I watched the documentary Minimalism on Netflix this afternoon. I was struck by how out of the ordinary this way of life seemed to be to ordinary people.
It’s hard to get started with minimising for most people because they don’t have a strong sense of right and wrong in their own lives. That is, they probably know and can justify their stand on hot-button issues with national coverage, but not about what’s important to them and therefore what’s superfluous – the basis of minimising. This requires awareness, and that in turn requires attention, which has severly diminished in recent years. It’s also become easy to outsource personal judgement to algorithms. This makes it hard to decide where to cut back and what to retain. No wonder people react negatively to the idea of minimalism, that they conflate it with having to give things away. If we aren’t certain about what we don’t need, we will hang on to everything – in fact that is how we accumulate them in the first place.
Minimising, I think is also perhaps easier with material stuff than with time. One gives us more space, which we can keep empty. The other gives us more time, which we still need (?) to fill. What do we do with the hours we gain by cutting down on our commute somehow – meet people, meditate, journal, walk, meditate, or binge on TV or the internet? All of the former require deliberation. That in turn requires searching within, which is hard now because for years now we have found answers outside, either browsing a catalog or a list of recommendations. That probably explains the visceral negative reaction to minimialism.
The last facet of this is social. Sharing is the best way to get the most out of things, and one could say with time as well. That requires being comfortable with being part of a community, being comfortable with asking for or borrowing, at estimating value (not price) so you can barter possessions and/or time. These skills have eroded over time as we have settled into living privately and independently, with strict boundaries with our neighbours and colleagues. Our identity is the work we do and the things we own; our ego is bound to our achievements and acquisitions. Being part of a group that shares these causes us deep discomfort.
All these also make clear how much more at peace we can be if we do adjust naturally, somehow, to these new norms. We will be persons who know and therefore express themselves by what matters to them instead of what brands most resonate with them. We will be people who spend our free time pursuing what most appeals to us than what is most easily beamed to all of us. Therefore we will be (to ourselves) more genuine and (to others) more interesting individuals, and that will make it more natural and appealing for us to participate in our local communities.