Creating a healthy minimalist lifestyle.
I recently embarked on what some might call a "self-actualization" journey. It began quite typically — I started journaling, doing yoga, and reorganizing my living space. This process of desperately searching for a way to strip ourselves of the stressors that bog down our lives is not unique; I'd certainly been through a few in the past three years. This time, I tried focusing on making my life "minimal." I admit that I derived my version of a minimalist life revolution from those awful YouTube videos wherein young people discuss how they dropped out of their Ivy League universities and began living nomadically in Hawaii in a Volkswagen van. Ironically, a week after I really committed to my new stripped-down lifestyle, Kyle Chayka wrote an article for the New York Times entitled "The Oppressive Gospel of Minimalism."
After explaining the origins of artistic minimalism, Chaykra criticizes the minimalism championed by everyday Instagram users and millionaires alike:
"Today’s minimalism, by contrast, is visually oppressive; it comes with an inherent pressure to conform to its precepts. Whiteness, in a literal sense, is good. Mess, heterogeneity, is bad — the opposite impulse of artistic minimalism. It is anxiety-inducing in a manner indistinguishable from other forms of consumerism, not revolutionary at all. Do I own the right things? Have I jettisoned enough of the wrong ones? In a recent interview with Apartamento magazine set against interior shots of his all-white home in Rockaway, Queens, the tastemaker and director of MoMA PS1 Klaus Biesenbach explained, 'I don’t aim to own things.'"
Chaykra's article made sense to me. It expressed an unspoken feeling that I'd had about the "aesthetic" of minimalism for a while. I began my journey of minimizing my life with an eye toward distancing myself from consumerism and what I saw as an unhealthy attachment to things. The minimalism that Chaykra warns against, however, leads only to more consumption. People are driven toward the minimalist aesthetic of Apple products and expensive all-white tennis shoes. The "pop philosophy" of minimalism has become a thing of privilege created by and for the affluent. This is the exact opposite of the healthy kind of anti-consumerist minimalism I was seeking to achieve.
To combat the "oppressive gospel of minimalism," I realized that I had to be deliberate in my life changes. I had to be careful that I wouldn't create a stressor by trying to systematically eliminate my stressors.
My minimized life is focused on constructive "emptying." When I cleaned out my wardrobe, trying to parse it down to around 40 items, I made sure I donated the clothing instead of just throwing it out. I also didn't throw out everything and purchase an all-new wardrobe of only black and white from American Apparel. I began to focus on only speaking when I meant the things I said and only saying things that were necessary. Anything extraneous, especially if it would be hurtful, can simply be omitted. Lastly, I focused on "dumping" my thoughts at the end of the day through meditation or journaling, leaving me with a minimalist mind to put to rest at night.
Removing the extra "junk" in your life is possible — and it doesn't have to be a practice of consumption. If you choose to strip yourself of the unnecessary things in your life effectively, it's important to keep track of the intake and the output between you and your surroundings, minimizing and optimizing the flow in both directions. Without the excess, you can just be you.