Minimalism Today

I just deleted my whole Quick Thought about Black Friday, Cyber Monday and sales. (I’m actually not against them though I don’t exactly participate.)

My thoughts on minimalism have changed massively since writing Luxury of Less 2+ years ago (original release was October 2010!). I was a bit embarrassed when I last read it. Actually, if it wasn’t for the e-mails I get from new readers I would stop selling it. But if it helps people that’s more important than my silly embarrassment. (To clarify: I’m still fully on board with most of the ideas, but the way I presented them was lackluster.)

I’ve been looking at life more often as a big experiment. To keep myself in check I ask myself, “What if I’m wrong about X?”

Example:

“What if veganism really isn’t the healthiest diet?” (My first reason for a veg*n diet is compassion for animals, but health is also important.) It’s tough to find the truth, but we know that veggies are generally the best products we can put in our bodies. We also know that eating lots of meat is unhealthy. I’ve ragged on the Paleo Diet a lot, but if it has one thing going for it it’s that it focuses on something like 90% veggies and essentially no refined carbs (except cheat days). (I think the name and comparison to people who lived so long ago is silly and terribly misguided.)

To get back on topic, a good question to ask is, “What if I’m wrong about minimalism?” What if we actually need stuff? Should I fill my life with DVDs and general stuff again? Should I buy more gadgets than I’d use? Do I need more stuff to be happier?

The answer is no. An overabundance of stuff is unhealthy. A cluttered life is a cluttered mind. A cluttered mind breeds lack of focus. Lack of focus is stressful. Stress kills.

But I’ve bought stuff while here in Poland that I wouldn’t have bought previously due to my “minimalism.” I’ve bought a blender, a humidifier, a guitar, and 6 board games.

I use the blender at least 4 times per week. I originally only planned on staying in Poland for 4 months, but a cost/benefit analysis of buying a blender vs buying smoothies came out on top for buying even for such a short period of time. Buying 4+ smoothies per week isn’t cheap and I don’t get to control the ingredients. (My go-to smoothie lately: 1 bag of greens, 2 bananas, cup of plant milk, cup of water, flax oil, green beans, almond butter, other random fruits, and an avocado when it’s ripe! This makes 2 “meals” which I consume 2-3 hours apart.)

I use the humidifier often. Indoor winter air is dry and I already have dry sensitive skin. I don’t use this every day (too much moisture isn’t great either), but when I had a chest infection recently I used it non stop for a few days. Is it absolutely necessary? Definitely not. Does it improve my life? Definitely yes.

I play the guitar every day and I’m stressed if I don’t have one. Thinking about buying an electric guitar and amp because I miss playing loud and fast.

The board games are probably the most “non-minimalist” purchases. But I play them about once/week with a group of friends at various cafes around town as well as regularly at home. Games I have: Cards Against Humanity (has Creative Commons license so I printed it myself), Backpacker, JengaMistrz Słowa (to help with Polish language), Geniusz (aka Ingenious), and Checkers. Are all of these games necessary? Probably not. Do they get used? Yes. (Jenga, Cards Against Humanity and Backpacker get the most use.)

Is this stuff “minimalist”? Not by a traditional definition. But my definition of minimalism is: buy what you need to live a happy life and nothing more. In other words don’t be wasteful. Minimalism isn’t about stuff. It’s more about mindset.

Point is: don’t be wasteful, but don’t think you’re not a minimalist (if that’s your bag) just because you own and buy things.

Extra note: Buying stuff on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, et al. is smart if it’s stuff you were going to buy anyway. I think other “minimalists” miss this point.

{ 14 comments… add yours }

erik x. raj

Buy the electric guitar and amp. I am sure you can get a decent chunk of your change back after you sell them before you leave Polska. Acoustics are great and all but sometimes we need that distortion!

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Karol

That’s a good point. I always forget that stuff like that can be sold so it ends up a “rental fee.” Thanks Erik.

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Andrew

This is also something I’ve thought of. My girlfriend said to me yesterday, as I was cleaning my brand new glasses – “how do you expect to be minimalist if you focus so much on your material things?” – I was baffled by her question. Taking good care of one’s stuff certainly does not make them materialistic; in my view, one who lacks care for their things may be more so, being wasteful or inappreciative.(also, labeling oneself can be limiting in ways) Buying things that are needed isn’t so unnecessary – If one needs a car to get to work, market, etc. then that is necessary. Does that same person need a all-the-bells-and-whistles BMW, no. And on the reverse, for the person who has all they’re needs in biking or walking distance, a car isn’t necessary, and might be just a material urge. Something my mum says is that, with more things may come more responsibility. Like you’ve said once, minimalism isn’t JUST about getting rid of stuff and stuff and stuff. While that is a first step, there is a certain mindset. That mindset is something I feel that people are starting to grow into.

