Zislis: Understanding the meaning of minimalism
Minimalism is a growing trend, but I’ve recently heard it suggested that people of affluence have an easier time boasting the virtues of simplicity, while those with lesser financial means may be inadvertently excluded from a lifestyle that touts the benefits of living with less. My cross-country experience bikepacking across the United States has become a metaphor for testing that theory.
In the summer of 2004, I rode my bike from Carbondale, Colorado, to San Francisco. I took the long way, riding north into Wyoming, across Montana, Idaho, Oregon and down the California coastline. Self-supported for over seven weeks, I pulled what I needed behind me with a one-wheeled trailer. Traversing the Continental Divide no less than 10 times, I traveled over 2,400 miles and learned a little something about what we need to find happiness.
On any given day, there are very few things we truly need. Once our basic human necessities are met (water, food, shelter, clothes, companionship, intellectual stimulation, etc.), everything else is proverbial gravy. When you’re literally carrying everything you own, gravy can become a liability. During that bike trip, the weight of my load was inescapable. My epic journey was a lesson in ounces; every day I learned to scrutinize my pack for things I didn’t really need.
Some things I shipped home. Some things I gave away on the road. Over time, I learned the virtue of less. Stocking up on supplies meant carrying more weight. Getting stuck on a remote stretch of road without enough food or water meant risking dehydration, hunger or worse. Every day was an intentional balancing act to determine what I needed, how much weight I could pull, how far I had to go, what I may need depending on the terrain, weather and the condition of my bike — and the sobering consequences if I miscalculated.
I met others on the road piloting fancy racing bikes, carrying little more than a rain jacket, a few energy bars and a credit card. Those who could afford to eat at restaurants and stay in hotels along the way tended to carry less. Conversely, I also met those who were homeless. They tended to carry everything with them — all the time. Without the financial resources to resupply daily, they found security in carrying as much as they might need in order to manage an uncertain life on the road.
Living simply is relative. Happiness exists in the balance of purpose, belonging and serving others with heart and integrity. What matters most is who we love, what we do, and how and why we live. Because everything else is just stuff.
While I support the philosophy of minimalism, I am not an orthodox minimalist. I’ve got a life, a home, and a family in the mountains of Colorado — and we have stuff. That said, it’s apparent that practical minimalism is infinitely easier for people of affluence. However, my unique flavor of simplicity has less to do with the superficial aesthetic found in Dwell magazine, and much more to do with becoming more mindful about what we actually need — and what we don’t — on any given day.
Focus your consumerism and subsequent organizational practice on achieving balance in service to others, as responsible stewards of this planet. When individuals and families tune into what we truly need; when we simplify our stuff; and get organized in our lives, it’s easier to find balance, no matter how vast or paltry our resources. In my experience, across the growing socio-economic divide, most of us readily admit: Collectively, we have too much.
So, don’t get hung up on Zen mastery, tiny homes and over-styled imagery often associated with the word “minimalism.” Instead, connect the dots between what you truly need and your ability to downsize where you can. You may find that you live more simply with greater freedom, less impact and greater happiness. In that balance, we can all discover sustainability for the long haul.
Evan Zislis is author of the bestselling book “ClutterFree Revolution: Simplify Your Stuff, Organize Your Life & Save the World” and “Aphrodisiac: Clearing the Cluttered Path to Epic Love, Great Sex & Relationships that Last.” He is founder and principal consultant of http://www.MyIntentionalSolutions.com. For more information, like ClutterFree Revolution on Facebook, call 970-366-2532, or email Evan@MyIntentionalSolutions.com.
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