Minimalism lifestyle seems to be on the rise today, as it represents a great contrast to the mass consumption and material way of living. Instagram is full of #minimalist hashtags and it has become a common word in all languages. But do you really know what minimalism is and where did it come from?
We have to dig deep into humankind’s history to find the roots of this ever more popular lifestyle.
The origin of some pivotal ideas can be found in ancient Greece and Rome. More precisely, we have to look at stoic philosophy. The stoics claimed that we should appreciate the things that we have and be constantly grateful for them. Why? Because if we learn to be grateful for the things that we have, we will stop craving new things.
This idea is in line with today’s minimalist philosophy which claims that the constant desire for new things and its vain satisfaction makes us unhappy and stressed in the longterm.
“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”
“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having a few wants.” – Epictetus
“Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.” – Marcus Aurelius
Moving to a different time and and a different place. We can find connections to minimalism in buddhism, too. The second noble truth (1) talks about suffering and claims that most of it comes from craving and attachment.According to the first noble truth nothing lasts forever and therefore pleasure from things is only temporary. Many people are attached e.g. to their car, some might even feel that their car makes them happy. However, a car might get broken anytime, it might get into an accident, someone can steal it from you or scratch with a key. It is no surprise that such events make us unhappy, not only because it’s sad when someone steals something from you, but because we were attached to the object and therefore it is hard for us to bear its loss. In buddhism, we can find the idea of not being attached to things, which is crucial to minimalism. Some people think that minimalism is about throwing away excess things that we have at home, but that is a misconception. Minimalist lifestyle tells you not to accumulate stuff in order to fully focus on real values such as health, happiness, job satisfaction, personal growth, and – of course – love.
Personally, I see a conflict between the idea of only getting a few things that are good quality, long-lasting and simply worth it, and the idea of not being attached to things. For me it’s more difficult not getting attached to such things and not being sad when someone steals my only leather, high-quality, very expensive bag. On the other hand, if I would have 20 cheap bags, I wouldn’t be so affected by a loss of one of them. I practise minimalism (and not only in my wardrobe), but it seems like I am not mature enough to fully unattach myself from the things that I posses, because I still become sad when I lose something. But that’s okay, at least there’s something to work on. Minimalism is a journey after all.
Let’s go back to the roots of minimalism though. We can’t forget modern history, when the term minimalism was used for the first time. It was in the 50s in New York, when this extremely stark artistic movement emerged. Minimalist works are characterised by simple geometric forms, because it was believed that removing everything insignificant allows the viewer to perceive the important components. This is valid for the minimalist lifestyle, too – may the quote below by The Minimalists be a proof.
“Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favour of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfilment, and freedom.” – The Minimalists
Minimalism isn’t just a lifestyle popularised by the famous cleaning lady from Netflix, Marie Kondo. It’s not about throwing away useless stuff that you have at home. Minimalism is a life philosophy which roots can be found in ancient Greece, buddhism or the artistic movement of the same name. It’s a way of thinking and a lifelong journey.
Such journey makes a lot of sense to a sustainability enthusiast like me. And to you?
(1) Four noble truths of Buddhism. https://thebuddhistcentre.com/text/four-noble-truths