The Art Of Minimalism (1)
To make a change around here (and to focus myself), I thought I'd create a series of articles on minimalism and why it works for me... and maybe how it can work for some of you too. I'm not going to get all evangelistical on your ass but you know... if you can eek something out of it that's worth a damn, something positive has been achieved don't you think?
There's lots of information out in the online world about minimalism - it appears to be A Thing at the moment - then again, since the internet got switched on, everything is A Thing, right?
Minimalism isn't something you can pick up and put down - it's a way of life. A way of life that, if you do it thoughtfully, affords you so much freedom in the world, you'll wonder what hit you and why you didn't shrug off the junk earlier.
Minimalism started burrowing its way into my head about 13 years ago - before it had a 'name'. Life was so busy with kids, a job, money grief (you get the picture), I simply needed to turn the volume down. I read an article about some guy who was desperately trying to get his possessions down to 100 things, or maybe it was 50 - either way, it seemed an awful lot of stuff... I didn't even own that much at the time. So I came up with an arbitrary number (which was 12) and went for it - not by starting at the bottom with what I didn't need or want in my life, but at the top with what I did want. Some of those were practical, some were necessities and some really did make me happy. I don't even recall what was on that list anymore - that's how much 'the stuff' meant, but fast forward to today and my list of twelve items is still pretty solid.
Based on one of the most useful quotes of all time: "Don't have anything in your life that's not useful or you don't find beautiful", in no particular order, it currently looks like this:
2. 12 string guitar
3. MacBook/iPhone - does this count as one or two things? I could probably live without one of them if I had to
4. Car - because there's no point in freedom if you can't go anywhere
5. A pen - it matters more than you think
6. A suit - because sometimes you just have to
7. An internet/digital radio - a gift that I use more than I thought I would
8. Record player - plus some carefully curated vinyl
9. Bike - mountain variety
10. A big wooden chest - this is not full to the brim but currently holds things like: a box of photographs from when I was a kid that I can't decide what to do with and notebooks I use for writing. It's a work in progress.
11. A sword - recreational purposes
12. A bag - for travelling from Scaramanga (more on this in the next post)
and maybe: 13. A Japanese Maple - not sure if this counts. I like to think I'm just looking after it for the world
I also own some great art. Not much but listing it all down here, I see I obviously have more than 12 things, so let me go count...
There are three great pieces of art now I count them and I think I can live with myself over that. My sins are not so great if I hit fifteen items of value in the world.
Anyway, as you'll see, this list doesn't include one towel, one fork, one plate - that would be ridiculous. I have a family, a dog, a job... (notably things I want in my life) and they don't necessarily share my point of view. I simply wanted to be free from being trapped in a weird consumer culture that I never asked to be part of.
Time is precious - why spend it with people you don't want to or doing things you don't want to do? Best to spend it with the people you care about and on the stuff that's important... surely?
My downfall with minimalism is books. Despite a few purges over recent years, I still have far too many but I'm working on it. It's not something I wander around the house worrying about every day, but I know it needs doing - based mostly on the fact that I never read anything twice and therefore 99% of these books that surround me are thus rendered pointless.
Are they even books if they're not being read?
I'm going to figure this out by the end of the summer but my point here is to illustrate how easy it is to tie yourself to things. Maybe 'they show the world who I am' but that's an old version of me thinking. They don't really. Nobody comes round and nobody in the house ever marvels over my great collection of books, so who am I showing who I am to? The answer is probably myself, but like I said it's old thinking and it's hard to get out of.
I don't want to be defined by the things I bought. I want to be defined by what I do.
On the plus side, knowing I'm lying to myself is priceless.
But there's nothing in my list of possessions that doesn't contribute to either: doing what I want to do, participating in the things I love or taking care of the things I want to take care of. Basically, minimalism has allowed me to focus on the things that are important because I'm not distracted by the things that aren't.
The killing blow in all of this is that when you do it in the physical world, it echoes inside your head too. You get to be very good at habitually turning down the volume of the world when it gets too loud. I don't listen or watch the news (large scale events filter out regardless), I don't watch TV I don't want to watch just because it's on, I don't read a book to the end just because I started it if it's dull, I don't stay anywhere that doesn't inspire me... the list is long, but not endless - it's all achievable and the end result can be nothing less than a life lived on your own terms.
If you're game to throw in your all, give it a whirl. Make a list of the things you really want to keep around you and get the rest the hell out of your life. Then do it again... and again... and again until the exercise is painfully difficult on the grounds that there's not a lot left to make a list about.
Believe it or not, figuring out what to do with your possessions/junk is the easy part.
Questions welcome. Answers available. Maybe.
I'll leave you with this. I think it says just about all there is to say.
Next: Minimalism On The Road.
"It's one thing not to live your own life
but another entirely not to die your own death"