7 Steps on the Road to Minimalism

Road

40% of happiness is based on activities we choose to do, minimalizing demands on our time and money will help us have more power to choose our activities

Henry David Thoreau had the right idea: I make myself rich by making my wants few. But, modern man continues to drown himself in a plethora of gadgets, cars and McMansions he can’t afford, going to work at jobs that increasingly demand more than 40 hours a week out of his life and mentally and physically drain him, taking the joy out of living. Ironically, drowning our sorrows with stuff only makes us feel even more sorrow when we have to watch money come in and money go out every month, powerless to stop the machine.

Do we really  own the things we buy or do they own us? Today, it would appear most people are slaves to fashion, slaves to gadgets, slaves to fancy cars, and slaves to their McMansions. 2,500 years ago, Chinese philosopher Confucius told about the virtues of not judging our self worth with what we own:

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.

In the 21st century, there has been an underground movement away from lives of consumption and consumerism, one termed minimalism. Contrary to its name, minimalism is not about deprivation. It is about focusing our energy on things that really make us happy. Since cutting down from the fancy apartment and two new cars I “owned” when I was a materially rich but financially broke cog in the corporate wheel, to today fitting everything I own into 3 suitcases with money in the bank, I must say there is truth to that statement. I am focused on things that really matter to me rather than acquisition. The Minimalists blog goes on to explain the concept of minimalism:

Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.

You do not have to go live in a cave or in a yurt to benefit from minimalism.

That doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with owning material possessions. Today’s problem seems to be the meaning we assign to our stuff: we tend to give too much meaning to our things, often forsaking our health, our relationships, our passions, our personal growth, and our desire to contribute beyond ourselves. Want to own a car or a house? Great, have at it! Want to raise a family and have a career? If these things are important to you, then that’s wonderful. Minimalism simply allows you to make these decisions more consciously, more deliberately.

With the basic concept of minimalism explained, here are 7 ways we can simplify and minimalize our lives.

Kitchen

Minimalism is about focusing on the things that really make us happy

The List

7. Stop doing so many things at once. Work follows people home, and they’re often chatting with friends, checking work emails, doing household chores, and several other things at the same time. Health Day reports this is one of the most insidious drivers of stress in our lives, and cuts the quality of the work we are doing.

“Because of all of the new electronic gadgets like cell phones, tablets, and other personal digital assistants, multitasking has exploded,” says David Meyer, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. “Doing several tasks simultaneously may seem like the height of efficiency – and it would be, if a person had more than one brain. In the real world, multitasking actually wastes time and reduces work quality,” Meyer says.

We are no longer living life as much as we have turned it into a problem to be solved or a product to be purchased. Slow down, unplug, take time to stop and smell the roses. Downshifting to a less hectic lifestyle can help reduce stress and improve overall quality of life. For most, this will mean creating a long term plan to first extricate themselves from debt slavery, then downshift to a life they can more easily afford, with the eventual goal of working less in a pursuit one truly enjoys but that might not make as much money. One of the bright spots is once this goal is realized, the newly minted minimalist can tell their boss to Take This Job and Shove It.

6. Cut screen time. We now spend an average of 11 hours a day on various electronic screens. Between the computer, tablet, TV, and smartphone, 68% of our waking hours are spent immersed in fantasy, mental masturbation, or working on screens. This is obviously too much time and it is taking us away from family, friends, the outdoors, and other worthwhile pursuits. Here are the average times spent on various devices, as reported by Nielsen.

  • Live TV: 4 hours, 51 minutes
  • Radio: 2 hours, 43 minutes
  • Smartphone: 1 hour, 25 minutes
  • Internet on a PC: 1 hour, 6 minutes
  • Time shifted TV (Tivo, etc.): 33 minutes
  • Game console: 13 minutes
  • DVD/Blu-Ray: 9 minutes
  • Multimedia device (tablet, etc.): 7 minutes

Of course, as with any study that averages usage your mileage may vary. Personally, I have not had a television in my home since last year. Anything I need to watch, I can watch on my tablet or PC. Going by the average, that has freed up around 35 hours a week (almost a full work week!) for me to read, write, and research.

