In this article, I will give a short introduction into the minimalism also known as the simple living lifestyle. Minimalism is about reducing ones possessions. It is a voluntary lifestyle choice. Because I am a practitioner myself, I am highly motivated when writing about the lifestyle of living with less. It is a life-long journey. However, starting is easy and highly recommended. This quote is often-cited:
A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone. Henry David Thoreau
We own countless things, other people could use, but we store it somewhere, just in case we want to get back to them or use them for the first time. It is a burden we do not want to face. But believe me, getting rid of unused things by selling or throwing them into the trash, is a relieving experience. It is about time to let go.
I grew up in a house, in which the rooms were filled with decorations. The rooms look like there is some story to tell. When I was a teenager my room was filled with clutter: A crate of records, a shelf with books and some computer equipment lying on the ground. I owned a lot of stuff, which I was emotionally attached to. But I always kept my desktop table empty. The computer and the surroundings always have been a place, like a blank sheet of paper, where I create.
Freedom of Choice
In the first world, we are drowned with options and choices. With the right amount of cash you can buy almost everything instantly. Buy this gadget or this. Do whatever activity, sports, concerts and parties. Choice is our first world freedom and, of course, a difficult task. Choices are influenced by advertisments, friends, idols and so on. Because of this distortion, people do not know what they really need and in the end, they tend to regret their buying decisions. Minimalism is a smart way to overcome these false impulses.
The Four Noble Questions
Back then, I did not know what minimalism is. My colleagues talked a lot about their gadgets. They strive to have the latest and best quality thing, it does not matter if it is a bike, a notebook or a sound system. The difference between them and people who hoard gadgets is, that they intend to reduce the amount of things they own to a minimum. It is a self-limitation. Instead of implusive, advertisment-triggered, consumption, which satifies you on a short-term basis, maintain a more selective consumption where things are bought with respect to the following questions:
How often will I use it?
Do I want to store it?
Do I want to maintain it?
How does it affect my happiness?
Owning or Sharing
Ask yourself: How often will I use it? Do you need to own the thing. Do not buy something you plan to use in the future. The future is uncertain, and so are your actions. If you want to use it now, but it is clear that you will not use it regulary, it might be better to rent it. Ask yourself: Do I want to store it? If you have to store it somewhere, it will take up your space. A clean and clutter-free space is essential for both, a focussed and calm mind.
Further, you should ask yourself: Do I want to maintain it? Things break, and so will your posessions. Maintainance costs are hidden, but can be roughly estimated if you only consider them. Besides maintainance, consider the time of watching the decrease of value and the time to sell it at some point in time. When you wait too long, fast moving stuff like electronics are very difficult to sell, even for a reduced price. Buy less, sell less. Time is the most valueable resource and you dont want to spend it on things you dont use regulary.
Clearly, there is a downside of renting in a Sharing Economy. You are dependend on your neighbors or rental services. However, the amount of rental services seems to increase. Car, book and room sharing became mature. It gets more interesting with expensive equipment like cameras or 3D printers, see 3Dhubs. A more general and promising mobile app is jipio. Collaborative Consumption is a good idea and I hope that people get more aware of it soon. If you want to browse for sharing or rental services, the Collaborative Consumption Directory might be a good place to start.
Focus on your essential stuff. Which can range from a backpack of things to a flat with fifty things you use almost everyday. This self-limitation is defined by yourself, you dont have to compete or compare to others minimalism. Just start with baby-steps, let go of ideals, too. If you are scared letting go of your things, store them in the attic or somewhere you can not reach them for a while, you will soon realize that you dont care about this stuff. Transform this unused value into new value, a thing or an improvement of a thing that you use everyday. Quality over Quantity. In my experience, people feel great when they free themselves from old burden. The website frugaling.org offers a great compilation of TED talks which might inspire you to become a minimalist.
However, the loss aversion and the endowment effect in the field of behavioral economics might be psychological obstacles. The loss aversion was first demonstrated by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. It refers to peoples tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Studies show, that losses are twice as powerful psychologically, as gains. The endowment effect is a hypothesis that people ascribe more value to things when people own them. If you are interested in the cognitive biases, which distort our reasonable decision making, I like to refer to the international bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.
Do you know the common case scence of a movie, where an adventurer becomes old, and his house is filled up with stuff he found on his travels? He is too tired, and he thinks he has seen the world. The things remind him of the life he used to had, the burden of his lifestory. He almost drowns in his stuff. It reminds him of a better life, an exciting life, with freedom, space and continous change. Be brave, give it a try, let us see what life will offer you.