paid-for and costs about $25 every two years to register, and really nothing extra to insure. It comes in handy sometimes for my non-profit work and for transporting bikes. If I had to get rid of it, I wouldn’t cry.
Truth is, I really don’t care. I’m a minimalist about caring about things.
Maybe the minimalists are on a journey. Maybe eventually they’ll get to the point where some things are enjoyed, and the rest are there but just don’t matter most of the time. I think that constitutes the real freedom they seek. That’s the destination.
Because being fixated on not having things is — in some ways — very similar to being fixated on having them.
It’s still all about the thing.
BTW: One thing that DOES matter to me is my new novel. The lead character ends up with the clothes on his back and his guitar and not much else, but that’s not what causes the movement of his soul. Check it out at www.diamondtbook.com