Meaning

Last night Vicki and I had the privilege of viewing Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things (see the trailer here) at our local Indy Cinema. The theatre was packed with many like-minded and curious people who laughed, clapped and gasped together in all the right places.minimaldoco

This doco is a well-crafted work and follows, loosely, one of The Minimalists’ (Joshua Fields-Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus) book tours, inserting commentary and analysis from a wide range of folk, from Neuroscientists to Culture-watchers and Media personalities. Through the story were inter-woven ‘chapters’ on topics such as fashion, tiny houses (one of my current favourites), advertising, meditation, and how to minimalise in a family setting.

All in all, this documentary perfectly captures the minimalist movement and the philosophy behind this growing phenomenon.

I have been immersed in the minimalist culture for a while now. I have read most of the books mentioned in the documentary and regularly listen to several podcasts featuring some of the major players. What I took away from the film is this idea of meaning.

Everything I own, must bring some meaning into my life. Everything must serve a useful purpose or bring joy. It’s not the number of things I have, but the fact that the things I have are my favourites and are put to good use in my life. Sometimes minimalism can bring meaning to my life in a different way than I expect. I appreciated the story of one couple who decided to pare down the number of possessions and found that, in doing this, it opened up opportunities to borrow from and to share with others, thus building relationships in community with like-minded people.

Vicki hasn’t had the same exposure to minimalism that I have and what she took away from the film was a greater awareness of the effect of modern life and culture—especially advertising and fashion—on our lives. What all those featured in this production had in common was a determination to make a new path for themselves in saying ‘No’ to the expectations of culture and say ‘Yes’ to what brings joy and meaning into their life. It wasn’t simply a philosophy of having less stuff, but having more time, more quality relationships, more freedom, and more focus.

The film is still playing a few Australian venues (not in Adelaide again, unfortunately) and I hope it achieves good success. (It is also available to pre-order online for under AUD$30 including 6 hours of bonus content.) Its message speaks to a great need in the lives of most of us who share this planet: a need for meaning, for an awareness of the cultural pond in which we swim and how we can respond to this in a purposeful and responsible manner.

Bargains

“We might need it someday.”

“It’s too good a deal to pass up.”

“At that price, I’d better get two.”

How many times have we caught ourselves saying these or similar things? I must admit that I have made such declarations many times, usually at the bargain shop or in the throes of end-of-season sales.

If that’s not enough, we receive reams of unsolicited sales paraphernalia in our letterbox or in the mail, urging us to “Buy now,” and telling us “This offer is for a limited time.” Bring on the mind-insulting rug, furniture or car ads to TV that tell us that these are “never-to-be-repeated prices,” and we can’t believe how quickly the money has flown from our wallet or bank account.

File 1-06-2016, 1 19 40 PMAnd this is how we use our free time. Shopping is the new religion. Malls are the new places of worship. Sales are the worship services. Bargains are the gods. We are fanatics, addicted to the feeling of completeness a full shopping bag seems to bring. As Michelle Castillo writes, “There’s nothing as addicting as a cheap buy.”

Correct that to a “perceived cheap buy,” because, as we are all aware, very few places ever sell everything at Recommended Retail Price (RRP). That’s simply a stated figure that retailers use to show how great a discount they will offer to secure your custom. And we fall for it, spending billions  in shopping centres and mega-malls every year. Then there are online retailers, local and international. Then there are the increasing number of social shopping sites such as Groupon, Zazz, Catch of the Day and Daily Deal and it’s all the easier to be tempted to exchange your hard-earned dollars for things to clutter your home and life.

Someone once told me, “A bargain is only a bargain if you need it.”

But how often do we buy something we think we “need” when, in fact, it’s not necessary and adds no value whatever to our life?

Like the bike I’ve ridden once.

Like the new tool I had to have and used it for the first time in the three years since its purchase.

Like that dozen Krispy Kreme® donuts (I really needed those? All of them?)

It’s time we learn how to say “No” when confronted with the purpose-written advertisements and dazzling billboards. We must learn to question our purchases and to abstain from the “just in case” mentality.

If it doesn’t add real value to your life, regardless of how cheap it is, it’s not a bargain—it’s an unnecessary expense.

Explore Further

Social Buying Motivated by Psychology, Not a Great Deal (Time.com)

Shop ‘til You Drop: Battling Compulsive Shopping (Australian Psychological Society)

Anti-consumerism is the New Democracy (abc.net.au)

Assembly Required (Is shopping the new religion?) (The Guardian)