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By Brianna Wiest
My sister asked me about the economic consequences of minimalism. She wanted to know if buying less would ultimately hurt the economy, and in effect, hurt us. (She is astute, you’re right.) I told her that it’s not collapsing the economy, it’s shifting the economy. It’s not that we never buy things anymore, it’s that we consume less and better. We buy organic and locally-produced, from individuals and organizations we want to support. We invest where it matters in place of mindless excess.
This concept applies to the way minds should be managed, too.
Minimalism is not a solely aesthetic thing. Some people use it for that, sure, but that’s really not the point. It’s about mental freedom. It is financial, emotional, day-to-day sanity. You step out of the black hole that is “never having enough,” and drowning in a space of crap you can’t keep up with. You use what you have. You do what you can. You become resourceful. Grounded. Mindful.
The point of doing this is not just to do it. It’s to clear up the mental space to focus on what matters. “What matters” is going to be different for everyone. It could be spending more time with your kids. It could be writing and creating more. It could simply be having more down time.
Human beings have a limited mental bandwidth, there’s only so much that we can handle in a day. It is our energy, not our time, which we must schedule. In a world that profits from our attention, burning our lives down to the only things that matter – deciding that the most ambitious goal is to be completely at peace each day – is an act of rebellion.
Most days, my to-do list is just to bathe and eat and run and do my assignments and sleep. I do not waste my time picking out clothes, or shopping, or cleaning an unruly house every day. I do not waste my time on people I do not care about, or work that isn’t financially or artistically beneficial. Whatever time I have leftover is mind. I can devote to it whatever I want.
I have reduced myself to only the things I must do. Defining for myself what those “essential things” are is freeing. It is, effectively, minimalism for my brain.
Involuntarily giving my mind to things I don’t care about is a subtle addiction, which are the worst kind, because they’re quiet. They fly under the radar and slowly rob you of your life until you confuse them for being part of you.
Any psychiatrist will tell you that a disorder becomes an official, diagnosable thing when it begins to interfere with your life. That is hard to define when you don’t know what “interfering with your life” means, because you don’t know what is essential to your life, and what’s not. Was I sick because I was trying to do so much that there’s no possible way my mind’s bandwidth could contain it? Or was I unable to stretch because I am sick?
The thing about growth is that it’s happening even if you don’t realize. Maybe especially when you don’t realize. The times I have personally felt most lost and broken were absolutely the times I was changing most exponentially. I just couldn’t see it then.
If this is true, then why does the ego need to see quantifiable change? It’s almost like a survival instinct: we must see how we are getting better, so at least we are not getting worse. Being told that we can “be anything” has a shadow side. It makes us agonize over what we’re potentially failing at. And there is always something to be failing at.
Oprah still plants a garden in her backyard, and a lot of the photos she posts on Instagram are of her holding her vegetables, and of her dogs. She could have photos of luxe afternoons spent being catered to and selfies with all of the super rich and famous people she interviews. Of course, she does, but she also has photos of her plants, and her dogs.
That sends a beautiful message about the most super successful. That you could have everything, and yet the things that bring you the most joy are still your pets and your garden.
My ambitions now are simple. I only want enough to live comfortably, and the wisdom to live simply. The only ambitious goal I have is to be at peace each day – which is, for most people, the most difficult thing there is to actually accomplish. Anything that doesn’t facilitate it is just noise.
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