By now you have probably heard of “minimalism,” “downsizing,” and “decluttering.” If you would like some clarification as to what these terms mean, see Declutter Your Way to a Simple Life. Perhaps you are wondering what all the fuss is about. You may be perfectly happy with all the stuff you have now; perhaps having more stuff will make you even happier. Who am I to judge?
That said, I’d like to point out some of the things that many of us like about the minimalist lifestyle. I’d also like to make you aware of some of the things that are “wrong” with “more” (“more” as in consumerism and a consumer-driven economy).
In a way it all comes down to capacity. You and I can only “fit” so much into our lives. The more time and energy we devote to the accumulation of material things, the less time and energy we have for the things that truly matter (such as family, relationships, personal passions).
If money and material things become the center of our lives, they seize us and make us slaves. ― Pope Francis
Then, looking at it from Mother Earth’s point of view, she has only so much life- supporting natural capital for her inhabitants.
Let us simplify our lives so that we may live in peace and harmony with nature.
Tread lightly with soft steps and whisper like a child…― handcraftedtravellers
I encourage you to read the “The Ecological Footprint” section of an earlier post on this blog: Simple Living Is Better for Everyone. To sum up – the minimalist lifestyle has much to recommend it; from the individual’s point of view, as well as from an ecological point of view.
But how about society as a whole?
“Buy only when you must, and then buy only longer-lasting things.” ― LIFE Magazine, 1942
The New Economics
Some would have us believe that consumerism is the only way to fuel an economy. False! In fact, in order to meet the ecological challenges we now face, we simply cannot continue to consume at today’s alarming rates. The New Economics plays a crucial role in sustainable development.
Organizations around the world are working to advance a transition to this new economy. One such organization is the New Economics Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their stated mission: “The mission of the New Economics Institute is to build a New Economy that prioritizes the well-being of people and the planet.”
Another organization, The International Institute for Sustainable Development, has an excellent website. In this video “IISD Associate Mark Anielski spells out the pitfalls of relying on gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of societal wealth. Anielski, an Edmonton-based economist, says that we need to measure the things that matter most to us to really understand how we’re doing. And by establishing a true national balance sheet and redefining progress, we can achieve greater well-being.” This is very worthwhile viewing. What Mark has to say is not only fascinating, but (at least in my opinion) makes perfect sense.
Samuel Alexander has written extensively on what he calls “The Sufficiency Economy,” “Enough, For Everyone, Forever.” Check out his essay: The Sufficiency Economy: Envisioning a Prosperous Way Down. Here is an excerpt:
Rather than progress being seen as a movement toward ever-increasing material affluence, the sufficiency economy aims for a world in which everyone’s basic needs are modestly but sufficiently met, in an ecologically sustainable, highly localised, and socially equitable manner. When material sufficiency is achieved in these ways, further growth would not continue to be a priority. Instead, human beings would realise that they were free from the demands of continuous economic activity and could therefore dedicate more of their energies to non-materialistic pursuits, such as enjoying social relationships, connecting with nature, exploring the mysteries of the universe, or engaging in peaceful, creative activity of various sorts. How to spend this ‘freedom from want’ is the exhilarating and perhaps terrifying question all human beings would face in a well-established sufficiency economy, so defined.
Samuel Alexander and Mark Anielski share some common ideas about an alternative economic system. These ideas are indeed exhilarating!
The New Economy and Minimalism are rooted in the same soil; both gather their nutrients from altruism, the principle and practice of concern for the welfare of others. As we have seen, the New Economy demands social equality and economic fairness. Stephen Roberts, in his web article Why Minimalism?, says: “There is a direct correlation between a philosophy of minimalism and that of an authentic spirituality that is learning the language of grace.”
Christy King’s blog The Simple White Rabbit includes a series called “Minimalists in History.” In nearly every chapter the minimalists being described are motivated by humanistic principles. To cite a few examples:
Civilization, in the real sense of the term, consists not in the multiplication, but in the deliberate and voluntary reduction of wants. This alone promotes real happiness and contentment, and increases the capacity for service. ― Mahatma Gandhi
The Shakers, at their essence, are ordinary people who made an extraordinary choice to gather together in community in order to live a principled life. ― Hancock Shaker Village
So, while there are many different reasons for choosing a minimalist lifestyle, altruism has been and continues to be one of them. “Live Simply, So that Others May Simply Live.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
Relationships Made in Heaven!
Simple living, minimalism, sustainability, the New Economy, the science of happiness, and altruism. Its amazing to me how these concepts relate one to the other. I think of them as a jigsaw puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly to create a beautiful picture of a new and better world for humankind.
What’s your take? Do you see yourself as a minimalist? Are you on a path to a simpler life? Why? Why not?
Film: The Economics of Happiness
The Economics of Happiness describes a world moving simultaneously in two opposing directions. On the one hand, government and big business continue to promote globalization and the consolidation of corporate power. At the same time, people around the world are resisting those policies – and, far from the old institutions of power, they’re starting to forge a very different future. Communities are coming together to re-build more human scale, ecological economies based on a new paradigm – an economics of localization.
Available for free download is our 74-page Discussion Guide and Companion to the film, a resource designed for student use and informal discussion groups. It follows the film, chapter by chapter, expanding on the arguments and pointing to a wealth of new resources for further learning, reflection and action. To download the pdf, go to theeconomicsofhappiness.org/study-guide.
A beautiful essay by Stephen Roberts: To Decrease is to Increase
Minimalism experts answer the question “If you had to decide on the biggest benefit of minimalism in your own life, what would it be?”: The Powerful Benefits of Minimalism and Living With Less: 11 Experts Speak Out
Jessica Dang, writer behind Minimal Student, explores the background of minimalism and its connections to Zen philosophy: Zen and the Art of Minimalism – Part 1: Zen Philosophy
During a November 2013 address, Pope Francis rebuked capitalism and called for economic reform that achieves the common good: Pope Francis’ Five Most Radical Statements On Capitalism And Poverty
The founder of Patagonia Inc discusses the value of the simple life, and growing an economy based on buying less, not more: Prosperity with less: what would a responsible economy look like?