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Karol

I’m fully on board with you in regards to taking care of things. It doesn’t make us materialistic to want to extend the lives of the things we do buy.

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R. Silver

Hi Karol,

Another great post. I definitely consider myself a minimalist, but for me, it’s about getting rid of all of the junk I don’t really like, that I feel I need socially. Now, I /could/ only listen to music through my headphones, but I also enjoy, like, and use my speakers. Is that anti-minimalist? Maybe. But minimalism is about what works for you, so I think you did nothing wrong.

However, remember that if and when you stop using these items, don’t keep them around because you might like them again/spent good money on them. I think that is also very important to minimalism.

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Conner

Being a vegan and previous health/workout nut, I would drink 2 smoothies a day, one for breakfast and one after workout. Mine was a hand blender like this:
http://www.woyano.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/KitchenAid-KHB300WH-Hand-Blender.jpg

Compact, easy to clean, easy to use, has 1 million different uses. While smoothies are expensive, I think the cost was worth the benefit because it was my primary method of fruit consumption. I don’t have mine with me now, but I wish I did. After 2 years without a smoothie it’s been on my “Things I miss the most” list, which would qualify the blender as a possession in my book, even though I try to keep it minimalist.

I agree with you though, it doesn’t matter how many things you have, it just matters how much you use the things you have and how much happiness or freedom from stress they bring you.

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Karol

I missed daily smoothies for about 3 years. You could say I *needed* the blender. :)

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Raam Dev

When I realized a few years ago that minimalism was being defined as this aspiration towards having nothing, I changed the way I used the word and began calling it “practical minimalism”, which is a term that I define as ‘the application of principals that bring clarity to life and which help promote the creation and maintenance of sustainable abundance’.

As a side note, I had a free email series running for a while called Six Steps to Practical Minimalism, but I took it down when I switched to MailChimp. This post reminds me that I need to turn that series into a free ebook.

I think of minimalism as knowing our enough and then striving to live within it. To find our enough, we need to identify what’s important to us. You know that a blender and a guitar are important to you, so owning them becomes part of what it means for you to live within your ‘enough’. Remaining extremely mobile and having all my possessions fit within one small backpack are important to me, so a blender and a guitar don’t fit within my life.

If we both strive to understand what’s important to us, then we can work towards living within our ‘enough’, an enough that will change throughout our lives. And it’s through living within our enough that we can avoid overconsumption and greed and balance personal satisfaction with sustainability.

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Karol

I’m fully on board with people figuring out what enough is for themselves. I wrote about that in Luxury of Less as well.

It’s an interesting exercise. What if your house were to burn down but you had a few minutes to save inanimate objects? What would you save? I think that’s a good start to understanding what we care about. If I had the chance I’d grab my computer and my guitar.

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Momekh

thank you thank you thank you.
Minimalism is sometimes gauged by the number of items. But it’s always qualitative and not quantitative. I think if one “gets” the 80/20 principle, he or she can’t help but be a minimalist.

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Karol

Interesting re: 80/20 principle. Hadn’t thought of it in terms of minimalism.

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Annie

I understand exactly where you are coming from with the minimalist thoughts! When I moved here I only brought what would fit in my van but when you’re raising a kid you need things like refrigerators, a way to cook (hot plate, currently), microwave–stuff like that at the least. While I know in my heart I could pack up my laptop, toss in a few clothes and be okay the kid likes having things around that make home “home.”

Also, I see no point in doing without something you actually use (like your blender). Less can be more but only if it is kept within reason. I don’t see myself living out of a backpack (unless we’re traveling) any time soon so there is no logic in depriving myself of useful things.

I’m glad to hear from you again!
Peace,
Annie

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Dan

Thanks for the great message in your post, Karol. I feel privileged to always have “enough.” My wife and I have pared down our possessions to live in a camper and be full-time RVers. The more I got rid of, the freer I felt (and even more privileged).

I discovered that if I did not have a financial need to recoup some financial value from an item I don’t need any longer, the joy of giving it to someone who has a use for it is payment in full. I enjoyed having it for a while and using it, and I enjoy passing it along. It’s just another part of “owning my stuff instead of my stuff owning me.”

I think I’m pretty far from being a minimalist, but I’m living better and better all the time.

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Michael Tannery

Great post. Like what others have said here, it’s really about what’s important to you. I recently moved out after I broke up with my boyfriend, and I felt immensely free when I realized everything I owned fit in my truck. I had clothes, my personal electronics, my KitchenAid (I love to bake), my Blendtec blender, and just important paperwork. I left all my furniture with him. I get to start my life again, but that’s the adventure.

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