“Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.” — Joshua Becker
If you were to ask me, “What is the biggest need of the 21st century?”. My answer would probably be “Minimalism”.
What does the term mean and why do we need it so badly? But before that let me provide you with a premise that might help you to interpret and understand this issue a little better.
I’m of the strong opinion that human kind has always valued “goods” over everything else since the industrial revolution of 1760 and even before that, contrary to the majoritarian opinion that ‘people have started valuing goods over everything else only in the contemporary times’. The reason to quote the industrial revolution as a reference point is because that was when the availability of goods as we know it today was changed forever.
If you come to think of it, if my opinion about this issue wasn’t true we wouldn’t even have an industrial revolution as we know it.
The western powers by virtue of a number of factors, some of which naturally include colonialism and slave trade along with vicious use of economic principles of mercantilism among other things, helped it amass large amounts of wealth in its state coffers giving it a good 200 year run while keeping the under-developed and developing nations in a state of misery and despair. The raw materials in many cases was extracted from the ‘colonized’ and sent to the ‘colonizing’ to be processed into usable goods only to be sold back into the market of the colonized at huge profit margins. The proceeds of such activities helped keep the western powers in control and their coffers filled with dirty money.
(But i’m digressing, this is an article on minimalism, not on how the western world has kept the third world countries under it’s heel for over two centuries…we’ll cover that some other time…now coming back to the topic)
Fast forward to 1960's and the 70’s when the United States and some of the European nations gave to the world companies like McDonalds, Nike, Apple, Microsoft, Adidas, Walmart, not to forget fashion brands like Dior, YSL, etc. These companies along with others told us that it was okay for us to desire for more, that its okay for us to want and keep…and that we’ll help you get it easily by selling it at cheap prices and offering it to you very close to your place of residence no matter what. We believed that.
(Food for thought: Fashion industry is the second most polluting industry, thanks to “fast fashion”, right after Oil and Gas which takes away the first prize. If you have a Netflix subscription, you should definitely watch the documentary “The True Cost” by Andrew Morgan or just read about it)
In the Indian context, things started to shake down when the economy was liberalized in the year 1991 by our government to promote globalization in order to make the domestic market more competitive, forcing sellers (mostly for consumer good) to provide good quality products and at industry competitive prices. This was a good policy decision in my opinion as it did deliver discernible results in the market as a result of which the end consumer was getting the best quality product for the lowest rate possible.
Now we had all these aforementioned brands marching right down into the Indian territory selling the vision of ‘a good tomorrow’, the same vision which had already captivated the American and the European middle class masses and robbed them of their hard earned money by making them buy stuff that was never needed in the first place.
(Yet again, I’m digressing. Kartikey, this is not an article on the evils of capitalism, it’s about minimalism. Stick to the theme, get to the point.)
I’m sorry to bore you with the history but tracing the roots was important (although, to be honest, I have barely even touched the surface) because without it “Minimalism” as a requirement of today’s society won’t make sense and the realization that people were living a happy life even before these new found luxuries and shenanigans somehow invaded our everyday lives until recently is important as only then will you be able to appreciate the mere redundancy of these material things that you feel are too essential to let go off.
Minimalism as a concept initiates when you are in the supermarket or on Amazon/Flipkart and want to buy something but just wait for a moment before you hit that ‘BUY NOW’ button and think about “Why am I buying this particular thing?” or when you are cleaning your apartment and find something which you haven’t touched for years because you just don’t give a sh*t about it and the only thing stopping you from throwing it out or giving it to someone to whom it might be useful is the sentiment behind it of the person from whom you received it.
I challenge you to think about these instances. I can bet you that in this past week itself you have found yourself in either situation at least twice, where you asked yourself this fundamental question, “Do I really NEED it?”
Admit it. The underlying excuse that is stopping you from parting away with that thing is “I MIGHT HAVE TO USE IT SOMEDAY SO LET’S NOT THROW IT OUT JUST YET”. But is that day ever going to come?
Please note that minimalism is not about throwing or getting rid of stuff. I cannot emphasize this enough. It’s about keeping stuff in your life that adds value to you, no matter how useless to the world.
