17 Jan 2021

A Minimalist Life

The idea that we are what we eat has been around for a long time, but perhaps we are also defined by what we own.



There is a recognised medical condition called ‘affluenza,’ in which the stress associated with the need to own stuff – combined with the costs of maintaining, storing and potential losing it – is actually making people sick. I was in the USA some years back, and the people I was staying with had a shopping catalogue with the line ‘more stuff, even faster’ on the cover. At the other end of the spectrum is a minimalist movement that seeks to reduce the anxiety of ownership, albeit with different ideas about what that might look like. So my question is, what would that look like for you?


Some years ago I made the decision to own less, with the emphasis on quality rather than quantity. What I did own would be the best I could possibly afford, and I would wait for the opportunity to arise rather than be satisfied with a compromise. Now, I’m not talking about ‘the best’ of everything, that’s just not realistic. What I am talking about is discernment, being prepared to wait, and hope it comes up on sale! I learned a long time ago that cheap invariably means expensive, and that quality invariably means cheaper in the long run. And not everything has to be new – I would rather have a beautifully restored Triumph Stag than a brand new Toyota, even though you could argue that the Toyota is probably ‘better quality.’


Which takes us to another influence, that of motive. What drives your decision making process? Why the Stag over the Toyota? Time magazine described as as one of the worst cars of all time in its day, so why would I buy one? For the same reason as to why you would buy a camper rather than a bach, or go to the opera instead of an All Blacks test – because it appeals to you and your sense of being. Stag’s had their problems when they were new – hence the criticism – but people still bought them, sorted and restored them, and they are still one of the most stunning British cars of all time.


Minimalism then, is also about defining as well as reducing, being as well as owning. So taking a break from a business context for a moment, what would minimalism look like for you? If you had to live in a tiny home for example – assume around 35m2 for the sake of argument – what are your ‘non-negotiables’ (not including the services and appliances that are necessary.) The 60” TV would have to go – or would it? What about your hobbies – I like to make things out of wood, so how does that work? An answer for me would be to join a MensShed, which are generally far better equipped, and from where you find a depth of knowledge and social discourse that is well worth the modest subscription.


This raises the point that not owning something is not the same as not having access to it, which requires a shift in thinking. But isn’t that the point of minimalism – to challenge the perspective around what is necessary in life? Ownership, or relationship? That minimalism challenges, there is no doubt. But what does it challenge? Is it your security? Your ego? Or what about your expression of yourself? These are existentialist questions, yet they have real impact – even on your health as I mentioned at the beginning. So what happens if you go home, pick up the first think you see, study it, and ask yourself “is this important to me? Does it contribute to my quality of life? Would I bring this with me if I chose to live in a tiny house?” If the answer is no, no and no, put it on TradeMe – it may well be worth more to you that way.