Recently, I watched a documentary “The Minimalist” on Netflix. I might be late to the game, but I realized how the American marketing companies had me in their tight grip. Not an obsessive or compulsive shopper by any yardstick, but the concept of the true “worth” of an item had undergone a gradual shift in my worldview. I have been swept away by trends in both fashion and electronics, stashed away books half-read because their second and third parts no longer piqued my interest, and despite regular donations, found myself suddenly surrounded by a lot of things. I liked the concept of the “American template” that the documentary could clearly debunk, which is what I describe in this blog.
One of the first things anyone will notice when they first land here is the supersizing. It caught me unawares. It was a sort of decompression, as though everything that was compressed and shrunk back home, was allowed to expand into its normal or abnormal size here. Not only were the cars bigger, the roads wider but the appliances were gigantic, fridges could fit a kid easily, the couches were gargantuan and everything, from the galleon milk jugs to cereal boxes and bowls, everything is very very large. Over time, one gets used to it and finds stuff smaller back home. The American dream, I figure is “big”. Everything, from the literal size to the ambitions and opportunities tend to be large here. Accumulating a large amount of stuff is a part of that. Advertisements and societies slowly built on the idea of “more is better”. Larger homes and things are ascribed to powerful people and the yardstick of success slowly became what you can buy vs. what you are/did. This vicious cycle is what leads to the excessive production of “stuff” that we no longer need, but desire.The part about homes being so much larger nowadays as opposed to 30-40 years ago with 3 car garages but people requiring additional storage space shown in the documentary is eye-opening. I am nowhere in that ballpark in terms of what I own, but I shudder at the thought of drowning in so much stuff. With no ambitions of living in 4000 q.ft houses and managing 3 garages worth of items, the idea of living using a different alternate template appeals to me. The real template, is not to own less but to value more.
For example, I love my books. I have carefully curated a collection, mostly in print (and some in electronic format). The minimalist trend is not to immediately dispose them due to their bulk and occupied space, but to keep only what you value. I helped me finally overcome the barrier to donating and giving away books I won’t revisit or did not complete (something we never did growing up). Marie Kondo uses the term “joy” to describe this addition of value and personal connection to any item you own. To me, value is a clearer concept than joy and this in its bare form, is minimalism.
Finally, it might also be a right of passage. The thrill of earning your first salary, of having your own economic standing and finally fulfilling childhood dreams of buying stuff you liked with your own money is unmatched. But as time marches on and you realize that all that stuff is also adding responsibility (if not joy or value), it quickly becomes burdensome to pack and move and drag those possessions along just because you bought it. The Minimalist opened my eyes and influenced my thinking about material goods in profound ways.
Let’s hope being a minimalist and downsizing is one resolution I can stick to. Oh and by the way, Happy New Year to whoever is still reading this blog!