I have recently been reading and investigating minimalism. The definitions of minimalism vary but for the most part it means divesting yourself of those things, including relationships, in your life that do not provide freedom and happiness.
I like minimalism. I have noticed, however, that there are extremes. I have viewed pictures of minimalist homes where the only piece of furniture in the house was a chair. No pictures, no books, no colorful throws, no crystal. Nothing.
It strikes me that minimalism can become the same sort of extreme that hoarding can become. Hoarders take living with things to the extreme, it is a sickness and a psychological disturbance, and I can see that extreme minimalists are no different. What separates the two is that minimalists are blanketed in modern culture. Minimalism comes across as cool. Hoarding does not.
With that said, allow me to get philosophical for a moment. Before modern philosophy, philosophers and theologians would recognize an objective reality outside of themselves. For example, there really is a world of things out there and believe it or not, I am not the center of the universe. Modern philosophers, such as Descartes, turned objectivity on its head by declaring, “I think, therefore I am.”
This simple little statement has had profound implications. It has turned truth inward. Now each individual is the center of the universe and they create truth. “Things” don’t exist out there for real, they are only imaginations or mental concepts.
But the reality is that there are things in our world that exist whether we want to believe in them or not. That we can have intelligent conversation about various “things” means they really are out there. For example, Miley Cyrus, really did do some twerking and we can talk about it together because it was not just in my head, but really happened.
Alright, enough philosophy. The point is that it is okay to surround ourselves with things that have beauty, that are good, that are useful, that point us to our faith or wisdom, and that have sentimental value. Things have a truth of their own that they communicate; it’s why we enjoy them.
So when I say balanced minimalism, to me that means carefully considering the things and relationships in my life and only divesting myself of those things that don’t bring me closer to wisdom, to family, and to friends.
Balanced minimalism is a new concept that I am experimenting with and I am enjoying it. I am slowly working through the house packing things into plastic tubs that don’t add value to my life.
Here’s my checklist:
1. Is it a beautiful thing?
2. Is it useful? Does it have utilitarian value? If so, have I used it within the last two years?
3. Does this thing make me feel spiritual? Is it a symbol or marker that points me to God?
4. Does it have sentimental value that I cannot replace?
5. Do I have too many of these things? Can I have one instead of three?
That’s the mental checklist that I run through before I divest of a “thing.”
Another concept that I am becoming aware of is to buy quality clothing. For example, it may be the case that I can buy three long-sleeved shirts from Kohl’s with a 30% off coupon for under $50.00. But it is also the case that I can buy one organic, cotton Patagonia long-sleeved shirt that will outlast all three of the Kohl’s shirts. In doing so, I buy a quality product that fits right, feels right, and will last. And, bonus, it takes less space than three other shirts.
One of the things that I have learned in foreign travel is that it is only in America where we think we need to wear a new outfit each and every day, and sometimes two outfits in one day. It is not uncommon in the rest of the world to wear one outfit for three days.
Anyway, balanced minimalism is a new interest and I am having fun thinking about it philosophically, but also practically. It’s changing the way I view my things. As I approach this new framework, I am careful to keep the great words of Thomas Aquinas in my mind that “virture” is the mean between the excesses. Meaning, I am staying balanced as I approach minimalism.