I used to be an unrepentant adherent of minimalism. Well… in a way that someone who goes to church at Easter and Christmas is a Christian. I really liked the concept, but serious quantifiable action has, up until this point, eluded me. A lot like an uncommitted jihadist. While supporting the cause I am unwilling to pull the trigger, spread myself thin and paint the world in my blood, ball bearings and fecal matter.
I jest with religiosity because to the faithful, minimalism is a lot like a religion. There is only ONE way to salvation/happiness. The problem I find with minimalism is that it’s the exact polar opposite of maximalism. Which is, apparently not a real word. How can something be diametrically opposed to something that doesn’t exist? This is beginning to taste a lot like conspiracy.
You know what I mean, insane excess, which is combated/countered by owning as little as humanly possible, thereby bringing balance to the force, goodness to the word and freedom to Tibet (or bringing back a sadistic theocracy depending on how you feel about the Dalai Lama).
My first problem with minimalism is that it has crappy champions. This shouldn’t ‘actually’ be #1, but I feel the need to start somewhere. After all every movement needs a figurehead. Someone we can look up to and rally behind, someone that will hold the standard high, that embodiment of perfection, the epitome of all that is holy. Movements need to have charismatic leaders. Maybe I’m in a minority of one here but I like my crusaders to have just a schmear of chutzpah. Minimalists tend to be really weird or just plain creepy. The sort of person that would cause concern if they parked their van near a children’s play ground. I find it difficult to take life style advice from these sorts of people.
My second issue is that everyone that gets into minimalism used to be maximalist! Again I realize this is not a word. When you listen to converts it almost always starts off like this, ‘Well I used to earn a six figure salary’. This immediately gets me riled up and mounting up my hobbyhorse. What does that mean exactly? And I quote…
For us, it all started with a lingering discontent. A few years ago, while approaching age 30, we had achieved everything that was supposed to make us happy: great six-figure jobs, luxury cars, oversized houses, and all the stuff to clutter every corner of our consumer-driven lifestyle
Did you earn $100,000 or $999,999 because there’s a slight difference between those numbers. If you’re going to brag don’t be ambiguous, do it properly. Clearly you want my mind to drift to the upper end of that bracket. Otherwise you wouldn’t have been so vague. Which means, even though you were unhappy before you were a minimalist you still feel the need to impress me with the size of your salary and your corporate success. They want you to know that they were better than you before they discovered minimalism. And they’re better than you now that they are a minimalist.
So let me break this down, you used to think owning lots of stuff and having lots of money would equal happiness. But then you had some life-changing event, and you realized your Prada’s and Bently didn’t really equal happiness. So you flipped your lid and did the total opposite. You’re basically a zealot who flip-flops between extremes. Extremists fly into buildings. And that’s not good for you. Or anyone else really.
Thirdly, Minimalists, like Catholics lay the guilt on thick. I own 51 things. Not me. But there are people out there who Instagram their possessions. This is a weirdly competitive thing that happens among devout minimalists, who can live with the least stuff. Sub fifty as understand is the sweet spot and also incidentally when you get awarded your gold star. You also get to judge other minimalists that are less accomplished than yourself, and get REALLY uppity with people who own more than two pairs of shoes. Do shoes get counted as one item or two? (why we need decent and informed leaders who can clarify these sorts of things)
I do think that you should be suspicious of anyone selling you a lifestyle though. Especially a lifestyle that draws you in by making you feel unhappy/or guilty about the way you’re living right now. Always ask the question, ‘how does this guy, or how do these people make their money?’ People with book tours, movies and a podcast… It just makes me weary. It feels like the commodification of a lifestyle and we are here to sell you the handbook. Just like we used to sell you a cell phone.
I’d like to postulate some sort of alternative. Stuff doesn’t equal happiness. I think all of us know this. We don’t necessarily act on this knowledge but we could all acknowledge this basic truth (if for example someone held a gun to our head) Less stuff doesn’t equal happiness either though. Happiness is not a function of stuff at all. Minimalism sometimes gets us there through a form of placebo. A journey towards minimalism by default is always started through introspection. We examine our lives, realize that we are unhappy and then take steps to rectify the situation.
For some that means giving away all their worldly possessions and paring down to the bare essentials so that they can concentrate on what really matters to them. I don’t think that’s a requirement though.
I’m not extolling the virtues of either extreme. Consumerism and this insane ‘competing with the Jones’ mentality is, in my opinion, incredibly damaging to us all. Way more than minimalism could ever be. I’m most concerned about this apparent lack of middle ground. A mythical center point on the seesaw where we are satisfied with what we have and don’t feel the need to tip toe in any particular direction.
What’s wrong with being a normalist? You know someone who is happy with where they are and with what they’ve got. I’m not saying normalists don’t have any ambition or leave their designation up to fate, it’s just that they are mindful of where they are at and appreciate their place in the universe. Above all they employ reason and logic in their decision-making and interactions with our world and all its denizens.
Look at me, full of hubris, setting a benchmark for the world on how they should behave. If you want to send me money because I changed your life you are very welcome. I will donate it to charity. Or burn it. Depending on how I feel that day.