Sometimes, evaluating words helps to move ahead with a topic. Finding simple as the perfect middle ground between privileged minimalism, business-oriented essentialism, and solitary frugality helped me to become clear about my values.
The most prominent counter to today's materialism is minimalism. The reasoning being that stuff — unlike experiences and people — doesn't make you happy, a minimalist seeks to eliminate all excess, making space for a better life. Unfortunately, the things minimalists have tend to be luxurious. Because they seek to buy few things, quality has to be above-average, adding a markup that not everyone can afford outright. Minimalism also clashes with other restraining factors in normal people's lives when they are living with others, or have existing obligations. Some minimalists manage to be impressively successful — even under unfavourable conditions — by gracefully applying minimalist principles. The word still seems utopian in a maximalist world.
Greg McKeown's Essentialism introduced a different flavour of minimalism. Though minimalism has often included the focus of available time according to one's principles, his central argument is that "only a few things really matter". I do not doubt this claim, but his choice of words leads to flawed decisions in practice. The examples to illustrate his idea of essentialism often depict successful and privileged men with stereotypical careers in highly-industrialised parts of the world. The reason for this surely is his background, but why could he not see better opportunities for them, or even imagine the benefits of essentialism for different people? When the application of non-conventional principles is deeply conventional, society is missing out on positive change.
Annoyed by the Silicon Valley businessmen who might still burn out despite essentialism's calming influence, I was drawn to the common people of the internet. On Reddit, a vast community has attached itself to the idea of frugality. There, happiness and security are found in reduced spendings and minimal needs. In unfortunate circumstances, this provides solutions; for people with the opportunity for a positive change though, inspiration is low. Frugality also doesn't take into account the wellbeing of others and tends toward solitude, which makes it morally unfit for many parts of life.
For the egoism and negative connotations of frugality, this also doesn't seem to be the right word for me. Still, the main inspiration for my re-thinking of minimalism is Mr. And Mrs Frugalwoods, who lead a simple1 life. Two people and a dog living in a cabin in the woods, self-sufficiently growing vegetables, and taking part in the local community seems almost like a redefining of the word frugality. They also have a computer and run a blog.
Frugality with both eyes open and applying minimalist values to all walks of life is what I am after. Simple seems like a good enough word to capture this; it describes both what our expectations should be, as well as the solutions to achieve happiness. One who simply does what they are best at, looking for the best, and keeping a simple and down-to-earth attitude might be less miserable than one who thinks they can please all and be pleased by every luxury imaginable.
After all, what do we need? Food and accommodation.
Remember: simple does not mean easy. Simple often means having just enough, but I also seek simplicity in neat solutions. Neither of those is easy to achieve. What follows are reading suggestions from some of my favourite writers on the ideas discussed.
- Leo Babauta in All You Need, You Already Have
- The Minimalists in Waking Up: Sam Harris Discusses the Benefits of Mindfulness
- The Minimalists in What Would Happen If You Just Let Go?
- Richard J. Anderson in Simplify My iPhone
- Patrick Rhone in How Little Can You Get Away With?
- Nick Wynja in Simple Needs
- Colin Wright in Stuff-Focus
- Colin Wright in Set Your Defaults
a word they also use in their site's subtitle ↩︎