“You only truly own what you can carry in two hands at a dead run.”—Anonymous
My life is getting simpler. Since I first heard about “minimalism” (post—“Minimalism and Our Couches“) I’ve made steady progress. Gone is the hay mower, the hay rake, the farm wagon, and the hay baler. Gone too is the Coleman pop-up camper. Then, today I sold my Subaru Impreza, since I don’t really need it since we have the new electric vehicles. That also took a whole set of four snow tires and rims out of the barn. Gone also is the exercise machine that no one uses (we all just exercise outside; a better choice anyway?). Gone are piles of old windows and pallets. And those are just some of the bigger items, I’ve been steadily removing smaller things, too—scrap metal to the recycler, unused toys to Goodwill, magazines to the sharing bin at the Co-op, bags of worthless items to the garbage, old paint to the haz-mat collection site in town, an unused tv to the give-away shed at the transfer station.
And here’s the interesting part—with every material-goods-reduction comes a palpable sense of calm (though I literally danced a jig in the yard when the pop-up camper disappeared over the ridge). Each item gone results in one less thing to move, one less thing to mow around, to maintain, store, or otherwise deal with. And it’s somehow peaceful. I never really understood it before, those calm meditation rooms for yoga practice, those Japanese Zen gardens, all those people with their feng-shui-compliant interiors. But I get it now. Clutter is stressful, it wears you down; it’s like noise pollution for the soul. Material goods also don’t usually bring us joy, and perhaps just the opposite. If we’re not careful, we become slaves to our possessions, working hard to earn money for their storage and maintenance, and spending time dealing with them.
I’ve had a bit of help along the way. Every once and awhile I’ll check in on Joshua Becker’s Becoming Minimalist website for some inspiration. (In an odd coincidence, I think he lives just up the road from me, in Burlington, VT). And, my wife is more than happy to participate in clutter-reduction, I think she was born with the feng-shui gene. And, despite the progress, I’ve got plenty of room to continue. Next on the list—my road bike from my high school and college days that hasn’t been on the road for twenty years, shelves of VHS tapes that I no longer draw upon when making lessons, and the other Subaru gas-mobile…
Two areas stand out as difficult, though. One, books. I really, really like my books. I know that I shouldn’t view them this way, but I really see them as part of my identity. I bought a Kindle the other month after realizing that e-readers come out better in the sustainability arena (post, “My Feminine Side“), but I don’t love it. After looking at a computer screen for much of my working day, I’m ready to be finished with electronic gizmos once I get home. Actually, this is another version of mental clutter for me—a “real” book is pretty darn simple and relaxing compared to the Kindle, with its screens and settings and batteries, etc. Anyway, we have bookshelves all over the house that are overflowing, and clearly in need of some minimalism treatment. And, I suppose I could indeed winnow them down a bit. And, the second difficult area—shop equipment and materials. Simplicity may be all well-and-good for your living room, but it doesn’t work so well in the shop. All those tools, all those odds and ends from former projects, equate to functionality.
But, despite that, the minimalism push strikes me as a good one, on the whole. It’s good for the pocketbook, because when you’re spending time trying to get rid of things, it really, really makes you think twice about purchasing something that is going the other way and coming into the house. And, as I discussed the other month in the post “Identity and Our Belongings“, it’s good for our mental well-being in a variety of ways, and, in keeping with the thrust of this entire site, that reduced consumerism is good for the planet. Taken all together, it’s a win, win, win situation. I read somewhere (in the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”?) that “Americans are really good at turning their cash into trash”. I see that a lot, and am more than happy to have perhaps hopped off of that train.
In the end, perhaps it’s fitting to close with a quote from Yvon Chouinard, renowned mountaineer and founder of Patagonia sportswear, from a great film that speaks to my soul, “180 Degrees South”— “The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life.” This may well be true, but I have a feeling that such a simplification is worth the effort.