Meditation & Health #21- A Minimalist Lifestyle: Finding the Middle Way
A Minimalist Lifestyle: Finding the Middle Way
By Caral Goh
Strolling along a vibrant street with shops lining the sidewalks, passing throngs of shoppers laden with purchases, and looking at the flashy billboards of advertisements, one’s senses and emotions could easily be overwhelmed. Unable to resist the call of the shops, many people end up buying impractical material items as a way to fill an inner void.
The World Today
We are bombarded with constant media messages that possessing material things is going to make us happier, more successful, more attractive, and healthier. In a materialistic world unchecked obsession is alive, as advertisers continue to convince buyers that the next purchase will bring lasting satisfaction.
Many of us often go on spending sprees to fill hollows in our lives, out of boredom, as a consequence of peer pressure, or simply to elevate mood. The advent of online shopping has fueled impulse buying. Having a parcel arrive at the doorstep provides short-lived happiness. Only later do we realize the item is unnecessary.
Declutter by Relinquishing Attachments
Attempting to find happiness through possessions has led many of us to have homes cluttered with stuff. The task of managing a great volume of possessions elevates the stress hormones. We are left feeling unfulfilled when we realize those frivolous purchases are in fact playing into our insecurities and do not bring us lasting joy. Instead, they come with an enduring cost — unhappiness.
Decluttering the home is a difficult process because it forces one to contend with emotional baggage. People often feel guilty about getting rid of items, reminded that the purchases were wasteful. The fear that the items may be needed in future can be paralyzing. Throwing things away can feel akin to tossing out the memories embodied by the items.
In a Buddhist context, clinging to an object is an attachment that will cause suffering to occur when the item is lost, broken, outdated, stolen, or thrown away. Such clinging goes against the nature of life, which is impermanence. Attachment may also beckon its obnoxious cousins: jealousy, greed, and vanity.
Unlike clearing one’s desk, decluttering the mind is a daunting task. When our mind is in chaos, deciding what is ripe for the donation box and what is essential can be difficult and complex, emotionally and spiritually agonizing.
The Birth of Minimalism
“There are two ways to be rich: One is by acquiring much, and the other is by desiring little.” — Jackie French Koller.
The desire to acquire more, the need for bigger and better, and the mindset that one must be busier leads to a growing ego to be fed and no room for peace. A path that can help people feel contented and satisfied with what they have is minimalist living, whereby people find greater tranquility by cultivating a lifestyle of simplicity that involves fewer desires and wants.
Spending less time on shopping and managing one’s belongings allows more time to develop quality friendships and family connections, and enjoy outdoor interests such as hiking, camping, biking, and picnicking.
Minimalism replaces the mindset of luxury with a lifestyle that encourages living lightly with only the essentials and reducing waste. At a deeper level, minimalism takes us to a tranquil realm of fewer negative thoughts and less stress, rewarding us with peace of mind.
Accessing the beauty of the world of minimalism requires a simple question: “Do I really need this?“ In the face of stagnant wages, rising unemployment, and tighter budgets, people must identify the difference between necessity and nonessential purchases. Living wisely means constant attentiveness to what’s important, so that one may avoid excessive materialism and the monetary and emotional burdens that come with it.
Getting rid of things goes beyond freeing up physical space. Giving up possessions will gradually bring about an immense sense of freedom — freedom from guilt, freedom from worry, freedom from overwhelm, and freedom from the materialistic trappings of society.
Simplicity requires more than just eliminating unnecessary possessions. The greatest hurdle is overcoming the ego: the fear of being judged as poor by others. To surmount this pride is to stop comparing your personal worth with the material possessions of others, and to choose to value the deeper, immaterial side of life: relationships, experiences, and clarity in the mind and space in the soul.
Duane Elgin, author of Voluntary Simplicity, wrote, “The intention of voluntary simplicity is not to dogmatically live with less. It’s a more demanding intention of living with balance. This is a middle way that moves between the extremes of poverty and indulgence.”
If we could consume only what is necessary for our needs and leave the rest for those who are in need, we could possibly restore the balance of consumption such that neither would there be rich nor poor.
The modern world promotes environmental degradation, separation, and social injustice. By reducing our consumer habits, we protect the natural environment. As opposed to buying more, recycling and reusing contribute to the conservation of resources.
The beauty of minimalism is that there are many different minimalist lifestyles that anyone can adopt. A more extreme approach could see someone living with five sets of shirts and pants, and washing hair, body and dishes with the same bottle of liquid soap. Another person opting for a simpler lifestyle may continue to
live in their 800-square-foot home, but pare down their ancillary items such that these items occupy only 200 square feet. Minimalism isn’t about having nothing; it is just the philosophy of living simply and happily according to what one is, not what one has.
The middle way of minimalist living is focused on having lots of experiences, adventures and stories in life, not lots of clutter. In place of choosing material possessions, a minimalist pursues contentment, generosity, and gratitude. Grow spiritually and seek to invest in connections with the people you love and the planet that sustains us. The essence of minimalist living is to subtract distractions and add meaning to life, so as to live to the maximum.
When we decrease the time spent on our possessions, we free up the time to discover the more valuable life-giving truths:
With less clutter, we free more space
With less buying, we offer more charity
With less screen time, we nurture relationships
With less shopping, we have more outdoor time
With less driving, we benefit from walking
We discover slowness with less rush
We find more solitude with less noise
We wear more smiles with fewer worries
We are more generous with less selfishness
A minimalist lifestyle is not a concept of loss; it is not about the things you remove from your life. It is more about the things you add to your life in light of the greater available space: physically, emotionally, and psychologically. View letting go as a force of giving back, freeing your life for positive, multifaceted development: an uncluttered mind, a creative soul, and a healthy and joyful body.
Minimalist Way of Eating
Minimalist living includes paring down one’s diet to the healthful essentials. Eat food in its natural state. Cutting down on processed and packaged food and consuming real, fresh food leaves us better able to focus and concentrate. Enjoying simply prepared, delicious meals that include only the essential ingredients allows us to be more in touch with our health and bodies. Living a simple, meaningful, and quality life includes sleeping well and getting adequate exercise.
Minimalist Way of Building
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was a champion of minimalist design. Early in his life he became inspired by the philosophy, eventually coining the term “organic architecture” to describe a strikingly minimalist design concept. Organic buildings meld structure and character with Nature in a functional celebration of harmony with the natural world. Wright’s minimalist methods still exert powerful influence on architects and builders in the construction of a variety of stunning commercial spaces and private residences.