Minimalism is More Than Just Not Having Stuff

Diogenes sitting in his tub. Painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1860 CE)

Unnecessary things are, essentially, distractions — Anonymous.

Why all of a sudden everyone is into becoming a minimalist?

The original version of this article (with more details and typos) was written 4 years ago when I was thinking of becoming a minimalist “by accident.” I was about to move from a 3-year apartment to a new place and got so frustrated with so much stuff that I had no idea how to take them with me to a new place and still find them useful.

The truth is, there is a cost for maintaining everything. For instance, in addition to so much stuff in my room, I also had them kept in a paid storage that I have been renting. I never went back to take them out let alone use them. Think of that storage as your life, wouldn’t be better if you no longer have to pay to keep it?

My search began with the intriguing story of the Japanese minimalist Take Fumio Sasaki. The 36-year-old book editor lives in a single-room apartment in Tokyo with three shirts, four pairs of pants, four pairs of socks, and a few other belongings. He wasn’t always like this. The transformation to minimalism occurred 2 years ago, when Sasaki grew tired of trying to keep up with trends and maintaining his collections of books, CDs, and DVDs. He got rid of them all, which he says isn’t as difficult as it seems thanks to the sharing economy and so many platforms-as-service apps, such as Spotify and YouTube. He has become clearer in his view about what is important and what’s not. A bonus: A minimalist room is easy to clean and he never has to find anything because there isn’t a lot of things there.

A minimalist lifestyle is also one of the best forms of education for your children. You can teach them how to be appreciative of what they have, how not to expect more than they should, and how to humble, thankful, and respectful for what they have. All of these notions are both materialistic and philosophical. It doesn’t hurt to get started early, does it?

My suggestion is: Think minimalist; do it now and do it fast.

You can’t afford to wait to be a minimalist. Once you have started to look around you, carefully, you’ll see that there are so many things, people, and matters that are extraneous to your life.

The trend of “minimalistic living” is not new. In fact, it’s quite old and this blog post is to give the best reasoning (ever, yes, ever) to convince us that going back to that ancient wisdom might be the way to get out of the troubles we have in the modern era. While the Japanese and the Daoists are among the best known for this type of living in the east, the famous Cynics in Ancient Greek are the epitome of the so-called “bare minimum life.”

The Cynics, in fact, have taken the bare life idea to the extreme by famously living in a pot, and only wrapping themselves with used clots that other people did not need.

Diogenes of Sinope (there’re many philosophers with the same name so “of Sinope” is like his last name here) was a Greek philosopher and one founder of Cynic philosophy. He lived between 412 or 404 BCE and 323 BCE.

The Theravada Buddhist monks, in essence, are supposed to have done the same. These monks, in fact, are supposed to reuse the cloths wrapped around corpses in preparing for the cremation (that is, once the bodies are unwrapped for the preparation for the cremation, the monks can take the clothes and re-use them as their clothing fabric), as, that way the monks are truly re-using both of form and essence of life. The idea behind it is simple: The more things, relationships, and commitments that are floating around your life without any purposes, the more you’re likely to be drawn away from understanding your true needs.

The political philosopher Thomas Hobbes has made these belonging essential to his doctrine. “We lock our door at night” because we are afraid of people coming to your house and taking your properties, and hurting you to take your belongings. Well, if you live like a Cynics, a Daoist, or a Buddhist monk, the chances that you won’t have anything valuable that anyone would ever want to take from you is probably quite high. So, you’ll a much better sense of your life and a peace of mind.

That is to say, these unnecessary things are, essentially, distractions. Tasty food distracts you from the essence of food which is nutrition. Beauty distracts you from the essence of a relationship which is compassion. Money distracts you from what you really want which is a healthy life that provides you with the ample ground to thrive for the betterment the society.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the bare minimal are all you have?

The most comfortable clothes and dresses to wear — none of them has a higher quality than others. They’re all the same: Classy, comfortable, and fitting.

Think of yourself, for instance, opening a closet just to find out that you have more than ten sets of dresses of shirts from which to choose. You’re likely to spend a lot it time finding the right match for the day. Sometimes, you might even antagonize over the abundance of choices. Most of the time, that is to say, the more doesn’t lead to better time management.

Truth be told: the more sometimes doesn’t lead to the effective pairing of clothes neither. This conundrum is precisely what leads many people living in the contemporary society to think, “wouldn’t it be nice if there is only one ‘perfect’ dress or shirt in the closet instead of ten?” This notion of, what the renowned psychologist Barry Schwartz calls, “the paradox of choice” is the emotional underpinning of the real need to cut down on unnecessary consumption.

The idea of having “a closet full of dresses or shirts,” for example, is also one of those constructed desires. The society, byways of consumerism, wants us to consume, consume, and consume, by shaming us to believe that wearing the same dress or shirt every day is a symbol of economic lack, anachronism, and the shortage of financial capital to pursue a variety of available forms of aesthetic representations. But why should that matter?

Even in the innovation field, the idea of going out there to learn to live like the “not have” could essentially become a true source of innovation. In the book, The Ten Faces of Innovation, Tom Kelly of IDEO, a world-renowned creative consultancy, writes about how IDEO has been able to come up with so many cutting edge ideas simply by taking away the luxury of life. It’s easy to not see any problems when you are surrounded by objects that are providing you with convenience. “Try to live without a computer for one day and you’ll realize that there’re many other ways to receiving news,” Kelly writes.

That’s true. It’s very unlikely for anyone to be able to think about anything creative if being surrounded only by convenience. There would no discontent to think about, no problems to solve, and no design questions to tackle. Innovation is about creating something new and effective — and innovators usually think about something new and innovative when they have to live with the old objects/ideas/services by which they feel discontent.

I am determined, in the next 3 weeks, to get rid of 90% of “stuff” in my current room. I am also determined to let go of the collections of feelings that are hurting my soul — the feeling of having a burden of having to care for others who do not care about me, as well as the weight of having to maintain relationships with, are no longer fruitful. I believe that this would be a solid step toward a “bare minimum life,” in which I could eventually get to live it.

Let me end this post with the best description of minimalism by no one else except the legendary fictional detective Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first book A Study in Scarlet where Holmes responded the following to his pal Dr. Watson when asked what does Holmes’ understanding of what he thinks he needs to know:

I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these, he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.

An architect with Ph.D. in anthropology. I research urban problems through the lenses of design, anthropology, and social psychology.

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