What is Minimalism?

Minimalism is not new: in fact it’s only been recently revitalized, modernized, decorated, and publicized. Some of the chief figures of this neo-ideology are Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, and they, through clever domain registration and word-marketing, have become this generation’s centerfold on material denial. Minimalism is the art or lifestyle of living only with things we need. It means deep, thoughtful self-reflection that gets us to look at our material clutter and realize, “I don’t need those things.” Minimalism, though, is more than just a restrictive tally on personal belongings: it’s a daily check on the way we live. When it comes to “stuff,” not all Americans are experiencing surplus anymore; but for most people, there’s more than enough to go around compared elsewhere in the world. So when we sit down for Thanksgiving and recite what we’re thankful for, we can safely bet we’re barely scratching the surface of the litany of blessings we have that will go undeclared. We’re going to look at some ways in which this new Minimalism is ripe for healthy living. But first, let’s see how it’s perceived in the undertow of culture.

Minimalism in the Media

There’s another word in the mix here, and it’s almost a synonym: abnegation, the denying of one’s own rights, conveniences, pleasures, etc. Abnegation, I imagine woefully brought to people’s attention by the hit series Divergent, has portrayed something more negative than it should be. I’ll highlight the difference by a quick allusion to a popular movie, Divergent. In the series, protagonist Tris is born up in the Abnegation faction; and those ‘minimalist’ values are inculcated in her saliently. When getting her hair cut in front of the mirror, she is reminded of the faction’s exclusive restriction: that they may only look in the mirror four times per year. But in this faction, the adherents are not asked to remove their material possessions: they’re not really talking about possessions at all. Abnegation is focused on something less visible: the matters related to heart and the appetite for things we want personally and socially, like fame, wealth, celebrity-contoured features, and more. As you can tell, the emphases on these two ideals differ: Minimalism focuses on material things and abnegation on immaterial. Each has its place in a healthy lifestyle, but let’s focus on one here, and how to practically employ it.

What’s healthy about Minimalism?

As I mentioned, Thanksgiving is nearing its full-bellied arrival, and most in America will engage in a vital tradition: giving thanks for what we have. The weekend, too, is a double-whammy, with both Thanksgiving and its material-fascinated successor, Black Friday. When it comes to materials, Thanksgiving doesn’t come up, but Black Friday sure does, with an expected rise of 47% in sales from last year. If now’s not a time to apply minimalist principles, when is? Here are some things Minimalism can be when you embrace it heartily.

It’s freeing

I don’t mean freeing in a 1960’s sense: I mean it’s literally decluttering. We have too much stuff, and as days go on we treat our attics and closets as industrial compactors. Stuff goes into a box, the box goes into storage, and our money goes out of our wallets. *Consider all of your belongings that you haven’t touched or thought of this year: Can you do without them? You needn’t jettison all of your holiday decorations, but surely you have some spare DVDs or pieces of furniture whose eternal duties are to collect dust.

It’s economical

Garage sales are the clutter of the decluttering: filling your lawn or driveway with things archaic and random, broken and untouched, that a passerby who saw your makeshift sign might come and take them off your hands. You might think that lamp from ’97 that has an opulence only fitting 5% of homes is useless. Wrong. That lamp is money, as are many things in your storage that you might pass off as refuse. *Consider the funds you can gather from stale placeholders in your house, and use that money for something more useful, like caring for yourself or caring for others–may that be gift, a day out for grub, a health treatment, or a cushioned bank account.

It’s humbling

Humility. There’s the kicker, eh? It’s a humbling process to live below your means, especially when this nation elevates our nations beyond recognition and offers us an modestly priced accessory for just about anything. The next iPhone. The next 360-laptop/tablet. The next car, app, accessory, technology, ad infinitum. Many people in the world don’t have access to any of this stuff (though, the number of mobile phone owners is forecasted to be 67% in 2019). While it’s not always wise to make comparisons–since it can often bereave us of joy more than we hope–it’s good to do it once in a while; and in the scope of Minimalism, it’s mandatory. *Consider your daily activities: What do they involve materially, and what would happen if you used 25% fewer of those items? 50% fewer? Make a determined path toward a new status quo for your life, one that involves fewer things.

It’s challenging

Minimalism, when approached sincerely, is not a venture to try out for fun, blog about it, get black-and-white, stoic Instagram pictures from it, and go back to normal. It’s intended to leave a lasting impression on you. If opening your eyes to the bounty you have before you and then, by necessity, having to remove that bounty piece by piece isn’t challenging… You’re already a minimalist! *Consider the last time you conquered something difficult: physical, vocational, emotional, etc. What was your denouement, your victory lap–what did you do to celebrate? Might have it been drinks with the friends, a feast of victors, an online purchase? Look to your victories as the end in themselves: the victory is the struggle. Minimalism ends the material celebration at the victory line.

It’s inviting

A healthy bout with Minimalism is, at last, inviting in several ways. It invites you to don new lenses through which you see the world; to tackle challenges that require all of you but none of what you have; to love people and not things. Minimalism invites you to live below your means, not in line with them or with anyone else’s. *Consider opportunities you’ve had in the past, or just this week, to make a difference in someone’s life by time spent or good deed done, when some thing interfered: a low battery, car problems, a shopping appointment, house cleaning, etc. If you have to abandon minor duties to make room for person, do it. The most precious commodity is not your things, but your time.
Embracing life minimally is healthy, because it allows you to see yourself without the unnecessary things that pollute who you are inside. So give it a try! What do you have to lose? Well… probably a lot of stuff.

