About a year ago I read Everything That Remains by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. A book based on the wonderful, if not original, idea of cutting out all the unnecessary possessions and focusing on the really important thinks. People have been advocating living a frugal, simple lifestyle to magnify the remaining elements since Sparta. If you want to get Biblical: Adam and Eve could have been the original minimalists: they, at least before they were expelled from the garden, lived to worship God–what little else they needed was provided them.
Still, Millburn and Nicodemus, or the Minimalists as they call themselves, put a fresh coat of paint on the idea and have taken it to almost a religious level. (They have a documentary coming out next year. See the teaser below.) They are like voices crying not from the wilderness (as if to continue the Biblical references), but instead of a wilderness it is more like the crushing throng of the post-modern world where we all are bombarded with ads telling us we are somehow incomplete or insufficient without the latest car, clothes, bling, electronic gadgets, or things that would make us look beautiful, sexy, and well, you get the idea.
Before reading Everything That Remains I felt I needed more crap in my life to make me happier. Perhaps the most emblematic of this problem is my collection of satchels, messenger bags, backpacks, briefcases, and panniers. I would buy one, tire of it quickly or see another one in a catalog or on someones body and decide I had to have it. Only three weeks ago I was walking out of my work with my friend Chip and I saw he had an urban backpack. (A single-shoulder, European-styled pack.) I never had one and the pang to pull out my phone and look up this kind of pack ran into my fledgling minimalist sensibility. (Be advised, dear reader, I may have embraced minimalism, but Madison Avenue’s programing is tough to shack and I still feel the need to “Keep up with the Jones.”)
It hurt, I was always looking for the latest thing to carry my crap. I can also say the same thing about watches, PDAs/smartphones, tablets, not to mention books–books that I could check out from the library, but would rather have just one more clean, shiny book with the smart-looking binding for my burgeoning and bulging bookshelves.
I embrace minimalism for two reasons. The first is for similar reasons the Minimalists have: It simplifies my life and therefore amplifies “what remains”–what is really important. For me that is my family, yoga, meditation, and reading.
The other reason is a political one that could have been the sole reason why minimalism was created, but wasn’t. The more stuff we buy that is manufactured outside of the U.S. the more we justify the international trade agreements like NAFTA and all the other free trade agreements that have wrenched our economy and has helped destroy the middle class of this country. By purchasing less stuff created in free trade centers by workers that earn 15 to 20 cents an hours and either make do without that very cool urban backpack or not jumping at the latest iPhone I am saying No to the free trade economy that is killing our middle class not to mention people in sweatshops in the Third World. Besides the free trade argument there is also the carbon footprint we leave behind by buying more and more junk not due to necessity, but because it is the latest style, etc.
The fruits of living a minimalist life purely on political or ecological reasons is tough to see because it does not reap any immediate benefits like the personal reasons do. I like to look at our walk on this earth as foot prints. How heavy will your foot prints be in the sand by caring all the junk you have collected over your life span. Time to lighten up!