My household is more an example of a house that would belong to a hoarder (and not a very organized one at that). Our family is anything but minimalist. As I sit here typing, the dining table alone is covered with mail delivered some time over the past week (or longer), super hero thank-you cards scattered on on corner that my eldest daughter brought in this evening, a mostly-empty water bottle the same daughter contributed, a wide-tooth comb, several infant toys that one or both infant twins played with sometimes since yesterday, some sunflower seed butter from a package intended to help families in need but is foisted on us by a teacher who probably doesn’t want kids in actual need in her class to feel bad because our daughter wasn’t originally accepting them, a gift card for a local big box store, a remote control helicopter (also belonging to my eldest), some finger-food crunchy things for our daughters to try, a started and forgotten feel-good card my eldest had the best of intentions with, an infant blanket thrown over the back of one of the chairs, someone’s clean socks…. And this is a “good” day in terms of clutter1.
And, having young twin daughters, people want to help us out from our respective families and we could easily have had one of the latest “gifts” we never requested gracing the table.
We are hoarders and very unorganized hoarders to boot.
So, why minimalism?
Succinctly put: we can’t afford to continue to hoard and have such messes any more, now that we’ve added twins to our lives. Our house could have handled four hoarders with some effort, but only barely. It’s not nearly big enough to house five hoarders. We need to change our habits, and soon. This is one of the primary reasons.
Another goes hand-in-hand with cultivating Tao. Simplicity is one of the virtues extolled in every translation I’ve read of the core Taoism texts. It is quite valued by Zen as well2. One of my many excuses for not cultivating Tao historically has been that my life is too cluttered and chaotic to seriously take up Taoism. To eliminate that excuse, I want to make a concerted effort to simplify what I can simplify in my life, starting with reducing the number of physical things that I have hoarded over the years, many of which are being held on to “just in case” I want to go back to them or they might prove useful in some way later on. While I can try to order everyone else in the family to do the same, none of them have elected to cultivate Tao and they shouldn’t do anything against their nature just because I demand it. What I do hope happens is: that by embracing elements of simplicity and minimalism in my own life, my family members will see the benefits and jump on board with helping to de-clutter our lives. My wife is equally frustrated with our clutter, so I don’t think it will be too much of a stretch to think she’ll join in as well, but my eldest has learned the hoarding principle all too well — and so I will do my best to limit her footprint in the house so that our newest members have space to sleep, eat and play. Perhaps the twins can be caught before they catch the hoarding bug.
So it serves at least two purposes: eliminating untenable levels of clutter and supporting my choice to cultivate Tao.
Of lesser importance, but a definite goal of mine, is the intent to break away from the chains of excessive consumerism. It’s painfully obvious to me that there are things that could be done with my time and money that would give me greater joy than to add to my collected of material possessions. I’ve become keenly aware lately of the surety that some given purchase will bring me instant happiness, only to discover that the joy disappears as soon as the target is in my hand. Some part of my subconscious must firmly believe that getting THINGS will make me happy. Now that my conscious mind can see that is patently not true, I want to free myself from this burdensome habit.
And so, seeing other people from all walks of life finding joy and happiness in living a meaningful life not based on material goods, I want to step away away from those habits which fail to deliver on their empty promises.
I don’t want to get into the details here, but I am also conscious of getting carried away with tackling a minimalist lifestyle. My own approach is much more in alignment with what has been pegged as “rational minimalism”3, so you won’t see me attempting to reduce my belongings to 100 items like some people who adopt more extreme minimalism (which is fine if it works for them). Instead, you will see someone attempting to cull his belongings down to the important and necessary without specific qualifying tiers of success. If I reduce my belongings and reduce the feeling I am surrounded by clutter, I will be satisfied that I have made “progress”.
This brings us to the reasons for posting my dirty laundry online and I’ll cover those reasons in the next post.
- It may seem like I am picking on my eldest daughter, but any of those things found on the dining table could have easily been something else, belonging to anyone else. She just happened to be the current guilty party as I sat down to compose this. ↩
- Zen philosophy colors my Taoism views, but I disagree with some of the tenants of Buddhist Zen. For example, I tend to think of zazan, while valuable for several purposes, as a bit of a fetish for many of the would-be enlightened. Another example is that my own personal worldview is less focused on suffering as the root of all discontent and more geared towards “things are as they are” and acceptance of that truism rather than on escaping suffering. In large part, however, I tend to view many elements of Zen as interchangeable with Taoist thought, so don’t be surprised to see it treated as such in future posts. ↩
- See http://www.becomingminimalist.com/find-a-rational-minimalism-that-works-for-you/ for an explanaion of rational minimalism that comports with my own conceptualization of what is an appropriate level of minimalism for my self and family.↩