Minimalism, as a concept and term, inspires much debate.
Minimalism was popularized, in large part, by Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits. I love Leo’s work, and have embraced many principles of minimalism, but I’ve grown weary of the term.
Minimalism has strayed from its original intention—to downsize, to remove things that clutter our lives, to increase happiness and clarity around what is important—to becoming just another term that gets used without much thought.
Trend or Lifestyle?
The current downsizing trend gathered steam as people tried to make sense of the economic crisis. When times are challenging, people tend to evaluate how they live and spend, and the subtle tension between need and want. Minimalism offered an antidote to the excesses of the previous decade.
As people appraise their lives, many find that stuff doesn’t do it: doesn’t equal happiness, doesn’t provide fulfillment, and doesn’t fill that existential pit that rumbles from within. And if a gaping hole of dissatisfaction exists, it isn’t going away by throwing more crap from Wal-Mart into its 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 came through the Voluntary Simplicity movement. But, as with voluntary simplicity, which I first came across nearly twenty-five years ago when I read the book of the same name, I felt something missing. Namely, a sense of lightness, aesthetic sensibility, and sense of humor. Dogma abounds when a group gets too serious about its –ism, and I don’t do dogma.
While I still identify, in part, with what it means to be a minimalist the term has lost it resonance.
I acknowledge minimalism is a continuum—there are as many definitions of minimalism as there are those who would choose the label, but I like a different word.
Intentional-ist, if I must choose a label, is the word I use to describe living with conscious awareness. To live awake, to make thoughtful choices, and be free from the coercion of any trend or movement that prescribes certain behaviors, is what I mean by an Intentionalist.
Less Debate, More Living
Debates about who owns the least number of things, who endures more hardship, etc., are absurd. Hooray that you haven’t showered since Bastille day and you wear your socks six days in a row, but I don’t see the point of such extremes. Debating minimalism cred seems silly; as silly as McMansion owners with ten-car garages arguing the right to their Yeti-sized carbon footprint.
I still have too much stuff, but getting caught up in counting possessions takes the joy out of life. I’d rather focus on living than worry about earning the minimalist scout badge.
I’ll let the dogmatists keep tally of the hair shirts in their burlap bags; I’ll be star-gazing or tea-drinking tea because I’m choosing a life of intention over score-keeping.
So, what about you? How are you choosing to live your life?
Minimalism bookshelf to further your reading:
- Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn
- Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki
- Less: Minimalism, For Real by Rose Lounsbury
- The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Guide to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify by Francine Jay
(post updated—originally published Oct. 2011)