Lately, I have been throwing things out of my life. People who do not respond whether that be emails, text messages, or verbal communication, who do not reciprocate greetings, and especially those who take the intensity of personal relationship for granted. These are people that I no longer want in my life.
These are both things — as in objects — and relationships that somehow had long been parts of my life without any true purposes. I have also been cutting down on talking to people and on writing nonsense. I only want to write and talk about things that matter — not to me but to others. The rationale is simple: If what I want to talk about only matters to me, it’s easier for me just to introspect and keep it to myself. I have been deleting people from my social networks and phone contacts. I have been deleting emails and messages from people whom I no longer would like to be associated and recycling things that I have kept for them. I have been forgiving and forgetting those who have done mean things to me, in that order. I have also been donating my belongings to those who are in need of. I’m hoping that by the end of this highly rewarding process I’ll have fewer than 100 “true friends” and fewer than 150 objects to take with me wherever I’d end up after this year.
Those of you who have been following me on this blog may have seen this coming. I have been writing about the economy of words, the Herzfeld’s Rules for effective communication, and so on. All of these posts, needless to say, are leading to this epic post (like every ninth episode of every season of Game of Thrones): A Minimalism Manifesto.
Why all the sudden am I becoming a minimalist? (At least I’m hoping to become one). For one I am moving out of the city that I have been living in for three years and I cannot possibly take all my belongings that I have mindlessly accumulated over the past three years with me. So, I am becoming a minimalist not only to manage my expectations and objects that I own but also to keep track of what “realistically” and practically matters to me. The real reason, however, is that I have recently realized, thanks to many of the failed relationship I have had with people, that the more doesn’t mean the better. The more expectations you have, often, the more disappointments to which they lead.
There is a cost for maintaining everything, whether that be the financial cost or the cost of opportunity; say, how many great opportunities you have missed by keeping an unworthy person in your life? I have stuff kept in a storage that I have been paying money to rent, and I have never gone back to take them out and use them. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is doing this. But since I have accumulated so much in that storage room, it’s impossible to go there and to spend days sorting out what are there and what are there that are worth keeping and what are not. It’s like a lost and sunk cost which I will have to continue to pay until that one day (when I don’t have a full-time job anymore, perhaps) during which I could and would have the time to go through my stuff and find the way to throw some of them away, once and for all.
The same principle also applies to talking. Most of the problems we have, make no mistake about it, are results of ineffective communication. Hence, the more we talk, the more we tend to make some kinds of mistakes that would make other misinterpret your intention, your point, your stance and things and therefore misunderstand you. So, it’s better to keep everything in life to just a “bare minimum.” Identifying what are not meaningful to your life, and what kinds of people are too selfish, sociopathic, and superficial will help you make a decision.
This blog post is timely one because the trend of being a minimalist is picking up steam, especially in Japan where not being a minimalist can cost you your life. In the country constantly hit by an earthquake, the more stuff that you own, you riskier for you to be buried under them when your house collapses because of when the earthquake strikes. Take this Japanese minimalist for example:
Take Fumio Sasaki, for example (pictured below). The 36-year-old book editor lives in a single-room apartment in Tokyo with three shirts, four pairs of pants, four pairs of socks, and a few other belongings. He wasn’t always like this. The transformation to minimalism occurred two years ago, when Sasaki grew tired of trying to keep up with trends and maintaining his collections of books, CDs, and DVDs. He got rid of it all, which he says isn’t as difficult as it seems, thanks to the sharing economy.
My suggestion is: Think minimalist; do it now and do it fast. You can’t afford to wait to be a minimalist. Once you have started to look around you, carefully, you’ll see that there are so many things, people, and matters that are extraneous to you life.
They not only weighing you down but also holding you back. The sooner you can get rid of them, the faster your emotional engine will work at full speed. I will get to the philosophy behind it at some point in this post, along with some indirect philosophical idea such as Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. What I want to say right now is that after having done so, quite rigorously, I have never felt better with my life.
The trend of “minimalistic living” is not new. In fact, it’s quite old and this blog post is to give the best reasoning (ever, yes, ever) to convince us that going back to those ancient wisdom might be the way to get out of the troubles we have in the modern era. While the Japanese and the Daoist are among the best known for this type of living in the east, the famous Cynics in Ancient Greek are the epitome of the so-called “bare minimum life.” The Cynics, in fact, have taken the bare life idea to the extreme by famously living in a pot, and only wrapping themselves with used clots that other people did not need.
The Theravada Buddhist monks, in essence, are supposed to have done the same. These monks, in fact, are supposed to reuse the cloths wrapped around corpses in preparing for the cremation (once the bodies are unwrapped for the preparation for the cremation, the monks can take the clothes and re-use them as their clothing fabric), as, that way the monks are truly re-using both of form and essence of life. The idea behind it is simple: The more things, relationships, and commitments that are floating around your life without any purposes, the more you’re likely to be drawn away from understanding your true needs. The political philosopher Thomas Hobbes has made these belonging essential to his doctrine.
