Minimalism Fights the External Battles Mindfulness Fights Internally.
Part of our cultural identity is consumerism. We are taught to consume. It is bred into us. We signal status, security, and purpose with what we consume, what we buy. I believe it’s a slow killer of the human spirit. Marketers use deficit advertising: ads giving us the impression we are not enough. It plays to our insecurities and fears. The idea we could be better if we only had Product X.
A culture addicted to the stuff, material things. This is the thesis of the new documentary, Minimalism: Less is Now.
Minimalism, simply put, is the questioning of the function of material possessions in our lives.
Is it really worth it to spend our lives striving for more money? More things? More, more, more. What have we sacrificed for our things? How does the importance of material things compare with family, relationships, and community?
The documentary follows Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus’ journey from corporate executives to aspiring minimalists. At a time in Millburn’s life when he was making a lot of money, he faced a personal crucible with the ending of his marriage and his mother’s passing. Turning inward, questioning the purpose of his life, he found himself buried in stuff. His recently departed mother’s house jam-packed with … stuff. The stuff he was now responsible for.
Millburn reasoned his mother held onto the stuff with the best of intentions. She was holding onto memories, moments in her life memorialized by stuff. But the stuff wasn’t the memory. The memories are inside us.
And so Millburn asked, “could life be better with less stuff?”
Shortly, Ryan Nicodemus (Millburn’s best friend) was on board after throwing a “packing party.” The party had Nicodemus packing his belongings as if he was moving. He would only open the boxes when he needed something. When very few boxes were opened, they knew they were on to something. And thus, their minimalism journey began.
A 2015 survey found that more than 30% of people are overwhelmed by the clutter in their lives1. Removing clutter can decrease anxiety, increase focus, and make you more productive2. Clutter is linked to poor eating habits as well as raised cortisol levels. The body is in a state of fight or flight at all times. The brain likes organization. It drains our mental energy to view visual clutter. People who live in clutter are less likely to correctly interpret the facial expression of characters in movies3.
I didn’t realize the impact of decluttering. There was a time when I had a paper tray stacked a foot high with mail and documents that I’d go through someday. (Yeah, Right). I had no idea what was in that stack. It was a big mystery. Eventually, I just threw it all away. Now, it is organized (trashed) right away. Important documents are addressed quickly.
Psychologists note individuals with anxious or avoidant attachment styles are more likely to be materialistic4. Attachment styles are developed during the interaction with parents and caregivers. Research suggests that many try to use materialism as a replacement for love and acceptance. Its clear materialism is linked with depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior5.
While an increase in materialism tends to decrease life satisfaction, a decrease in materialism has the opposite effect. Relationships and autonomy increase and the sense of meaning improves when reliance on materialism decreases.
This is Millburn’s story. Growing up poor, as an adult, he had a drive for material things. The drive led him to early success. As a result, his relationships, finances, and sense of purpose were impacted. When the glasshouse of materialism collapsed, he found little meaning in the material items that he strove for. In debt, he lived to work for the material items he owned.
Though not as tragic, my experience is similar. I found myself rising through the ranks, in a quest to acquire more stuff. An understanding of the impact of materialism drives changes in my life related to materialism. (See the article: DESIRE: Stop!! Buying That Will Not Make You Feel Better!)
In my experience, I’ve found materialism can be the result of a need for security. I’ve transitioned from materialistic behavior towards a minimalistic attitude and back again. I find that when I need peace of mind, I am more likely to be minimalistic. When I need a sense of security, I desire material things. You may see a comparable pattern in yourself.
Turn Down the Volume
The sheer volume of information placed before us simply cannot be properly processed by our minds. Much of this information is marketing, advertising for products and services.
As a result, we buy more stuff than we need, and our minds are overloaded. This, in part, causes us to suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression. “Screen” technology only exponentially expands this issue. There’s too much!
Consequently, two movements have risen to combat these cultural realities. Minimalism, for the physical (generally) and mindfulness for the internal. These ideas are not new, yet have a powerful relevance in the here and now. Due to their popularity, it’s inferred there is a society-wide concern with the volume of information and it’s effect on our lives. The idea of minimalism allows us to turn down the volume on the physical items that surround and support our lives.
I didn’t believe I was a cluttered materialist. Buying the stuff gave me joy if only for a fleeting moment. Others advised I’d feel better if I was organized and neat. I just didn’t believe I had the time to do it.
I do. And I did.
I feel much better, staying neat and orderly. (Of course, I can still be messy at times). Tasks like making my bed every day, folding laundry, and keeping the clutter off my desktop have changed my relationship with things.
After I divorced, I was surrounded by stuff! Everything you could ever want. At one point, I had a Mac desktop, a MacBook Pro, an iPad, and an iPhone all sitting on the desk staring at me. (Looking back, it was funny, I’d get a text, and it sounded like a siren going off!) They weren’t doing what they were supposed to do – making me feel good. It was just … stuff. I was buying for the feeling, the impulsive rush of the power to do so. It led to debt and disappointment.
In another way, minimalism frees us from the “keeping up with the Jones'” mentality. We can instead think “I have everything I need.” We can tell ourselves that it is okay if we don’t have ANOTHER thousand-dollar purse or the newest iPhone.
I like to point out that wanting is a psychologically stronger force than having. This psychological reality supports human survival in certain situations. On the other hand, it also drives addictive behavior. It’s never enough, the hedonic treadmill.
In the documentary, David Ramsey says, “You will never have the money to buy everything you want.” The mind will always drive you with wants. But the material things around you should have a purpose. This is very closely related to YOUR purpose. If there are many meaningless material items in your proximity, chances are there is also a feeling of meaninglessness in areas of your life. Minimalism provides you with the tools to start on this journey.
The documentary (Netflix) Minimalism: Less is Now is less than an hour (in true minimalist form). Though not a true minimalist (working towards it, however), I believe the ideas presented are a solution to many mental health and debt issues in our society. It is a great philosophy to provide meaning in life—a potential solution to the mindless behavior driven by marketing and overstimulation.
Check it out.