You could have a few things that you are truly passionate about or just find inseparably useful (notwithstanding the opinion of the general masses on that particular article). For me, it’s my book collection and a few other things like my phone, laptop that I can’t think to live without. You could have a collection of movies overflowing your cupboard or stationary stacked in your study table drawer but as long as it is providing some value to you, there’s no harm in keeping it. (Use this exception very cautiously though and not label everything under this category to form your excuse).
Chances are that you have heard or read the phrase “Less is More”, if you are even slightly connected to the outside world. Without getting into the hypocrisy with which some people use this phrase, I’d like to point out that this is what is the fundamental basis of the practice of Minimalism.
Think about it this way. Won’t you be a little stress free if you knew that you had 10 less things to maintain in your life? Won’t it be better if you knew that you only have a few, but the best outfits, in your wardrobe and that whatever you pick will look good on you without thinking too much? Won’t it be better if you didn’t have to work overtime on the job that you hate so damn much cause you don’t have to make any more torture money just so you can buy junk you’ll never use?
The answer to these questions will probably prove the “Less is More” theory, ’cause humans since time immemorial have always done what they have done to make themselves feel better inside, either in heart or mind and when you have the ability to do something which is bound to make you feel good, you ought to try it.
The art of minimalism is fundamentally to make you feel lighter within, where you have a “give no f*cks attitude” towards material things so that you can reach that meditative state of realization that you are not what you own but who you are. It seems like the apt moment to quote Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) from Fight Club,
‘The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.”
There are certain rules though, that you need to follow while practicing the art of minimalism in order to be effective and at peace with yourself during the acclimatization phase. These have been listed in the following section.
1. Don’t be Radical:
It is incredibly important that you are not radical in your approach. Extremes of anything is bad and only balance is something which can ensure success at any practice, regardless of the category to which it belongs to. Minimalism is an individualized practice and needs to be altered according to the individual person’s needs. If you work in a strictly professional/business environment then repeating your clothing to a point that you look shabby might cost you your job, try compensating that loss of minimalism in other areas of life or find out innovative ways to beat the challenges that you might be facing by looking up solutions to your problems online (In this particular instance, something like “Project 333" can come to your rescue).
Minimalism needs to be altered according to individual needs and routine by downsizing to the maximum lengths possible and keeping in check the pragmatic limitations in mind. Only that will make it easier to follow through.
2. Separate Need from Want:
This one needs no explaining. You know in the hearts of hearts what you need over what you want, yet you still go ahead and buy/keep that thing which is adding no value to your life whatsoever. It’s stuff like this which will add to your anguish.
In today’s world it can be hard to identify what we need as the capitalists I mentioned earlier often market products as something passed down to humankind straight from the hands of God. A classic case study in this category is of Apple Inc. which every year makes a small tweak in their phones and advertises it with full wrath only to make its customers feel dissatisfied about the previous generation phones.
It’s your responsibility to be conscious about separating need from want as no one else can do that for you.
3. Extend the practice:
Try and extend your practice to other avenues of life by de-cluttering not just your physical space but also your digital space. In today’s information age we are surrounded by technology and it can often be disconcerting with the never ending inflow of news in your feed, countless applications at disposal and the endless scrolling through time-consuming apps like Instagram and Snapchat which have often been accused of creating digital platforms in a way that play with the psychology of its users to keep them hooked on it for hours. (Google the term, “Attention Hacking”)
My suggestion would be to find balance by keeping only the apps that you need the most and place them on your homescreen and remove all the redundant apps. You can always access Facebook and Instagram via the browser, that will help you be productive. Also, de-clutter your mind by turning off notifications from apps that have no use.
4. Accommodate and Adapt:
Don’t expect other people around you to change themselves or their behavior just so you can follow through on your practice of being a minimalist. You can definitely ask for help from close friends and family members to help you by reminding you to do or not do a particular task as part of your quest to downsize but expecting them to suppress their personal desire to want more will only grow the internal frustration inside of you.
You can only tell people of the benefits of being a minimalist and leave it at that to think for themselves and make a smart decision which will not only maximize the impact of the “few” but also preserve the limited store of energy inside each one of us to think and act on the things that matter. With this, i’ll leave you to think about the merits and demerits of minimalism and hope that you create a practice that is sustainable to your needs and routine. Good Luck.