Minimalism Defined


The Trump era has ushered in an age of embellishment, bigness and largesse. If it hasn’t ushered it in, it at least exemplifies it. This has gotten me thinking about the concept of minimalism, which has many different meanings, depending on the context. In art and music, it mostly conjures ideas of being stripped to its basic elements. In my version, I’ve always thought about it in terms of less clutter, less stuff.

In economic terms, it means doing with less, essentially an anti-consumerism thesis of quality over quantity. A July 2016 New York Times article by Kyle Chayka starts this way: “It has become an ostentatious ritual of consumerist’s self-sacrifice; people who have it all now seem to have nothing at all.” But this is a perverted image of minimalism, only made possible in the first place by not needing anything because you’ve already made it. In the extreme, this manifests itself in the rich guy turned wandering hermit with a back pack (and a large bank account). 

In more genuine ways, we are seeing the rise of tiny homes ranging from 400 to 1200 square feet. The idea of hoarding goes by the wayside and living with bare essentials makes possible the practicality of small spaces. We are seeing more and more young people, mostly in urban areas, going without cars and without driver’s licenses. In new home, office and even auto design, we are seeing more clean lines, neutral colors and modernist tones.

Minimalism gurus Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus define it as such: “Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from being overwhelmed. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression and freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around.” In reading their blogs and writings, there is a practical way to turn this philosophy into a “tool,” – a tool that forms a factor in the conscience decisions we make every day about careers, family and stuff. Or, in the words of Millburn and Nicodemus, “a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment and freedom.” 

To apply this to our modern, real-time lives, it requires a sincere exercise in relative prioritization. What are the most important things to us in qualitative rather than quantitative terms? What is the allocation of time and intensity that we spend in pursuit of each? And what is the measure of our success in terms of these pursuits? Is it the collection of things or the level of content and fulfillment?

We know from our faith and from the history that the collection of things and the feeling of happiness do not necessarily have a positive correlation. On the contrary, there is some evidence of an inverse correlation. Could it really be, then, that less is more? Less clutter, less stuff, less desire means more satisfaction?

Cardinal Robert Sarah of Africa has written a book called “The Power of Silence Against the Dictatorship of Noise.” I haven’t read it but it seems like a cool title. It recalls the Letter to Ephesians that reminds us that “It is better to keep silent and be a Christian than to talk and not to be.” Thus even in words, there is a place for minimalism. 

Less talk, more introspection; less noise, more calm. Less gossip, more peace. Less mental clutter, more clairvoyance; no to excess, yes to proportion.

Minimalism. Check it out.