February 26, 2010

Minimalist Introspection

Buon giorno. In my last post, I was emphatic that if someone is going to be a Minimalist, that they should do it at their own pace and in their own way. There is no creed or code other than the consensus that you cut back on non-essentials as much as possible so that you have time and money for things that you think are important.

I want to expand on the part where I said that Minimalists can make themselves miserable by viewing every move they make through a filter of, "Does this fit with the Minimalist lifestyle?"

"Yeah, the buttons on your shirt say you've been expanding again!"

Clam up, Nicky. You do want that bonus, don't you?

Anyway. If you go around testing and judging yourself, filtering your every action through whether or not it fits your chosen philosophy, you'll make yourself miserable. This is mainly because there is no creed or code. That thought should be liberating, so do not make it into a prison! Here are some ways that I can imagine people upsetting themselves:
  • Web sites. If you have an online business, sure you don't need all the glitzy bells and whistles. But if you get extreme and take away the coding required to make sales or whatever, you'll lose business.
  • Cooking. Sure, many Minimalists like to have recipes that are only three ingredients. But if you took pride in your cooking, you're destroying a hobby that you loved. Or, perhaps you want to have something that has six ingredients. So freakin' what? Do it! If you're really sold on the three ingredient thing, you can go back to it later. My point is that it's an optional guideline, not a requirement.
  • Dishes. OK, so you gave in and made something with more than three ingredients. Then you have boring dishes (if any) because you judged them to be "Minimalist" dishes. Well, if you saw a pattern or color that you really liked at about the same price but turned it down, you suffered for it. Get what you want. Perhaps the Minimalist bit comes in when you limit the quantity instead of the quality. Just a thought.
  • Computer. If you need a scanner, printer, external hard drive, then by all means, get them. If you cannot justify the cost because you really do not need them, fine. Just don't limit your capabilities because you want to be a Minimalist.
  • Computer software. If you need something like Microsoft Office, then pony up the money and buy it. But do you really need it? I don't have it, but I use Open Source and other free software as much as possible so that I can minimize the impact on my Windows-operated computer. Other aspects of MS Office are useless to me, and I would have wasted time, money and disc space on it if I had purchased it. What about you? Get it if you need it, but in this case, there are clear options to keep it to a minimum.
  • Font. No, sorry. If I'm writing or composing to get attention (advertising, for instance), I'll use whatever I have to so that it's readable and grabs the reader's attention. After that, I'll scale down to something simpler.
  • Job. What would you consider to be a Minimalist job? Shoveling horse crap, maybe? I really do not know. All I know is that you have to get and keep a job to pay your bills (with the obvious exceptions of a legitimate disability or a short time between jobs), so you cannot be picky about filtering what kind of job fits a Minimalist philosophy. If you want to be "you", you have plenty of time when you're not working for that.
  • Lunch. I get microwave lunches, and I don't care if they're Minimalist or not. Just get me through the day, tasty morsel! If you want a Minimalist lunch, then you probably have to make your own.
That's enough. You should be getting the picture that you have to meet your own needs and not make yourself miserable instead of forcing yourself into your chosen philosophy. Remember the thing that got you into Minimalism in the first place? You wanted to reduce the stuff in your life. From there, you make gradual adjustments in other areas, trying them on for size and leaving the adjustments if they don't work for you. Who are you trying to impress? This is for you, capice? I strongly suggest that you back off from the introspection and remember to actually live your life.

February 25, 2010

Complicating Minimalism

One of the things that I like about writing Weblogs is that I can do whatever I want. Part of that comes from pondering things, keeping my eyes and ears open, pondering some more and then being able to write them out. That is why I have done several articles on Minimalist philosophies.

"What is the definition of Minimalist, Uncle Bob?"

Actually, the term really applies to a minor form of art, and also to a kind of music. People also decided that it was a good term for a philosophy of having fewer possessions. It goes beyond simplifying to get rid of needless clutter, and getting to having and doing the fewest things in order to survive. This sets one free because there are relatively few possessions to cling to so that time and energy can be spent doing things you love, and to focus on people and relationships instead of the pursuit of more stuff. A good definition can be found here. Addendum: An excellent resource is here. Even the basic definition of "Minimalist" is up to the user, but there seems to be more agreement on the basics.

