Am I A Cup Hoarder? The Minimalists Visit Chicago

Last Thursday, The Minimalists put on their best black shirt and stepped out onstage at Thalia Hall for the Chicago leg of their Less is More tour. The stage was set in typical minimalist fashion with only two chairs, encouraging the audience attention to focus on the wisdom that Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, the self-proclaimed Minimalists, had to offer about living a meaningful life focused on owning less for the purpose of having more time, purpose, passion, and value.

I took a seat in the third row, thanks to my partner in climate Jennifer’s last minute idea to snatch the VIP tickets, which afforded us with the chance to be the first in line to meet the guys post-show, front row seats, and a complimentary stack of their books. The house was packed, Joshua and Ryan were hilarious and insightful, and I left with one big realization: I own too many cups.

I walked into Thalia Hall thinking that I was already enlightened and didn’t need to minimize my lifestyle any more than I have. I tend to be super cognizant of what I purchase and whether I will be creating waste.

But throughout their entire talk, my mind started mentally emptying out every room in my house. I realized that as a single person living alone, there is absolutely no reason for me to own 15 cups, 6 plates, 9 spoons, two cabinets full of plastic bags (I feel guilty about getting rid of them…), 8 scarves, and 5 winter coats. I’m not sure why I started collecting so many of these things, specifically kitchen supplies (I think partly out of avoidance of cleaning what’s already dirtied, partly out of them making me feel less like I’m living alone), but I left Thalia feeling ready to let go.

So this week begins my process of de-cupping.

Finding Minimalism

I first got turned onto The Minimalists when Jennifer, who is one step ahead of me in all things environmental, recommended that I watch the documentary Minimalism. It took me a full six months to watch it after her initial urging, and when I finally sat down to watch the film, 40,000 feet off the ground on a United flight while on my way to the Denver Climate Reality Leadership Corps training, it as was though all the disparate aspects of my activist identity came together.

Leading up the Denver training, I had been feeling that something was missing from my approach to environmental advocacy. I care deeply about environmentalism and believe that climate change is one of the most important issues to be focused on at this time in history. At the same time, the science of climate change is not what draws me to environmentalism. The humanistic issues related to climate change, like what drives our behavior and what it means to live a fulfilling, happy life, are central questions guiding my personal life quest, and I was itching to make the connection between environmentalism and those questions of human happiness and fulfillment.

Well, in dropped Minimalism. The Minimalists are not preaching on an environmental platform, per say. Their less-consumptive way of life is driven by a desire for less stress and more internal value. Which is what made me so excited to watch the film. It affirmed all of my beliefs that our modern consumptive lifestyle, which relies on heavily polluting resource extraction and creates massive amounts of waste, not only damages ecosystems, but causes higher levels of stress and disconnection from our ability to live truly happy, fulfilling lives. Which then affects our health and relationships.

Connecting the Dots

As someone who meditates daily and lives a pretty healthy lifestyle (much for the purpose of managing anxiety), making the connection between fulfillment, happiness, consumption, and environmentalism seems natural and necessary.

Because environmentalism isn’t just about saving the polar bears (though that does matter). It is about learning how to live in tune with the laws of nature, which inherently provides us with more fulfillment. When we recognize our interconnectedness with other humans, species, and ecosystems, we recognize our responsibility to live lightly, and can live lives of greater consciousness and purpose.

Ayurveda, the ancient Indian science of medicine, is one such guide to living in tune with the laws of nature. Ayurveda teaches the importance of eating and making lifestyle decisions based on individual mental and physical constitution, as well as with the seasons. Ayurveda teaches that inner harmony can be attained when we coordinate our lives with the outside environment, and that we can be stress-free naturally. It also teaches that when we bring balance to our minds, bodies, and emotions, in part by coordinating with the environment around us, we have access to a deeper truth — the knowledge of who we truly are. And when we understand our true Selves, we find meaning in even the most mundane aspects of life.

Final Reflections

While The Minimalists were fun to see, I ultimately left feeling that their message was missing a key component: the connection between our consumption and the environmental impacts of the waste we create. When people get rid of their belongings in the name of downsizing for happiness, it is so necessary to know where the waste is going and the life cycle of what we own.

But I guess only so much can be addressed. And I am happy that they make the connection between true happiness and our “stuff.”

On a separate note, does anyone need any cups?

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