A Little Bit on Minimalism

Since early 2010 I’ve been on a bit of a minimalist mission.  I wasn’t specifically trying to live in a white box with practically no furniture – not quite that sort of minimalism – but certainly a desire to unclutter and simplify my lifestyle.  I withdrew from a few community related activities in order to create some mental space and free time, and looked at what possessions I owned with a view to removing things that no longer had a value to me.  Quite a lot of clothing went out the door, and a good few boxes of books that really didn’t mean anything to me.  I’m not sentimental about books – once read, I don’t go back and read them again, and don’t see any need to display them to visitors like to trophy of literary accomplishment.  The clothes were old and worn, and I wanted to have fewer clothes of better quality.  I’ve adopted a routine of wearing those better quality clothes on a daily basis, which helps me to feel better about myself.

We were also in the process of redesigning our kitchen, and were constantly drawn to those ultra-chic minimalist kitchens that seem to be all the rage in kitchen magazines and brochures at the moment.  We wanted the kitchen to disappear, but that meant lots of storage – or did it?  Most people get by with a 10×10′ kitchen and ours was going to be more like 30×15′ – why couldn’t we fit it all in?  Or were we just trying to fit too much stuff in?  I researched things like how many tins I could fit in a draw, without really questioning why I had all those tins, and did I really need to have them just one step away from where my preparation area was.  We looked at the cost of such a kitchen, and decided that we didn’t need a kitchen quite that much.  I could park a brand new sports car in the room, have somewhere to sit and somewhere to cook an egg for the sort of money they want for a kitchen!  So at the moment, we just have a bare, half completed space.

Along side of all this for the last 2-3 years I’ve been trying to organise myself, find better ways of ‘Getting Things Done‘ and not forget about all the details.  Somehow, that ToDo list just seems to keep nagging at me.  How do I setup my life so that I don’t have that constant list of things that need my attention?  Maybe some of those things don’t actually need my attention!

In order to better understand where I was going with those thoughts, I turned to the Internet to find others who were writing with their own experiences.  I found a healthy number of people who were trying to simplify their lives, for many different reasons.  Some were rejecting consumerism, some wanted location-independent living, some wanted to free themselves from debt, some wanted zen-like tranquility and peace – whatever the reasons, there are plenty of people out there who have decided that too much stuff is not important in their lives.

‘Minimalism’ or ‘minimalist’ seems to be the core term for those seeking to simplify their lives.  It’s the hot topic if you like.  If you go searching, you’ll come across a bloke call Everett Bogue and his website Far Beyond the Stars.  This guy talks about how in late 2009 he quit his day job, moved across America with only $3,000 in his bank account and started to live with less.  He pared down his possessions to less than 100 things (depending on how you count them).  He wrote about his journey, created a successful blog, and through his e-book ‘The Art of Being Minimalist‘ created a useful income stream to fund his new living with less lifestyle.  He got his ‘work’ down to only a few hours a week, and spent what appears to be the rest of the time doing yoga.  I’m sure he’s had fun, but I’m not really into the yoga thing – not yet anyway.  All going well, a respected blogger and apparently making a living doing what he really wanted.  Until recently.  Of late, his posts have strayed from the minimalist topic, and he’s obviously be going through some sort of personal struggle with the benefits and pitfalls of fame (albeit in a relatively small and obscure way).  I’m sure if I have 10,000 subscribers to my blog, I’d get slightly affected by the attention (if not overwhelmed by the emails).

So in the last couple of weeks Ev has decided to reject minimalism (at least the writing and making a living about it) in favour of analysing quite how connected he is to the world through the benefits of the Internet, mostly Twitter.  Many people are speculating about why he’s gone off on this tangent, and many put a great deal of faith in the words that he wrote, and used him as some sort of god-like minimalist deity.  Some people really did have faith in his preachings, just like any other sort of religion.  I know in his earlier writings he did ‘speak to me’ – his words had resonance with my own thinking.  I bought both of his e-books.  But some people have become angry and disillusioned with minimalism as a result of his sudden rejection of the idea.

But why has Everett changed his tune?  Why has the Pied Piper stopped playing to the crowd?

Personally, I think there are couple of things going on in his mind.  First of all, he’s a human like all of us.  Some of the things he says certainly point to someone who feeling just a little bit self-important, but as I said above, if people were subscribing to my blog and paying money for my musings, I think I’d feel a little self-important too.  Secondly, his about face is as much to do with his minimalist leanings as anything else.  After about 18 months of preaching the minimalist lifestyle, he’s actually accumulated some of the baggage he was originally inspired to get away from.  He now has a successful business, a loyal readership, and an obligation to keep performing in order to keep the crowd happy.  The vast majority of the people who read him will never become ‘minimalist’ in their lives, but in the same way we watch TV and movies as escapism, people want to read about minimalism as an escape from their regular, messy and cluttered lives.  Sure, they’ll make small changes, but they aren’t about to sell everything and move across country or to foreign parts to start a new life.  Everett no doubt wants to spend less time slavishly responding to his plaudits and critics, and wants to get more time for yoga.

Everett wants his freedom back. What better way but to alienate your audience and then reinvent yourself.  His tone a couple of months back was pretty aggressive – more ‘I am the truth and the light’ than just this is how I do it.  At the time I thought it was nothing more than a marketing ploy to boost his readership (controvertial press can be good) and there are plenty of other marketeers out there who will try to convince you that having strong conviction can be as good as ‘the customer is always right’.  On the contrary, the customer can often be dumb and willing to part with money if only you tell them to do so in the stongest of terms.

Some people will continue to follow him on his journey, because actually the journey is what interests them, not necessarily the specifics of minimalism.  He’ll continue to make a financial return, because some of his followers are devoted enough that they’ll just pay to keep hearing his words (hence the Letter.ly experiments – at $20 a month, you’ve got to be writting better output than you can get at most newsstands), but in the long run, he’ll need to find a new trick with which to build and entertain an audience, or he may find that society will push him back into the same old life the rest of us lead.  Only he will know whether he is happy with that, and only he will know whether he feels better about himself with or without his recently found self-importance.

But I’ve got to finish this piece with at least a word of thanks to Everett for helping me on my own journey.  Mine will come out differently because we are all different people, and I’ve no desire to become a clone.  But the experience was fun, and I’m glad to have had it.

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