Is too much minimalism just another form of indulgence?

minimalismI’m intrigued by those that teach and practice minimalism.

Growing up poorer than dirt in England–the only thing I had to play with as a kid was a loose tooth, and that was my brother’s–I really didn’t get to experience excess or indulgence. My blue-collar dad sacrificed a lot so that we wouldn’t be seen as the poor kids, and Christmases were always full of wonderful presents, but there were no vacations, no fancy cars, and any “label” clothes came from a second-hand store (thrift shop).

Now that I enjoy moderate success in business, I live in a beautiful home, take great vacations and get to eat out a lot. I’ve not shaken off my roots however–I still shop the sale rack, I’ll think long and hard before buying something that’s a luxury item, give time and money to church and non-profits, and I live well below my means. Still, you can hardly call my style of living minimalist.

I admit to being envious of minimalists. They have just enough of everything, and they appear to be content with little. Every time a new gadget fails to deliver or I get stuck in an airport, I daydream of what it would be like to move to a cabin in the mountains and abandon the whistles and bells of life.

Then, I start wondering if those that rave about the minimalist lifestyle are just practicing their own form of indulgence.

When you see a practitioner of minimalism blog about forcing himself to go without his cell phone for 2 months, or not buying any gadget for a year, it seems to me that they’ve missed out on the point of minimalism. Isn’t it to be happy? Isn’t it to be content? So isn’t striving to do better at minimalism a contradiction? Isn’t it just a different form of indulgence to push yourself to a new level of minimalism?

I don’t know–but I bet Ben Wills could chime in here.

I’ve deliberately chosen a minimalist theme for this site because perhaps you do have to force yourself to adopt a minimalist approach to life. Maybe you do have to work at it. If that is the case, then this is me dipping my toe in minimalism.

Honestly, I don’t know that I can ever get to the point where I can live with the bare minimum. However, I already know that more is not better either. So I suspect the answer is somewhere in between.

Perhaps I should start a “middlism” movement. ;-)

5 Comments Is too much minimalism just another form of indulgence?

  1. Ben Wills

    Awesome post :)

    I do think there’s a tendency – as with any sort of good idea that also turns into a fad – to become excessive about things we’re excited about. In this case, like you’re pointing out, even minimalism can be excessive.

    I don’t consider myself to have gone to the other end of the spectrum since “having enough” to be comfortable has always been an undertone. But I do find value in “crossing the line to know where it is” to be useful here.

    For me, I used to have what I thought to be way too much stuff for any one person to own. After living in a van for three months, it became apparent how little I needed to actually be happy, comfortable, and to feel like everything was taken care of. But I had to cross that line (by living in a van with very little possessions for three months) to know where that line was.

    In that sense, I think a more extreme form of minimalism can be useful – to find out what you really want and need to feel comfortable by going just beyond that line and into discomfort.

    So I think there are two frames to minimalism. One is to get by with absolutely as little as possible; this is the extreme form. The other is to aim for how little you need to actually be happy and content, and stick with that.

    I also found the Stoics to have a really powerful perspective on what is enough that, along with your middlism, also goes with the Buddhist principle of choosing “the middle way.”

    Some quotes from Seneca:
    – “Inwardly, we ought to be different in all respects, but our exterior should conform to society. Do not wear too fine, nor yet too frowzy, a toga. One needs no silver plate, encrusted and embossed in solid gold; but we should not believe the lack of silver and gold to be proof of the simple life. Let us try to maintain a higher standard of life than that of the multitude, but not a contrary standard; otherwise, we shall frighten away and repel the very persons whom we are trying to improve.”
    – “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.”
    – “A well governed appetite is the greater part of liberty.”
    – “The heart is great which shows moderation in the midst of prosperity.”

    Ben

    Reply
    1. AB

      See, I knew you’d have something to add to the conversation. The Seneca quotes are spot on!

      Here’s one from Paul:

      “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:11-12

      ;-)

      Reply

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