How to find your perfect level of consumerism and your place along the minimalist/maximist continuum.
On the road of materialistic consumption, some recent landmarks have included the industrial era, the post war 50’s when American advertisers sought to create a generation of consumers to keep up the high levels of manufacturing possible with new technologies. Rather than make the working hours shorter, it created a false necessity, a desire for the latest of everything to keep up with the Jones.
Keep people working, earning, spending. The 80’s was another time when conspicuous consumption was the order of the day. The tide has been slowly turning since then, and despite the eternal interest in the lives of the rich and famous, simple living has become a hugely popular theme, if the amount of books, blogs and youtube channels is anything to go by.
A few aspects of these trends include:
The Tiny House Movement: Downsizing your home, the ideal being an off grid tiny house on a trailer. (200sq metres or less)
Having a minimalist ‘capsule’ wardrobe, 20, 30, or 40 items per season.
Frugality: learning what our parents or grandparents knew, how to live on a shoe string budget. Buying things that last. Buying second hand. Borrowing.
Home grown, home sewn, home baked. Anything home made has seen a huge resurgence, with knitting groups springing up everywhere, and a new generation of jam and chutney makers emerging.
Time banks, loan banks, crowd sourcing, bartering, farmers markets. Real and online places where people can buy, support or exchange services and goods without big business involved.
Stuffication: A book of the same title, says there is a massive growing trend towards people spending money on experiences, i.e. travel, education, concerts, etc rather than on more stuff.
100 objects or less: The challenge to simply your life down to 100 objects total or less. With rules about not including underwear or counting a pair of shoes as one and not two!
Declutter: TV programs, consultants, book advice, blogs, youtube channels, all centering around the idea that you will feel a lot better if you throw out excess stuff and organize the stuff you do have.
Simple living is not the holy grail of happiness, but if you are at present stressed with too much debt, too much stuff and feel overwhelmed, then yes, it may well be. Like everything it is about knowing yourself and at what kind of lifestyle makes you thrive and be happiest, and that of course can change.
Right now as I write this article, I am sitting in the back of my station wagon, where I slept by the beach last night. I have everything I need within arms reach literally. 3 picnic hampers, 1 for food, 1 for books and drawing equipment and one for underwear (lots of it is the key to minimalist laundry trips!) One container for clothes and one container for kitchen ultensils.
This is luxury, compared to the folks I see backpacking or cycling around the country. I have my computer, speakers, books and enough clothes I don’t need to do laundry for two weeks.
However, I have also met a couple travelling with a huge modern coach all to themselves. The type that famous rock bands travel in. And they didn’t seem to be planning to downsize any day soon.
Its all about knowing at what level you feel comfortable and happy . Right now I’m loving my situation. I love the solitude, the anonymity, the simplicity and space. Because right now I want it. I am loving the space to think, write, draw, walk, eat salads and fruit since I don’t even have a pot on board. I love the fact that I straighten my duvet and open my curtains and voila, housekeeping completed for the day. However, I know that will change, especially as the weather cools.
There is a perfect level of simplicity of living which is the one that makes you happy. Too under that and you will feel bothered, inconvenienced, dreaming of comforts and space. Too over that and you will be overwhelmed and burdened with things, responsibility and complications.
There is also a perfect level of living which enables you to serve others best. And since serving others is a big part of happiness, sometimes you want to learn to manage a slightly more complicated life because it creates an great environment for others too.
Some people, run huge house holds, businesses, charities, holiday homes, large extended families, fleets of vehicles and usually have to manage a team to help them do so. If they have been brought up in that environment or come to it gradually, they would have mastered it. They have enough mental and physical energy or just familiarity with it all, to dance with the complexity of their creation. Simplifying, downsizing, may serve no purpose in their life, in fact may compromise it, except in term of streamlining some aspects. Artists and crafts people may also require large amounts of space, where they can collect materials, spread themselves out, and create a certain amount of chaos in order to feel free to create.
Think of those awesome fashionist as from New York who feature in the film ‘Advanced Styling’. These woman make their clothes into expressions of personalized art, mobile galleries, often slowly building up a complete outfit around a single piece of jewellery until it is worthy for displaying in public. They are the no minimalists, and yet how much colour and joy they bring to themselves and world through the richness and complexity of their outfits.
On the other hand you have Steve Jobs who wore exactly the same brand of blue jeans and black polos every day, as a kind of uniform, in order to make one less decision every morning and free up his mind for other creative pursuits.
I lived an off grid really tiny house in a forest for about 8 weeks. It had always been a desire, and I did enjoy it. However I realized that long term I would prefer a bigger not so isolated space to host people (something that brings me happiness) I made the most it, but it didn’t match my inner most vision for my life. Not that the vision was that clear at the time, but it just didn’t feel quite like me.
So, we can see it as a continuum along a long line from living in a tent to living in a palace; from a backpack level of clothes to a Carrie Bradshaw walk in wardrobe level. We must learn to follow our inner guidance or happiness to know which level of simplicity/complexity is right for us at this point in our lives.
There is no right or wrong, you decide if saving the world through buying recycled is the way for you, or whether supporting an upstart bespoke vegan shoe company with several purchases is more your thing. Whatever you do, do it with joy. Don’t make a religion out of simple living, unless that makes you happy. But definitely don’t lose sleep if you are one sock over your 100 item limit, or if buying your groceries at the local mega-mart is just much more convenient than trudging through the rain at the weekend farmers market.