I learned long ago that I’m usually out of step with society and those around me. My political candidates are almost always the ones who lose. Unlike most Americans, I hate to shop and abhor wasting hours strolling through stores that urge me to buy things. Ditto ads. I refuse to own heaps, tons, and masses of possessions. They weigh me down and make me stress out. The only things I over-indulge in are books and sunflower seeds. I never used mind-altering substances, even in the wild 60s. Obviously I’m not part of the mainstream

Imagine my surprise when I discovered there are popular terms describing my condition. Minimalism. Simple living. Austere. A solid core of minimalists has established a presence on the internet where you can learn about the tenets of the approach, I presume in as compact and pithy sentences as possible.

I arrived at my personal minimalism through two avenues. The first might be viewed as radical or extreme, despite being based on conservativism, which is rooted in being conservative. That radical concept is environmental activism. I don’t want anything more to be built, whether buildings, vehicles, factories. I reject bags and recycle and reuse plastic bags if I find myself stuck with some. I’ll avoid getting anything new if I can do so. I don’t think a faltering economy justifies loosening environmental controls.

The second is much more personal – laziness. When I recycle cards, carefully trimming the message panel from the pictorial panel, I save time (no shopping) and money (no purchase). I’m too lazy to travel from location to location in search of any bargain. I’d far rather curl up on my bed to read my tablet or a magazine than run out to do diddle-squat.

I like the definition of minimalism found on the website The Minimalists “Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.”

Obviously the approach doesn’t restrict the practitioner in learning more, using the brain more, appreciating people and life more. The less I have in material goods, the more opportunity I have to gain the intangibles. I’m curious and can spend hours tracking down a fact or quote.

In the guide “Becoming Minimalist,” the short definition is “MINIMALISM IS OWNING FEWER POSSESSIONS, intentionally living with only the things I really need—those items that support my purpose. I am removing the distraction of excess possessions so I can focus more on those things that matter most.” There are lots of additional tips and insights for those who’d like to explore them on the website.

So minimalism has enabled me to simplify my behavior even further. When someone asks me about my approach to life, or suggests doing something I’m not crazy about, or tells me to buy an item, I just explain, “I can’t do that. I’m a minimalist,” thereby streamlining my existence even more.


            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?