5. Kill debt with a vengeance. Because of consumerism and materialism, which has implanted the idea of buy this and you’ll be happy into the minds of the masses, most people are financially totally out of control. Nearly half of all Americans would not be able to pay their bills if their next paycheck didn’t deposit, and two-thirds do not even have enough in savings to cover a $1,000 or even $500 unexpected expense or emergency. Rather than making excuses, what it really comes down to are priorities. Statistics tell us 81% of households below the federal poverty line somehow have managed to acquire cell phones and pay the bill each month.

4. Possessions are a prison. Too much stuff drains our bank accounts, our energy, and our attention. There are also the hidden costs of ownership of each item we buy, and often one purchase leads to another and another of endless accessories. The most valuable things in our lives usually aren’t things, but experiences. A quote from the Classic Grumpier Old men film, flawlessly delivered by the great Burgess Meredith illustrates this idea.

Well, let me tell you something, Johnny. The first 90 years, or so go by pretty fast. Then one day you wake up and you realize that you’re not 81 anymore. You begin to count the minutes rather than the days and you realize that pretty soon you’ll be gone. And that all you have, see, is the experiences. That’s all there is. Everything! The experiences! You mount the woman, son. Or else…send her out to me.

Ask yourself, when in life have you felt the best? Perhaps on vacation, free of the burden of things and obligations and clutter. It’s just you, the beach or a backpack, and a girl or some friends. Why not adopt that mentality every day?

3. Declutter. The average American is bogged down with an incredible 300,000 items in their homes! Get rid of something you don’t need every day. Fill a trash bag full of junk that is cluttering up your home and your life each week. Have a garage sale. Donate stuff to Goodwill. It is important to make the mental transformation towards realizing that junk we own is not making us happy. Declutter 101 instructs us on how to get started:

At the outset, adjust your vision downward from the big (cluttered) picture, to zero in on one small, solvable clutter problem. Clear one counter, de-clutter one shelf, or bring order to a single drawer.

For me, nothing felt better than watching space open up and junk going away once I started the decluttering process. And contrary to my worries, I didn’t miss any of what I tossed.

2. Live off only what you need. In 5 short years, I went from being in debt up to my eyeballs to saving 66% of my income. I stopped chasing the fantasy put into our minds by advertising, conspicuous consumption, and product placement in everything from local TV to movies. The 1999 film Fight Club (based on the novel of the same name) contains some fantastic quotes about this concept:

We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like. You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis.

We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

After being run into bankruptcy by being socially conditioned to chase a consumeristic lifestyle, pedestalize women and finance their wasteful spending, and trust that my employer would be there only to be kicked to the curb when their revenue went south, I discovered:

It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.

Bankruptcy, that word Americans are so terrified of, actually turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. It forced me to change my habits, stop buying crap I didn’t need, stop being a walking wallet for women, and start living on cash. The end result? A 180-degree turn in my financial situation in just a few years.

1. Become un-busy. Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist tells us the personal and societal cost of turning ourselves into what Herbert Hoover aptly named Happiness Machines, cogs in the wheel of a waste economy:

But is the state of busy really improving our lives? Certainly not. Statistics indicate 75% of parents are too busy to read to their children at night. There is a rising number of children being placed in day cares and after-school activities. Americans are having a hard time finding opportunity for vacations these days. 33% of Americans are living with extreme stress daily. And nearly 50% of Americans say they regularly lie awake at night because of stress. This is a problem. We have become too busy.

Not only can we downshift with the things we choose to buy, we can also downshift with what we choose to do with our time. An important word to learn is “No.” No, I won’t work at a job that requires more than 40 hours a week of my time. No, I don’t need that new tech gadget, the old one works just fine. No, I won’t bring my work home with me. No, I won’t watch so much television. No, I won’t let advertising make me run myself to death trying to finance a lifestyle, girlfriend, or wife that I cannot afford.