Once the basics are covered, further usages of the term "Minimalist" are up to the individual. This is something that attracts me to the movement. It is very individual, and attractive to a cowboy like me.

And this brings me to something that I would very much like my Minimalist friends to understand: It is your belief system. You do what you need to do.

As I see it, your Minimalist philosophy can be complicated in a few ways:
  • Leaders. There are people that Minimalists look up to, if course, but there is no organization, no Archbishop of Minimal or anything like that. If someone acts like a leader, well, remember that he or she is just like you. My advice is that you do not let someone else tell you how to be a Minimalist, because they do not make the rules; there is no canon. You do what is best for you. No need to give the time of day to anyone who will browbeat, harass, coerce, intimidate or heavily influence you to do what they think you should be doing. It is like a tree. Being a Minimalist, owning fewer possessions and so forth — that is the trunk of the tree. What you do from there, what you believe and do, all that can be likened to the branches. All are part of the tree, but branches are not absolutely essential to the tree.
  • Filters. Sort of like rose-colored glasses, or some kind of filter over your eyes. You see the world through this filter, always judging what you're doing, every step of the way. "Does thisWho cares? If "this" that you're questioning is something that you need or want to do, then do it. Otherwise, you can be making yourself miserable by constantly second-guessing what you're doing every minute of the day. fit in with the Minimalist lifestyle?"
  • Excesses. Again, I recommend staying with the basics. There is no need to throw out everything you own and live in a cardboard box under the I-475 overpass. Sure, it could be considered Minimalism, I suppose. But it could also be (rightfully) considered insanity. You can progress in your lifestyle as you need to, but give yourself time to think and experience. There is no harm in doing things gradually. After all, you are tweaking your lifestyle, and you will always be tweaking it. Also, there's nothing wrong with changing your mind, you really do want to keep that book that your father gave you, for instance. Or you really do want to live with a roof over your head.
  • Radicals. Nobody is going to change the world through Minimalism. Remember, your goal is to improve your own life, not coerce anyone with your views, or the views of a "leader" in the movement.
I hope you're catching on to my friendly advice. Again, it's what you want to do, and there's no need to let anyone bully you into their version of Minimalism. Including yourself! You're doing this because you think it's right for yourself, and if you make yourself miserable (or let someone else buffalo you), then there's no point in doing it.

    February 24, 2010

    Set Your Priorities

    I have been waiting to write this article because I did not want to upset people. Enough time has passed, I believe, so that I can write it now.

    The place where Neil works has an Industrial Revolution mindset ("More work! Work harder!") towards its employees, as I have told you before. He told me about one of his co-workers, a manager in a different department than his, that passed away near Christmas. Although he was not close to her, he felt sadness and compassion for the other people who knew and loved her.

    One of these people told him that she was re-evaluating her approach to her job because of her friend's death. Although it appeared to be strictly a medical difficulty, this woman worked very hard and put in long hours. So does Neil's friend. His friend is thinking that maybe her work habits shortened her life, and she does not want that to happen to herself.

    It appears that nobody knows if this woman worked herself into poor health, but it is certainly possible. But let's look at this from another perspective, that she simply worked too much. Some people have trouble refusing to work or to help out, and they do jeopardize their health. But they also jeopardize their mental equilibrium, relationships with their children and spouses, friendships and so forth. They're too busy to even take a stroll in the woods or the park.

    I don't give a flying I do not care how "important" the job is. (Yes, business owners have to work extra hard, especially at first, but that should stop eventually.) "They can't do it without me", or, "They need me to do this because of deadlines". Yeah. By constantly "helping out", you're being an enabler, rewarding their bad behavior as well as well as sacrificing what you want and need to do. Would The Company do the same for you? Maybe some individuals would help you out, but as a whole, no, The Company only takes from you.

    All of this is to say that people need to re-evaluate their priorities about what is important in life. You may be remembered when you're gone as someone that "gave her all" to The Company, but your loved ones essentially say, "Who was that, anyway?" We know that life is short. Let's act like it and get our priorities in order.

    Subscribe in a reader