A hot topic du jour, minimalism was popularized, in large part by Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits. While I love Leo and most everything he writes, and have embraced many of the principles of minimalism, I have grown weary of the term.
It’s lost its meaning and original intention—that of downsizing, ridding ourselves of possessions and things that clutter our lives, streamlining, ideally, to increase happiness and clarity around what is truly important and meaningful—to become just another term that gets used without much thought.
This current shift toward downsizing gathered steam as people tried to make sense of, and weather, the current economic storm. When times are challenging, people tend to evaluate the way they live, how they spend, and the subtle tension between need and want. Minimalism offered an antidote to the excesses of the previous decade—and a welcome one, at that.
And, as people appraise their lives, many find that stuff just doesn’t do it: doesn’t equal happiness, doesn’t provide fulfillment, and doesn’t sate that empty existential pit that rumbles from within. And if a dark, gaping hole of dissatisfaction exists, it isn’t going away by throwing more crap from Wal-Mart or Nordstrom into its gaping maw.
If you’ve read any of my writings, then you know that I strive to lead a life uncluttered.
Yet, over the past few years, the way in which minimalism informs my life has changed. It’s limiting, that word minimalist, and I don’t like being constrained.
My discovery of minimalism was less an epiphany than a natural extension of Voluntary Simplicity (from which I sadly strayed for many years). But, just like Voluntary Simplicity, which I first came across nearly twenty-five years ago when I read the book of the same name (by Duane Elgin), I felt there was something missing. Many fervent adherents to minimalism are missing a sense of lightness, aesthetic sensibility, and a sense of humor. Dogma abounds when a group gets too serious about its –ism, and I don’t play well with dogmatic thinking or behavior.
While I still identify in large part with what it means to be a minimalist, the term has lost it resonance. I acknowledge that it’s a pursuit, a path, a continuum—that there are as many definitions of minimalism as there are those who would choose the label, but I have decided to use a different word.
Intentionalist, if I must be defined by a single term, is the word I use to describe my way of being and living with conscious awareness. To live with mindfulness, to make thoughtful choices, whether actions or acquisitions, and to be free from the coercion of any trend or movement that prescribes certain behaviors, is what I mean when I call myself an Intentionalist.
Less Debate, More Living
Heated minimalist debates floating around the blogosphere that center on notions like who can live with the least, who endures more hardship, etc. border on the absurd. Hooray that you haven’t showered since Bastille day and that you can wear your socks for six days in a row, but I don’t see the point of such extremes. And to debate such topics seems just as silly as those who live mega-consumptive lives in their McMansions with ten-car garages arguing that they have a right to their Yeti-sized carbon footprint.
I’m not a rampant consumer, and yes, I still feel like I have way too much stuff, but to get caught up in counting how many things I have or some other score-keeping technique, just takes the joy out of living. I have too many things I want to do, so much life to be lived, than to worry about whether I would earn the minimalist badge.
So, while the dogmatic keep tally of the hair shirts in their respective burlap duffel bags, I’ll be outside looking at the stars, or drinking tea with a friend, or riding my Vespa with a huge grin plastered across my face, because I’m making the choice to live my life with intention.