“Outback atop the Blue Ridge.” This blog is not about how I’m going to live out of our car. (Photo Credit: Justine Pinskey.)
It’s amazing to me that, in the United States, we’re seeing unparalleled wealth and income inequality, which within exists a culture of consumption and excess. Minimalism has gained popularity because we live in a country where excess is an all too common narrative.
I’m Andrew Blumenthal, and I’m challenging myself to redefine how I see the world in which I live. I recently started to learn more about the core principles of minimalism, after being introduced to some resources through my wife and her sister. After watching the film “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things,” listening to The Minimalists Podcast, and reading through their website, I’ve been inspired. My goal is to adopt and incorporate the principles of minimalism (from what I’ve learned and continue to learn) into my daily life.
I’m definitely a beginner on this minimalism schtick, so hopefully it will be relatable as I go. I think by acting and reflecting, I’ll make some beneficial changes in my life. By sharing my process with you, perhaps you will be inspired to do the same. I want to focus on the following goals, both in my personal and professional life:
- Achieve happiness by taking steps toward a more meaningful, ideal life.
- Weigh everything by answering the question: “Does ______ add value to my life?”
- Apply mindfulness techniques to be more productive and present in my day-to-day life.
- Tone down my own compulsory consumerism.
These four goals might seem quite vague and simplistic. I think that’s actually a good thing. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Allow me to explain…
What does minimalism mean to me?
Doing more with less, to be happier.
For me, minimalism is achieving happiness by cutting down on the clutter in my life, so that I can focus on what matters most: my passions and my relationships. I’m going to be very intentional in this 30-day experiment. I’ll trim down what I own, what I consume, and what I spend my time on, all within reason. This doesn’t have to be an extreme lifestyle change. It likely won’t be. Through these 30 days, I’ll be trying to form habits that embrace minimalism while exploring a range of topics. I’ll be happy to share my thoughts and reflections on the lessons I learn along the way, and I hope you will join me.
Cutting out the clutter that clouds my mind.
What do I mean by clutter? One meaning is physical items. My wife and I have been on a New Year’s kick to downsize a lot of our household belongings that have been collecting dust. I’ll be doing more of this, and trying out different strategies to reduce the physical objects taking up space in my life (and our small apartment). I’m also talking about digital clutter. Specifically I want to cut down on three things: the amount of social media I consume, the time I spend despairing over news headlines, and the overall quantity of screen time to which I commit my mind and soul. A lot of this digital clutter creates noise in my brain and saps my energy. To address this, I’ll be using various mindfulness practices including meditation exercises, routine building, and self-discipline exercises.
Railing against the message we all too often receive — that we need more.
Minimalists often talk about eliminating compulsory consumption. What does that mean? For me, it really just means avoiding societal pitfalls like impulse buying of the things that I might want but clearly don’t need. From clothing, to snacks that look enticing, or the tchotchke that I think will look good in our home, this is the type of consumption I’m referencing. This consumption takes a physical and mental toll on us. I’m tired of feeling like our disposable income is driven toward purchasing things that we think will make us happy. We constantly receive messages that we should want or need more. Are the things we feel urged to buy really giving us the happiness we’re looking for? The constant bombardment of advertising drives the consumerist, capitalist society we live in. I want to push back against this and the broader societal pitfalls we tend to fall into. When purchasing choices come up, I’m going to work on evaluating whether or not an item will bring value to my life instead of just blindly opening my wallet.
I want to be like this Indigo Bunting. Free. Free to sing his lovely songs from a mountaintop. He doesn’t care about the newest gadget. So why should I?
What I don’t mean by minimalism…
…Becoming a monk and living life as a hermit, devoid of worldly possession.
The concept of minimalism might elicit a gut reaction when you first hear it. You might have negative attitudes about the lifestyle, or perhaps you have read and disagreed with a few blogs or articles already. You might think, “Are you really going to live with only a few outfits, pieces of silverware, a plate and cup, maybe a book or two to your name?” I want to clearly say, no. I think there’s a key word I want to stress, which is moderation. Humans go from one extreme to the next. One artistic period is followed by a counter movement. We’ve gone from McMansions to Tiny Houses. I believe that there really is a happy medium.
