Minimalism Unpacked

What images pop into your head when you think of ‘Minimalism´? For me, as I am sure for many others, it is a scantily furnished house or a person presenting a closet that only has a few articles of clothing. Before tossing in my two cents worth, let me bring you through (what I understand to be) the basics of this lifestyle phenomenon known as Minimalism.

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The What.

Minimalism is a denouncing of consumer culture and society’s obsession with having and owning more. As the spokespersons  at the forefront of the resurgence of this movement, the aptly named The Minimalists present it this way – ‘(Minimalism is) a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favour of focusing on what’s important, so that you can find happiness, fulfilment and freedomit’s using simple tools, having a simple wardrobe, carrying little and living lightly.” Put simply, figuring out what matters to you by only keeping your essentials, achieving greater clarity and subsequently personal happiness as a result.

Minimalism is as much as process as it is a lifestyle, there are no hard and fast rules and how one chooses to practice it can be best described as being on a spectrum. On one end, practicing minimalism in the strictest sense would mean living life devoid of the passion to possess. On the other end, one could look at everything he possesses and perhaps due to his sentimental and/or utilitarian nature (or hoarding tendencies) everything has a value or a use. To him, everything is deemed essential to him but that does not make him less of a minimalist.

However, there is an unspoken presumption – constantly owning more will not bring you happiness. It is recognised that individuals who turn to Minimalism are unhappy or not as happy as they would like to be, despite owning what they own. However, something must be said for those who have worked hard and see their ability to own branded goods, properties, cars and the like as a direct reflection of their hard work and success in providing for themselves or their family, which in turn brings them happiness. In short, the fundamental idea that owning more cannot bring you happiness (which is repeated to no end in articles and documentaries) is merely a presumption, and not a universal objective truth.

My Few Cents’ Worth.

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What I find troubling is the overemphasis on owning less, or should I say, as little as possible. At least that is what social media is portraying Minimalism to be. There has been an upshot in videos and articles by self-proclaimed minimalists, ‘showing off’ how little they own. This is misleading. Owning little or less is more often than not, the likely result of one pursuing a Minimalist lifestyle, although it is acknowledged that one’s number of possessions could be a gauge of the impact of Minimalism in one’s life and does provide one with somewhat of an instant gratification. Personally, I find this a consequence of the cultural behemoth that is social media, exacerbating one’s need to show off and receive affirmation from others. Silly as it may sound, we do not get a trophy for owning less than someone else. One’s approach to Minimalism cannot be taken wholesale and applied on another person. Do not let the quantity of your essential possessions be an indicator of how ‘successful’ you are should you choose to apply minimalism to your life.

If Minimalism is predicated around the removing of the superfluous in your life, why is it so laser-focussed on physical goods and not extended to people? Granted, I am someone with a low social battery. I fully support a variant of minimalism whereby distant acquaintances or negative individuals should be removed from one’s life. Personally, I believe that this would be that much more effective in helping one attain emotional clarity.  On the other side of the coin, physical goods are passive, and Minimalism arguably serves as a reminder that their presence in one’s life brings no further value, utility or happiness. People, on the other hand, have the keen innate ability to expressly showcase its negative presence in one’s life. No reminders are needed.

Another element of Minimalism that I struggle with is the direct correlation between clearing one’s excess possessions/ one’s lowered passion to possess and one having a clearer, freer schedule. Most people have day jobs, family and many other extraneous obligations that keep us occupied. Minimalism cannot be viewed in a vacuum, that would mean it is both impractical and unrealistic. Unless you habitually seek retail therapy a few hours a day, I am simply unable to understand how clearing possessions and shopping considerably less can have a noticeable impact on one’s schedule.

Is It For You?

Let me be clear, I have nothing against Minimalism. In fact, when I look at my wardrobe and the amount of memorabilia piling up in my room, it is obvious that I am holding on to things that I do not necessarily need. However, the cynical realist in me does not believe that minimalism guarantees one personal happiness. It merely helps one to reassess priorities and primes one to explore as many personal sources of happiness as possible. Happiness is not a device that can simply be switched on and off.

Cheesy as it may seem, Minimalism is just another lens in our never-ending pursuit of happiness – a recurrent overarching theme that would no doubt pervade my future writings. More importantly, when embarking on such endeavours, manage your expectations, exercise your prerogative and be aware of the perimeters of the information being presented to you.

‘Do what makes you happy.’ To do what makes you happy, you need to first find out what makes you happy. Perhaps Minimalism is the preliminary step to that phrase.

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