There is a lot going on in my life right now. Those of you who have read previous posts on this blog may already know that my marriage of almost 13 years recently ended, so I am currently in the process of preparing to move into a new place of my own. The last couple of years of watching this relationship fall apart have, naturally, lead to a lot of examination of my life. It has been a painful experience, but it has also been a period of some of the most profound growth that I have undergone during my life. Now I am onto a new phase of life, and have decided that some big changes are in order.
I have had an interest in something resembling Minimalism for quite a while, long before I knew to apply that term to it. From time to time during my marriage I would feel the need to “downsize” our life. Get rid of some of the things that we had accumulated over time. We made a few purges over the years we were together, but never really a substantial shift in the amount of things we possessed or the way that we were living.
Last year I came across a book that started to shift my thinking on the topic. I read a book called Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki, and his descriptions of the relationship he was cultivating with things really resonated with me. As often happens, reading this book led me to seek out more minimalist authors, which lead me to discover The Minimalists, which in turn lead me to a number of other bloggers and podcasters. There were so many overlapping and complimentary themes between my Buddhist studies and what I was reading about Minimalism, that it’s a little difficult to say which influenced my thoughts on specific lifestyle changes. Regardless of where I drew inspiration from, I began to think more seriously about adopting a more minimalist lifestyle.
Given the less than stable state of my home life, I didn’t really push to make any major changes in our household, but I did start to scale back a little on my own personal accumulation of stuff and get rid of a few things. It wasn’t until the decision was made that we were going to be separating that I decided to make any major changes. I have recently located a small studio apartment, and as we pack things up for our mutual moves, I have chosen to dive into a full-scale minimalist project by committing to only taking a minimal amount of things with me in the move. This is made easier by the fact that I first selected a place that only had minimal space to put things in, but it still hasn’t been easy.
There were a number of things that guided me toward adopting a minimalist lifestyle. Some were influenced by philosophical factors, some by ethical, and some by practical considerations. Here are just a few –
Avoiding Attachment and Identification with Things
One area in which I found alignment between Buddhism and Minimalism in is the area of attachment. In Buddhism the goal is to avoid attachments in general. Minimalism is based on the idea that we don’t need things to make us happy, and that attachment to the accumulation of things leads to a lot of discontent and unhappiness. Things break. Things disappoint us. Things require upkeep. Things cause clutter. Things can be useful and can bring us joy in some cases, but attachment to our things sets us up for suffering.
Our things can also end up becoming our identity. We create an image to others, and to ourselves, of who we are, based entirely on the things we own. We begin to define ourselves and find our value in our things. We suffer when our things don’t live up to our aspirations, thinking we aren’t complete as a person if we don’t possess the right things.
Our Things Have an Impact on Our Planet
From an environmental standpoint, purchasing new things means more things have to be produced. Some items have less impact than others, but none of these things are completely neutral. They require that resources be gathered to produce them, and in many cases they require production methods that might not be beneficial to the environment. There is generally some amount of transport involved, which means they have a carbon footprint. All of this, and then when we get rid of an item, it usually ends up occupying space in a landfill. By being more intentional with the stuff we buy and maintain we are able to decrease the impact that we have on our homes, individually, as well as our global home.
More Time and Energy For the Important Things
One of the things that I have realized in the early stages of this process, is that the things that I have cause me to spend a lot of time and/or money on their upkeep. Having so many things means I have to clean more things, replace batteries, spend money on electricity, etc.
Many of the things I own also cause a distraction from things that are more important. I have seen this played out during my 31 Day Precept Project. I have observed the role that social media, television, and video games play as an intoxicant in my daily life. Even though I might have a plan to work on some design work or a blog post, I decide that I’m just going to watch one show first. Then I decide that I actually feel too tired to work on my projects, so I just keep watching until I’m ready to go to bed.
More Financial Freedom for Experiences and Charity
By committing to owning less things, I will spend less money. This will allow me to eliminate debt, save more, and have more resources for charitable projects and donations. I have always told myself that certain causes were a priority for me, but when it came down to taking action, I showed that my priorities were actually not in line with my values, and that I mostly prioritized the support of the lifestyle I was living.
I have also never really had the money to participate in experience that I have wanted to have. It has always been a dream to travel more, even just camping trips around my local area, but I have never really saved to a point where that was realistic. By minimizing, I can cut my expenses and begin to actually save money for these experiences.
Living a More Meaningful Life Through Minimalism
This effort to minimize can be summed up simply by saying that I want to live a more meaningful life that is based on my relationships and worthwhile experiences, in place of one that is typified by the things that I own. This process is just beginning, but I am excited to see where it leads.