Minimalism Is Simple. It Just Isn’t Easy.

I have a confession to make…

In Beginning Minimalism in Three Easy Steps (and 10 Places to Start), I think I oversimplified the minimalist lifestyle.  If you agree, I’m sorry, but I did so on purpose.

“Then, why are you apologizing?”

See, if you’re anything like me, you appreciate the acronym K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid).  No fluff.  No unneeded embellishments.  Just shoot it to me straight and let me deal with it as it is.  You know, minimal B.S. (pun intended).  The “Three Easy Steps” post was for that crowd, but I don’t want to understate the effort it takes to truly minimalize our lives.

Don’t get me wrong.  The concept of minimalism is, and should be, straightforward.  Consume less, keep only that which adds value to our lives, and spend more time appreciating the experiences and relationships we truly enjoy.  It really doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

On the other hand, the entirety of our existence we’ve been fed this distorted ideal of the “American Dream”.  We’re told live in homes owned by banks (if we have a mortgage), purchase cars that lose half their value as soon as they leave the lot, and accumulate tons of other crap in a futile effort to keep up with “The Jones’s”.  Unless the Jones’s are going to step up and start making payments if, God forbid, we lose our jobs, we really shouldn’t concern ourselves with the possessions on their of the fence.

“Don’t try to “out accumulate” the neighbors.  Got it.  Where does the “maximum effort” come in?” 

The minimalist lifestyle isn’t easy.  Downsizing the dresser contents, jettisoning the “junk drawer”, and reducing rings in the jewelry box are all great places to start, but true minimalism requires constant diligence.  In a culture that glorifies consumption and places so much value on material goods, it takes great discipline to keep the momentum going.  That, and a thick skin to protect against dismissive sighs and eye-rolls from naysayers.

To declutter our schedules means saying “No.” to opportunities to sit on big, important boards and coach our kid’s soccer team (if those activities our adding more stress than value).  To reduce the number of possessions we own means to make tough decisions regarding whether said item gives our life value or if the value is really in the memory associated with the “thing”.  To downsize our consumption patterns means to look long and hard in the mirror and be honest with whether a purchase fills a need or an unnecessary want and put away the pocketbook if it’s the latter.  Just look at the world in which we live.  We’re inundated daily with advertisements that gladly assist us in justifying the purchase of whatever it is they’re peddling.

To stay the course requires actual effort and means denying our children that “job well done” purchase while checking ourselves before writing a check.  It requires buy-in from our partner, children, and other family and friends we’re close with.  If we’re the only ones on-board with this counter-cultural idea, we’ll quickly feel like we’re paddling in the complete opposite direction of everyone else when it’s already hard enough going against the social current.

“Well, that sounds daunting…”

Take heart.  It’s been done before.  While the concept has piqued the interest of many recently, the idea of a minimalist lifestyle isn’t new.  With deep roots in both religious and secular society, the idea of owning only that which one needs goes back centuries.  One of the most well-known “minimalists” was the Greek philosopher Epicurus.  Epicureanism, as it was known as early as the fourth century B.C., proclaimed that the effort required to obtain an extravagant lifestyle is more trouble than it’s worth.  If you’ve been in the “rat race” long enough and aren’t yet living in that million-dollar mansion, you can feel the truth oozing from this statement.

“Thanks for the random history lesson.  So, if materialism is hard, but so is minimalism, then what’s the point?”

We must keep our focus on the “why”.  What’s our purpose behind living a more simplified life?  Is it to reduce stress?  Is it to save more and spend less?  Is it to become no longer tethered to the objects that keep us from living the experiences and nurturing the relationships on which we want to focus most?  If we look truly in our heart of hearts, we realize that stuff can never help us reach any of these goals.  Therefore, we must direct our energy toward the lifestyle that will: simplicity.

The moral of the story: Minimalism is simple.  It just isn’t easy.   

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