WILL OUR LIFE VALUES EVER TURN TOPSY-TURVEY?

            Can a modern American achieve true, long-lasting happiness without using material goods like money and possessions to define success? As a friend of mine from Prague asked, “Why do Americans think they NEED 80 flavors of toothpaste?”

            Or are we all simply fat capitalist pigs as Marx seemed to indicate?

            Not I. I discovered quite by accident that I’m a minimalist. A friend was asking me if I planned to attend a massive jewelry sale sponsored by a group we both belonged to. I envisioned room after room, table after table, of glittering, shiny, baubles designed to spotlight my aging throat and mature figure with their wrinkles, spots and flab, and shuddered. Probably the last activity that attracted me would be tracking down pieces of useless jewelry. And to spend money and time on such a quest? Impossible.

            “No,” I answered. “I’m a minimalist. I don’t need any jewelry.”

            Why the term leaped to my mind, I have no idea. But somehow I must have been absorbing the expression through pop culture because it fit with my existing values and approach to life. Since then I’ve realized that I’m not alone in embracing the attitude. Minimalism has been around in art, music and decorating for decades, to indicate a stripped down, perhaps stark, approach to self-expression, but is more recent as a description of lifestyle. Before the trend, of course, many religions valued it, using “simple” as part of their definition. Simple food, simple clothing, simple belongings. Quakers, the Amish and Mennonites, Buddhists and others set their sights on values instead of money, consumerism, and material status.

            Minimalism as a way of life focuses on living with less. This includes less financial burdens for its practitioners, such as debt and unnecessary expenses. Minimalists, not than I know any except myself, support shedding excess stuff and valuing experiences rather than worldly possessions. It’s a method to rid yourself of life’s excess to focus on intangible valuable qualities to bring happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.

            In typical American fashion, people now are rushing to expand on, define, advocate and criticism minimalism. The Los Angeles Times reported the average American household has 300,000 items. (I wonder what they counted as an item? Was a package of toilet paper counted as one or eight? A set of dishes one or 16?) Then someone tossed out one-hundred objects as the ideal amount for a minimalist.

            Funny to me that many articles about minimalism stress how much money you’ll save. Seems contradictory—you want to care less about unessentials like money in order to concentrate on destressing, building relationships, working on your personal interests.

            In the final tally, these points are irrelevant to me. I have a handy reason to avoid wasting my time on shopping and a defensible strategy for cleaning out my closets and cupboards. Would you like some recycled books or one of the six bottles of cologne I received at the holidays?