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.

Minimalism

I’ve been attracted, lately, to the concept-movement of Minimalism. This began about 9 months ago when I came across, quite accidentally, the website theminimalists.com curated by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus. I was drawn in by their story and their journey together from the dog-eat-dog corporate world to a simple, minimalist life. I immediately bought their book Everything That Remains and devoured their story. What attracted me to the lifestyle they presented was the freedom of owning less and the contentment that came from needing less.

Now it’s not all about living in a house where the Living Room consists of a rug, a lamp and a chair and your refrigerator’s contents would fit in a handbag. It’s about being intentional in your possession of things: only owning what you need and what brings you joy (and these can be the same things).

I have been studying this phenomenon for several months now through books, podcasts, blogs, and videos. My curiosity has taken me into the Tiny House movement which sprang up in opposition to the bigger-is-better mentality that pervades the real estate industry. I have been bemused by the journeys of Colin Wright who asks readers of his blog where he should travel next, and then makes his home there for three months before, once again, moving on to another democratically-decided destination. I really enjoy reading the Zen Habits blog which is not just about minimalism, but about simplifying life in every aspect.  Joshua Becker is another who has written and spoken extensively about minimalism, through the lens of his family’s ‘conversion’ to this life and his most recent book The More of Less is on my current reading list.

I’d have to say that choosing to live as a minimalist forces a person to be incredibly intentional regarding possessions and the use of money.

In his post 10 Reasons to Escape Excessive Consumerism, Becker lists several reasons I find compelling:

Less time spent caring for possessions. “The never-ending need to care for the things we own is draining our time and energy. Whether we are maintaining property, fixing vehicles, replacing goods, or cleaning things made of plastic, metal, or glass, our life is being emotionally and physically drained by the care of things that we don’t need—and in most cases, don’t enjoy either. We are far better off owning less.”

Less need to keep up with evolving trends. “A culture built on consumption must produce an ever-changing target to keep its participants spending money. And our culture has nearly perfected that practice. As a result, nearly every year, a new line of fashion is released as the newest trend. And the only way to keep up is to purchase the latest fashions and trends when they are released… or remove yourself from the pursuit altogether.”

More contentment. As Fields-Millburn and Nicodemus often say, releasing one’s grip on possessions is like dumping a heavy load of anxiety, clutter and wasted energy. We enjoy what we have more when we actually have less.

More generosity. “Rejecting excessive consumerism always frees up energy, time, and finances. Those resources can then be brought back into alignment with our deepest heart values.”

Greater ability to see through empty claims. “Fulfilment is not on sale at your local department store—neither is happiness. It never has been. And never will be. We all know this to be true. We all know that more things won’t make us happier. It’s just that we’ve bought into the subtle message of millions upon millions of advertisements that have told us otherwise. Intentionally stepping back for an extended period of time helps us get a broader view of their empty claims.”

As Joshua Becker concludes, “Escaping excessive consumption is not an easy battle. If it were, it would be done more often… myself included. But it is a battle worth fighting because it robs us of life far more than we realise.”

I’m not a minimalist in the sense that I haven’t arrived at a place where I could say my life is now lived in its simplest, most pure form. Yet I am becoming more intentional about this area of my life each day and am happy to say, in small ways, I have proven true the vast majority of what are preached to be the benefits of Minimalism (and, in this space, I hope you’ll see how this develops over the next few weeks and months.) What I have enjoyed so far makes me want less. Sounds wrong, doesn’t it? But it is true.