I‘ll try to balance these competing perspectives by carefully assessing which possessions add value to our life and then cutting out the excess. This will include useful items serving a practical purpose. We have many beautiful gifts that have been shared with love by ourselves, our parents, family members, and friends. These items are both decorative and functional in nature, and often carry some sentiment, too. For other items that don’t serve as a tool or bring value , we’ll find a way to donate, sell, or pass them on to someone we know.
…Ignoring my passion for social justice.
Social Justice is a philosophy that guides my life. We live in a society that grants privilege to certain social categories of people. Attitudes are shaped that favors one group over another, and institutions and structures are built around these attitudes, granting power and privilege to specific groups and marginalizing others. I’ve felt a strong pull towards social justice since I was a young child, and is something that I hold dear to this day. I hope by cutting down on inflammatory news headlines (our current political climate, for example) and being intentional about when and where I engage on social media, I can be more active and practical in my own community and the relationships I do have control over and can invest energy in.
By cutting down, I don’t want anyone to make the assumption I’m tuning out. I will still know what’s happening on our campus and what’s impacting our students. I will still know what’s happening in our country and the world around. I will (at least I hope) as a result be more intentional when I am civically engaged. What I won’t do, is allow myself to swirl in the headlines (sometimes for hours, at the cost of my mental energy and productivity) and continue to feel powerless at what I can’t change.
I want to name that this blog does visit the topic of social class. It will visit other areas of identity. I want to name that I consider myself middle class, and I am fully aware of the privileges associated with that distinction. I don’t want this blog to feel like a collection of first-world problem entries. So if it ever feels like I’m being classist, please call me on it. Please share your thoughts when our identities and experiences differ. I’m going to be mindful of myself and others when I’m writing. The goal is still to declutter my life as a whole, so that I’ll be able to spend more time on my passions.
…allowing “busyness” culture to prevent me from excelling in all responsibilities of my work.
Humans by nature, are inefficient. In this age of information, this inefficiency is exacerbated by the distractions around us. Being a Hall Director for a residence hall at a public university, there’s lots of competing priorities for my time and energy. A lot of my time is either spent in meetings, with students, or doing administrative work at the computer or desk. I can humbly say that I perform most of my responsibilities well to very well, but I’m a master of none of them.
However, we seem to also reside within a culture of “busyness”. If you commonly ask someone how they are doing, I’ve commonly heard the response, “I’ve been really busy.” Everyone’s busy, but it seems people are frequently distracted, distant, and not fully present. I believe there are tons of stimuli which influence our emotions and feelings, creating noise in our minds as we go about the day. I know that this has personally happened to me, leading to inefficiency on things I truly care about as I approach my work.
However, I’ve also felt this when I don’t disengage effectively when I get home at the end of the day, only to wake up exhausted for the following day. I’ve seen this impact my mood for the day. I want to be able to engage in each task with energy, presence, and passion. My work impacts people, so I want to do my best. So, I’ll be sharing some experiences over the next month that help me keep balance and keep all the plates spinning.
Blu edging closer to a Henry David Thoreau mindset. (Photo Credit: Justine Pinskey)
What comes next?
I’m going to try living with a minimalist approach, and blog about it by exploring 30 different topics over 30 days. I will share my observations and feelings, and the lessons and reflections that come after. For example, tomorrow I’ll be talking about minimizing some of the items in our household and what went into the decisions to pair down some of our possessions. The day after, I’ll share some mindfulness tips that I started taking to declutter my brain and perform better at work. I hope you’ll stay tuned. Thanks all!
If you’re interested in some more in depth reading and ideas about minimalism, definitely check out The Minimalists’ website. For auditory enthusiasts, you can’t go wrong with The Minimalists’ Podcast. The documentary is streamable on Netflix and also shares some great ideas. Last, definitely check out Marie Kondo’s website. She’s the author of Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, and a great authority on minimalism and exploring some new ideas.