I find great utility in being a minimalist. Having less stuff makes it easier to maintain, move, and store. This frees both precious time and money, which can be used to reach a higher standard of living(*) Forsooth, I can not rationalize the tendency to accumulate stuff for the sake off stuff at the expense of time and quality. More, more, more rings hollow in my ears.

Sometimes books on minimalism or voluntary simplicity are just not minimal or simple enough though. To remedy this, it is useful to get inspiration elsewhere and ask questions about what is really important (which I define as needs) and what is less important (which I define as wants).

  • If we don’t count the nest of a bird, etc. animals are generally characterized by having no stuff at all. Instead they have freedom and health (if not, they die). They also have the ability to use their bodies, something which many modern humans have lost. Those who can run 10k have something that those that can’t don’t. Those who run faster, with greater ease or less fatigue or with less injuries have more of it. Another way asset it the ability to move around. For instance, climbing a mountain or merely hiking uphill. We have “something” if we can do that. If we can’t, we don’t. The same goes for work. It is clear that a hard worker who can do more labor is stronger and more resilient than the worker who needs more breaks. Health is similar. It is often easy to tell a healthy body from a sick one. A healthy body moves. A sick one tries to avoid it. A healthy body has been fueled by nutritious food and conditioned by exercise. A sick body hasn’t. More interestingly, these things can not be bought for money. There is no faking it. This is probably hard to understand when, say, running a 6 minute mile seems impossible or too trivial, but it’s worth something. If nothing else health is worth time spent not being sick and money not spent on sick care.
  • Moving up a step, homeless people or hobos reveal the second most important needs. Since homeless people are stigmatized in this nation of homeowners, they have to move around a lot at an instant’s notice. Furthermore they find themselves at the bottom of society with little protection. This also calls for not being encumbered by things. The second greatest need is thus the clothes we wear. I am not talking about a huge wardrobe. Rather the clothes we actually wear should satisfy our needs as well as possible. One of my most precious possessions is my jacket. This was an expensive purchase, but given that I use it so much (I must have put it on at least 20,000 times by now) I could not imagine wearing anything less. I also used to like my boots a lot (similar stats), but since I move by bicycle instead, I would say that the padded Endura bib tights I got last month has been my best purchase over the past year.
  • Ultralight hiking is another source of inspiration. I’m not talking about cutting down a toothbrush to save weight. Rather, it’s the idea that we want to carry as little as possible and go as far as possible. This is contrary to the so-called camping trips where one drives an SUV out into a national park and then drags a 40lbs backpack a couple of miles into the woods 😛 . Going far and fast, things must be solidly made, built for function, repairable, and generally serve multiple purposes. This is why I write this from a wireless laptop with a 12″ screen rather than a desktop. It is the ideal compromise between size and power. It is also the reason why I don’t like things that don’t serve a functional purpose on a daily basis.
  • Car/van-living. This is one step up from living out of a backpack. I’m not talking about the 15 ton RVs that look like a bus. A car can carry a few hundred pounds and not only 25. When we have a 300lbs limit and limited space, what do we really need. I would focus on “utilities” e.g. a source of water. A toilet. A more comfortable bed. These are the things I would spend on. I would not get a 4 stove burner. Rather I would get 1 burner, at most 2.
  • Boat-living. Boat-space is also at a premium. I am always impressed about how the use of space is maximized in boats to make the rooms seem much larger than they are. Boats also allow a few more luxuries (material wants) but only the most important ones. Maybe a picture or two on the wall and a few books.
  • Cottages. Cottages are much like boats but poorly designed cottages can also seem much like houses. Frequently the spaciousness of a place is determined, not by how large it is, but by how much crap one tries to stuff in there. Unfortunately, a land-dwelling requires some discipline, whereas on a boat it probably sinks if loaded too high. Thus it is hard to get inspired by cottages, except these ones.

As an afterthought, I realized how well this ties into the idea of ecological footprints. I would say that things become less important the more one’s footprint expands. For instance, the utility of my brain, muscles, bones and organs are the most important to me. The utility of my clothes, the second most important closely followed by the utility of my tools. Personally. I find that things beyond that matters little in the positive sense and more in the negative sense. I think not so much of what they can do for me, but what they can prevent me from doing.

Other readings:

Originally posted 2008-03-27 07:17:52.