Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Minimalist Lifestyle

I learned last week that "simple living" does not really accurately describe what I'm searching for, a more accurate term would be "minimalist lifestyle". This term is not widely that widely used, and I think conveys what I want better. Here is what I see as the minimalist lifestyle:

Fewer Things:
Some people make the goal to fit all of their belongings into the trunk of a hatchback, a carryon, or whatever. These are all worthy goals. My personal thinking is to fit everything in my life into a 1 Liter zipper bag. There are fewer blogs about this topic than there ought to be. Most of the simple living blogs and decluttering don't really address this topic as thoroughly as I'd like. One of the classics in this topic is The 100 Things Challenge from Zen Habits.

Reducing Ownership:
I don't want to own anything, and anything I own requires maintenance, which in turn requires more things to own! Ownership is snowball. Think about it. If I own a car, then I also have to own some basic tools unless I want to have it to bring it to the shop all the time. I don't want to own the tools, or the car! Maintenance of a house requires a huge array of tools, which themselves also require maintenance (lawnmower, chainsaw, sprinklers).

One way to combat ownership is to rent. Renting my dwelling instead of owning it also includes maintenance of it, so it drastically saves on the amount of stuff I have to own. I also believe that unless I use something constantly it is more economically efficient to rent, because it can be shared, and used by other people. It doesn't make sense to own something I use once a year.

Stuff is getting cheaper to make due to automation in manufacturing, inexpensive labor due to globalization, and advancement in synthetic materials, so owning disposable things is one way to reduce ownership of things. Instead of purchasing expensive dishes which I have to wash and maintain, I can look at purchasing disposable versions.

Outsourcing Everything:
One of the advantages of outsourcing is that I can eliminate the ownership of some piece of equipment. If I send all of my laundry out, then I don't need to worry about the (maintenance, efficiency, costs of) the washing machine, dryer, detergent, fabric softener, iron & ironing board, and so on. I don't have to worry about the price of any of these things, and I just look at the price of the final bill, which I can compare to the other service providers, to see who's cutting the costs the most. It's someone else's job to worry about how to achieve efficiency, I am the boss and I just tell them to get the price lower.

I can also minimize the number of skills needed to function. Who has the energy to be able to understand how everything works any more? This seems to go counter to most expressions of "simple living" I have encountered, which are more about living in a self-contained island where you do everything yourself, live off the grid, and avoid contact with the outside world. That's the opposite of what I'm trying to do. I think I will be able to do much more with my life if I am not bogged down with the details of living every day.

Embrace Technology:
Generally speaking, technology make things easier to do, and enables all sorts of possibilities which were unimaginable before. A digital camera means eliminating a dark room and a cupboard full of smelly chemicals; a portable music player eliminates shelves full of compacts discs, vinyl records, and sensitive audio gear. This does not necessarily mean going off and purchasing a bunch of gadgets. I like to learn how people in developing countries use technology; for example, in many countries people can't afford to use their own computer so they use shared computer in an internet café and put all of their own stuff on a flash memory device which they take with them.

Minimize Commitments:
There are 6.7 billion people on the planet so for whatever it is I want done, everywhere there is always someone willing to do it. There are quadruple the number of people as a century ago, and it is also is far easier to connect with them than it was before. Commitments are messy when they end (lawsuits and fights) so one alternative is just to avoid getting into them. This is more realistic proposition than a decade ago. Technology has revolutionized human relationships. People who I develop friendships with in the real world (such as in school, or neighbors, or while traveling), I can move anywhere and still keep in touch. Also for more specialized interests I have, I can reach out and meet people regardless of where they are.

Also I want to stay healthy enough so that I don't need to take any medications (I learned this one from Jacob @ ERE). I want to avoid being dependent or addicted to anything. Also, I think it is a good idea to avoid developing a taste for 'weird' things, such as only being able to eat some sort of exotic Japanese fish which is only available from one store on the USA West Coast. I want to be able to sleep on the floor of a noisy bus station, instead of requiring an expensive mattress. I don't want to special order my meals, I just want whatever's on the menu. People are too picky. By keeping my mind open, I can be happy with whatever is available.

Why this is all appealing to me ...

Increased Freedom - I want to be able to get on my horse and ride off into the sunset whenever I get bored, or feel like it. This is easier to do if I can pack everything I own quickly, keep in touch later on, and don't have commitments to sever.

Increased Choice - I want to be able to live anywhere. I want to be able to hit the ground running wherever I land. The amount of adventure and possibilities on this planet is amazing, minimalist living makes it easier to move and to take on any activity without less important things getting in the way. I see this as a key difference between simple living, which seems to value reduced choice.

More Frugal - most (not all) of the lifestyle choices I'm thinking result in spending less money. This means ability to work less for shorter time and enjoy life more.

Less Worry - Maybe not less, but redirected to more important things, to the bigger picture. The only way to eliminate worry would be to withdrawal from life. But instead of worrying if I'm paying too much for groceries, I can instead worry about how I'm going to conquer the world.

Risk Aversion - I'm spreading my risk around, so I'm not tying my life to one building, one person, or one country. If a hurricane or drought strikes, I can go to wherever there is a harvest.


saravanan June 7, 2010 at 5:34 PM  

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