National Neighbor Day

Miss L, there she is: dainty and demur, sweet and enduring, your neighbor Miss L who has lived next to you for the past twenty years. Every morning you see her shuffle out from her porch, coffee-less (because she’s a champion) but with wide awake, eager eyes for the newspaper on the bottom slant of her driveway. You see her there everyday, from the foggy-cornered windows of your house. It would be easy to unlock the door, walk outside, and greet her; but it would be easier to stay inside. You think to yourself: I’m sure she does all right. I’m sure she her children call her, her other neighbors commune with, the tabloids satisfy her. Maybe not. What if not? This trail of thought stretches far, and is very much a core human curiosity and need. We live in the loneliest neighborhoods as ever. As housing tracts crunch lots in economic wisdom, our relational bandwidth for genuine relations with our neighbors crunches exponentially. It’s sad irony.

A Holiday to Remind

Tomorrow, September 28th, is National Good Neighbor Day. They put the “Good” in there because there is a distinction: you can be a good neighbor, or you can be a bad neighbor. You might ask, “What is bad about a ‘doesn’t feel like walking outside on the frigid asphalt’ neighbor? That’s a smart neighbor–who likes warm feet!” Don’t worry: no one is throwing stones. It’s important, though, to once in a while re-consider a fleeting thought: What does it mean to be a good neighbor? The holiday was created in the 1790s by Becky Mattson of Lakeside, Montana, a local realtor with a heart for ‘a good neighboring.’ She noticed that neighbors–unseen families and individuals who lived cloaked beside each other–had only sidewalks and yards connecting their lives. She appealed to President Jimmy Carter, and he issued Proclamation 4601. Carter saw a salient connection in the relationship between neighbors and that of the nations of the world: “The same bonds cement our Nation and the nations of the world.” He then called on all “the people of the United States and interested groups and organizations to observe such day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

From Carter to Starter

Being a good neighbor doesn’t have to entail a surprise jump house or cul-de-sac party. It can be much, much smaller; and sometimes the smallest things make the biggest impact. Here are a few ways you can be that neighbor who changes lives one gesture at a time.

Say hello.

If you were to ask me one thing I strongly dislike about this generation, it’s the interaction (or lack thereof) between strangers when walking down the street. When you walk by someone, do you say ‘Hi’? Do you look down at your phone? Does the other person look at his/her phone; or at the street; or at anything other than your face? It won’t frighten him or her. Say hi to your neighbor. In English. In Chinese. In Polish. You can’t count the amount of muscles that gather to rejoice in your lips when someone acknowledges you. Everyone needs that.

Help clean up.

Are there trash tumbleweeds rolling by your street or in front of your neighbor’s house? Did someone get tp’d (toilet paper adorned, as I say)? Did the trees in their season send volleys of leaves on your neighbor’s lawn? Clean them up. And you don’t even have to leave a note or tell them you did it (anonymity is potent). If they see you while doing this, go to the first point and say hello.

Stop the car.

You might be in a rush: there is a sale at Ross; the boss has two strikes on you for tardiness; Eminem’s song just came on the radio and your feet want to express your joy on the pedal. But if you’re not, drive slowly and look at your neighbors as you leave your neighborhood. Avoid the temptation to look forward and say to yourself, “She saw I wasn’t looking. She probably thought I didn’t see her. It’s no problem!” But you saw her. Wave your hand and smile. Or do an air fist-bump; I bet Miss L would fist-bump.

Extend a hand.

Perhaps one of your neighbors is the most punctual in the neighborhood: Every Saturday he mows the lawn, sweeps the driveway, walks the dog… or walks himself. There’s a garden tool with your name on it, and your neighbor’s waiting for you to retrieve it. Lend your hands!

Cook a meal.

There’s always one thing that we can do for our neighbors that doesn’t require us to leave the house much: cook. Your neighbor’s belly has never been treated to your culinary expertise, and it longs to feel the warmth of your house with your native smell and your house’s color tones that don’t at all match his. Invite him for a meal, and you won’t believe the conversation that will take place. If it feels awkward to invite him/her to dinner, that’s okay! Anyone would rather be awkward than lonely; and food cures a thousand diseases.*

Look up.

This last one kind of encompasses the rest. When we “look up,” we become aware of what is going on around us. We become aware of our neighbors, and they become aware of us. Even if, say, you never wave, you never cook a meal, sweep up leaves, or do anything that resembles a physical “labor of love,” it is most important for you to look up. If we keep our eyes peeled on the sidewalk or on our phones, we will never know the needs of our neighbors. There is a need next to you: it may be bigger than you can handle, or it may be for a cup of flour. Eventually, if you keep looking up, your eyes will catch your neighbors, and it will be the best thing that will ever happen to you.   Don’t have cold feet. Be a neighbor.
*This is not accurate and is in no way serious or professional medical advice.