I was out for a dinner with a couple of my girl friends and the subject of Minimalisim came up in the conversation. One of the girls (I will call her M) was advocating for it and I was supporting her perspective on Minimalism, the other girl (I will call her R) was against our definition of Minimalism.
What was M’s definition or perspective on Minimalism? simply put, it is to have a hoarding-free life. We can still be rich and enjoy the luxury of life and have nice clothes, nice house, nice cars, a room for each child we have, travel in business class, or at least dream to have all that one day. Our Minimalist life style view doesn’t prohibit any of that, it only advocates and encourages us to learn and train ourselves to live a healthier life style, buy only what we need/will use and to recycle anything that we don’t use within a year or so.
R’s point of view was that, living a luxurious life, having a decent house and nice clothes is not considered minimalism at all. Minimalism is to have less not more and defining minimalism to agree with what we want doesn’t make us minimalists. So we went on debating about it for a bit more then we ended up dropping out the subject and continued enjoying our time together.
In my way back home I was thinking about that discussion again. It is possible that R is correct and maybe minimalism, as the word indicates, means we should have the minimum money that will allow us to live with the minimum basic needs and have the minimum basic things in a minimally sized place with minimum space. If some one can do that and live happily, kudos to them.
However, wanting things and hoarding them is an intrinsic characteristic of the human psychology to fill the void of need within ourselves. Having more stuff around us give us the feeling of abundance and future security. Except that at one point we become less satisfied and insecure with what we already have and so we go on a quest to acquire more to replenish those feelings. This happens more that once in the span of our life and we end up with large amounts of clutter that has no function more than collecting dust and taking space.
Here is a real example from my life. I come from middle-low class family. The income of my father would have probably been enough to live a decent basic life, but since we were a very large family and he was the only income source for a long time, life was not easy. I learned since I was very young to wear my sister’s hand-me-down clothes or in the rare occasions that I could receive something new, it should be at least a couple of sizes larger than my size so I can use it while I grow up (since I was the youngest daughter and have no one to hand-down to). My mom was good at sewing, so she would adjust those clothes as I grew up to fit me. As time passed by and several members of the family left home to start their careers and lives, my father had enough to give me a gift money twice a year (During the two Eid celebrations for Muslims) to buy for myself something I like. I used to go immediately shopping and, without a second thought, I would buy anything I see and fancy as long as I come back with zero cash from that gift money in my pockets. Only to end up keeping most of what I bought in my wardrobe as new as they could be with their price tags, since I could’t wear them at home (I come from a conservative family, so I wasn’t allowed to wear skirts or tank tops at home, for example) neither I was allowed to go out, so I could wear them. During my University degree, I lived far from home and I went through periods when I had not enough money to pay for more than one small meal a day. I used to go to bed with painful hunger and remember all the money I spent on clothes I never needed. Neither I could wear those clothes now, nor I could eat them. Since then, I promised myself to buy only clothes I need to wear and nothing more, but the down side was that I developed the tendency to buy a lot of food that I sometimes don’t eat either! Something I definitely need to work on.
So, from my point of view, I think that M’s way of thinking makes a lot of sense. On one hand because when we are restricted in our lives, we tend to want more. On the other hand, I see nothing wrong with wanting to live a luxurious life (If we can) but also learn to share with others, and stop hoarding things around us for the sake of safety. If we have enough money to live our lives, that should give us the safety we need and should make us feel free to share our wealth with others, like family, friends, colleagues and also people who are less fortunate. For example, instead of having 50 pairs of shoes, only keep 20 pairs. Or instead of buying a dress to wear in a single occasion then leave behind in the darkness of the closet for eternity on top of a heap of long forgotten garments, we should buy clothes that we can wear at multiple occasions, or at least give all those older clothes to charity or share them with family and friends. That alone is very hard to achieve for some people and if they can do it, they deserve a pat on the shoulder to encourage them to live their unique way of “Minimalism” instead of bashing them on their heads for doing it all wrong.