It happens a lot that people walk into my apartment, see how little stuff I have and a they call me minimalist or they call my lifestyle minimalist. Minimalism is misnamed. I don’t like being labeled but a lot of people do and I think people should see the misnomer. It relates to the environment because reduces the first word on the list of reduce, reuse, recycle that Americans tend to ignore on the way to recycling and recycling is a far cry from reducing which is why I think it’s important to understand the motivations, emotions, values and purpose behind reducing consumption and having less stuff. What minimalism looks like.
People associate minimalism with having less stuff. That’s the result that you see but having less material stuff is the side effect. Talk to any minimalist or read any of their writings or watch their videos or listen to their podcasts and you’ll hear or at least what I hear is their goal is not getting rid of stuff – that’s a means to an end. The end, the goal is what they replace the material things with. That’s what their primary goal is as I understand it. Replacing those things it’s about learning their values, it’s about acting on their values their relationships, mental freedom, physical freedom, simplicity and intangibles like that, not the stuff. You see them getting rid of stuff but what they’re actually doing is replacing it with relationships and joy and discovering and things like that.
A lot of people like stuff. I don’t think they’re against stuff. It’s just what stuff gets in the way of freedom and joy and discovery in relationships and things like that. Their result, as I understand it, is a better life by their values which is what I get as well. How does that work? If you watch a lot of TV and then you get rid of it, you have to find new ways to fill your time and you’ll find things you value more. In my case I write more, I read more, I invite friends over more, I cook more. So when I got rid of my books, for example, I found more space in my apartment which in Manhattan is like cash since real estate is so expensive. I had less clutter. I also probably read more now despite having less books since I get books from the library and they’re free. Plus, I connect with my community. Having met my librarians, I’ve given four or five talks at the library, things like that. Getting rid of things is hard at first. I’ve replaced my view of getting books for example with gaining freedom. I don’t think of myself as getting rid of something. I could think of myself as gaining freedom. I’m putting them back into circulation so I’m helping my community. And the more that I fill my life with fun, freedom, more intimacy in relationships and those things, the more I want to maximize the more which leads me to buy less junk and to keep less stuff but I don’t think of it that way. I’m just having more fun. I’m shedding skin that’s holding me back. Stuff causes you to stagnate.
So as for minimalists their focus is on values which they increase. To label them by what they devalue that is physical stuff and for that matter in the opposite direction that is less of something that they don’t care about rather than more of what they do misses the point. Beyond missing the point, it’s backward. I’m not sure if the right word is backward, irrelevant but I think you get the idea. A more apt label for this practice would be maximalism since they’re maximizing something. At least I am. I am maximizing what I value – relationships, self-awareness, free time, fun, joy, mental freedom, physical freedom, simplicity, space, delicious food, beauty, nature, fitness, social and emotional skill, happiness, emotional reward and so on. Aren’t those things that you want? Aren’t those things that everybody wants? Unnecessary stuff gets in the way of what I want to maximize so I tend to get rid of it. That may be what you see but that’s not what I’m doing inside internally. And so it misunderstands what at least I do and what I think others who go by the minimalist name what they intend and what they’re about. You’ll probably appreciate getting rid of stuff too if you haven’t already. I could stand to get rid of more but my focus is on joy and other things that I maximize.
And all my environmental work is about values and living by them. That’s what I’m sharing, not deprivation, not sacrifice. That’s what I thought it would be and kept me from acting for years. That’s not what it is. I’m sharing joy and delicious and having fun and I hope you adopt these things too. All this stuff that we have is getting in our way. It’s not making us happier. It’s distracting us from each other, it’s distracting us from delicious food and vegetables, from trees and family and so on. It’s choking our air, our land, our water, covering us with obesity. It leads us to anti-depressants and opioids, lack of resilience, boredom amid shiny things, loneliness, lifestyles that are treadmills of working to buy disposable breakable things which require more work to buy more things which break and so on. I had no idea the joy and fun that was out there until I started shedding the crap.
A website said that my consumption was about 10 percent the average American in terms of my overall global footprint of stuff, of energy that I used. I probably used about average before changing my lifestyle. My lifestyle with less stuff improved. I didn’t expect that. I wouldn’t have known that except that it happened. Yours probably can’t too. You may not see how but believing that more stuff correlates with more happiness is backward. If you’re above the poverty line, less stuff correlates with more happiness which will likely help raise other people above the poverty line. And that’s the connection between maximalism with the term I think we should use and the environment. It’s more happiness, less stuff, less junk in the ocean.
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