According to Hobbes, we “lock our door at night” because we are afraid of people coming to you house and taking your properties, and hurting you in order to take your belongings. Well, if you live like a Cynics, a Daoist, or a Buddhist monk, the chances that you won’t have anything valuable that anyone would ever want to take from you is probably quite high. So, you’ll a much better sense of your life and a peace of mind. As I have discussed, also, in my previous post, we don’t need a lot of things to have a decent life. All these desires — for the tasty, beautiful, and lustful things — are temptations to divert our attention from the reality; to make us not living in the moment. When you are not living in the moment, it might be sound to say that you might not be living at all. In the words of the talented John Lennon, “life is what we live when we are not busy doing other things.”
That is to say, these unnecessary things are, essentially, distractions. Tasty food distracts you from the essence of food which is nutrition. Beauty distracts you from the essence of relationship which is compassion. Money distracts you from what you really want which is a healthy life that provides you with the ample ground to thrive for the betterment th society. You get the idea. I personally disdain the sweet desert, beautiful faces and bodies (especially cosmetic), and money, for that reason.
Think of yourself, for instance, opening a closet just to find out that you have more than ten sets of dresses of shirts from which to choose. You’re likely to spend a lot it time finding the right match for the day. Sometimes, you might even antagonize over the abundance of choices. Most of the time, that is to say, the more doesn’t lead to better time management. Truth be told: the more sometimes doesn’t lead to the effective pairing of clothes neither. This conundrum is precisely what leads many people living in the contemporary society to think, “wouldn’t it be nice if there is only one ‘perfect’ dress or shirt in the closet instead of ten?” This notion of, what the renowned psychologist Barry Schwartz calls, “the paradox of choice” is the emotional underpinning of the real need to cut down on unnecessary consumption.
This very idea can be related to the notion of constructed desire that I have discussed in the previous post (just to recap here: we have so many desires that are given to us by the society). The idea of having “a closet full of dresses or shirts,” for example, is also one of those constructed desires. The society, by ways of consumerism, wants us to consume, consume, and consume, by shaming us to believe that wearing the same dress or shirt every day is a symbol of economic lack, anachronism, and the shortage of financial capital to pursue a variety of available forms of aesthetic representations. But why should that matter?
Even in the innovation field, the idea of going out there to learn to live like the “not have” could essentially become a true source of innovation. In the book The Ten Faces of Innovation, Tom Kelly of IDEO, a world-renowned creative consultancy, writes about how IDEO has been able to come up with so many cutting edge ideas simply by taking away the luxury of life. It’s easy to not seeing any problems when you are surrounded by objects that are providing you with convenience. “Try to live without a computer for one day and you’ll realize that there’re many other ways to receiving news,” Kelly writes. That’s true. It’s very unlikely for anyone to be able to think about anything creative if being surrounded only be convenience. There would no discontents to think about, no problems to solve, and no design questions to tackle. Innovation is about creating something that is new and effective — and innovators usually think about something new and innovative when they have to live with the old objects/ideas/services by which they feel discontent.
In my own experience of working as an architect, the best way to learn what is needed to be built is to live like the people for whom we’re building. For instance, when we’re building a housing community in a remote area, we’d decided to spend two weeks with the local, living like them to understand their basic needs. In that community, the locals didn’t have running water and electricity, so they’re living a very different kind of life to which I wax acquainted. It’s a minimalism from a different perspective. The locals got up in the morning when the sun came up and did everything for which they needed the power of the sun to do before going to bed once the sun had come down. This way of life got me thinking about the design that would fit their needs and benefit them rather than me because, at the end of the day, they’re the ones who would be living in the architecture that I would create. “Scarcity is the mother of all innovation,” Tom Kelly has provided an example:
To create something new, you may have to take something away. For example, MTV does what they call “deprivation studies,” where they get their most frequent viewers to go “cold turkey” (the abrupt and complete stopping) for thirty days of no MTV, just to see what clever alternatives they come up with. So try your own version of scarcity.
That is, want to learn about sustainable food consumption? Try to limit yourself to a small budget per day for food and you’ll realize your physical need and the value of money that could fulfill such need.Want to learn about the importance of physical communication? Try to live without a cellphone for a week would do the trick. “Not having enough makes you realize not only the beauty of what you already have, but also the problems that you can use design thinking to tackle,” Kelly writes. He calls those who are good at “doing more with less” (whom I’d call “minimalists”) “hurdlers,” as they love to turn lemons into lemonade. “Give them a constraint, a tight deadline, a small budget, and they’re likely to excel,” Kelly also writes.
I am determined, in the next 3 weeks, to get rid of 90% of “stuff” in my current room, and two-thirds of people with whom I no longer want to be in touch. I am also determined to let go of the collections of feelings that are hurting my soul — the feeling of having a burden of having to care for others who do not care about me, as well as the weight of having to maintain relationships with are no longer fruitful. I believe that this would be a solid step toward a “bare minimum life,” in which I could eventually get to live it.