The_Happiness_Pie

Psychological studies of happiness reveal it his very little to do with material circumstances and everything to do with freedom

Less Stuff; More Time, More Money, More Freedom

These 7 steps are a good starting guide to a downshifted, less materialistic, but freer lifestyle than we have been conditioned to pursue. For making these decisions, you can expect nothing but criticism and derision from the sheeple. But, Dave Ramsey, Realtalker he is explains the genius of this philosophy:

If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.

Rather than being consumed by overworked, underpaid, and material worshipping people, we can choose to pursue lives that free us to pursue nobler things that are more fulfilling and give us intrinsic happiness. Chinese writer Lin Yutang reiterates the wisdom that other men quoted in this article have given us:

Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.

Take control of your life. Do not let materialism, debt, overwork, or women take it from you.

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5 comments

  • Loved the “Be less busy” advice, as most people seem to see it as mandatory to be super-busy all the time and without it, they feel guilty.
    i have been a digital nomad myself for a few years now. you realise that you dont need too much stuff anyway.

    Like

    • What’s in your luggage?
      Is it all the property you have, or you own something that you keep home, maybe your parents’ house?

      Like

  • I have been working on being a minimalist for over a decade, here is my advice. First move to a warm third world country. Buy an acre or more so you can grow much of your own food. I build my own concrete house. It’s a lot of work but it is not difficult or complicated. I cook spaghetti and bread using two 50 watt solar panels and one deep cycle battery that lasts me three to five year and costs 80 USD to replace. I only buy cheese, sugar, spices and olive oil. I eat meat or fish when I go to town every other week. The spaghetti I cook in a stainless steel thermos and a heating coil. I made a Sun box to preheat water. I cook the bread in a rice cooker. I have music and use my phone for documentaries. A have no phone number and use KIK app to communicate when I have free wifi in town. I cut my own hair and use baking soda for deodorant and to brush my teeth. I walk or take the bus. I don’t even have a bicycle. I wash my clothes with very hot sun heated water in a squirrel cage made from thin CPVC tubing. I don’t use detergent. I bathe twice a day using sun heated water. I wash my hair with a bar of soap. When storing clothes I rise them with water that has baking soda. I paint using white cement. I have stainless steel plates, chips and bowls. I made a ceiling fan using an aluminum blade and a motor from a computer fan. I have LED lights. I collect rain water and filter it to drink. I have a well and pump with a diafragm pump for bathing, the toilet and irrigation. I have some income renting a room. I even bulls a swimming pool. People who visit me think I am rich and don’t know I don’t even have a bank account and that I live on just a couple of dollars a day.

    Like

  • It’s important to shop wisely. Instead of owning three jackets, own one very high quality jacket and take good care of it.
    Also, if you live such that you could pack three small boxes, move to a new country and start from scratch within a week of making the decision, you have massively increased your level of freedom.

    Like

  • Riccardo, Rome

    I love your articles about minimalism. Your views on certain subjects, like this, give this blog a particular character that really resonates with me.
    Personally, I found out minimalism a few years ago and have happily applied it to my life.
    My rule is simple: if I have never used it in the past year I throw it away. It’s the right not-too-extreme approach in my opinion, but it’s incredible how many things you realize have remained completely untouched in a closet for months and months. In the end, you really use the same couple things in your everyday life. Having everything in electronic devices also helps a lot with disposing of useless stuff.
    After a couple of long backpacking trips you realize that you can very well live off one piece of luggage if you want.
    I recently renovated the place where I live and threw away lots of boxes of things. I also disposed of 2/3 of the books I owned, which was a real sacrifice for me, because I have been raised with the idea that books are somehow sacred and it’s a taboo to throw them away. But in the end also books are things.
    What I know is that more stuff means more problems. Life is not what you have, but how you spend your time and who you spend it with.

    Like

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