With just a brief glance at any modern news media outlet it is plain to see that our society is one obsessed with consumption and material possession. We have allowed North American materialistic culture to define individual happiness, and that definition is reliant upon the possession of material goods, such as a large house, a fancy vehicle, and most importantly, the latest technology.
Amidst this chaos of consumerism, few people take the time to consider what this version of happiness costs, and I’m not talking about the price tag. It was recently announced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems. However all hope is not lost, and a turn toward sustainable living is on the rise.
As human beings, like any animal, we have needs which must be met in order to survive: food, water, shelter. Due to our consumer based culture however, our wants and desires have become confused with our needs, and have transitioned into a demand for comfort – extreme comfort. During a Ted Talk, Nigel Marsh sums up the lives of many North American adults perfectly: “The reality of the society that we’re in is there are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”
This Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto created a principle which states that 80% of the effect comes from 20% of the cause. This has since been applied to human consumption by stating that we use 20% of our stuff 80% of the time. We live a life of excess which is derived from the creation and possession of personal property. We have become accustomed to a way of life that is not sustainable, living in a world of pollution, mass extinction, natural disasters, and extreme climate events.
It is undeniable that a change must be made if we, as human beings, are going to continue into the future with any hope of sustainability. This change could take many forms and one, in fact, has already started, which reinforces becoming conscious about our personal decisions and how they affect not only us but our community as a whole.
Minimalism is a tool in finding freedom. Freedom from worry, fear, guilt, depression, from the trap of consumer culture that we are so accustomed to. It is a tool to rid yourself of the excess and focus on what is important. What is important to you, and no one else.
When most people think about a minimalist lifestyle they assume it is simply the abandonment of all things material, for example, giving up all your personal possessions. This however is not the case. Minimalism first and foremost is about a reassessment of personal priorities; an individual endeavour to examine the things in your life and decide what you really need as opposed to what you merely want.
When you rid yourself of the excess you can not focus your life on what is important and find fulfillment, freedom, and happiness. You can also minimize your personal impact on the environment.
Not only will you lead a happier, more fulfilling life, but an indirect effect of your personal change will benefit the environment as well. The ability to live with less means reductions of consumer waste, pollution from transport, reductions in energy demand, and less stress on natural resources which are currently being depleted.
My personal experience with minimalism was initially inspired by my sister only two short years ago. After looking into multiple aspects of this way of life, I began to think of my purchases as not only the upfront cost, but the hours I spent working my minimum wage job to come up with the money, and the amount of time I would spend on upkeep. As I began to do this, I found myself more frequently leaving stores empty handed, and eventually trips to the store became a rare occurrence. My time became better used with people I cared about, making memories that would last much longer than the latest must-have item.
The decisions we make are a reflection of who we are as individuals within a larger society. To find a balance is an art form. This balance between needs and wants, humans and the environment is often taken for granted or even ignored. By embracing minimalism I feel that have become a more thoughtful and fulfilled individual; my hope is that this could be true for you as well.
Living a minimalist life is ultimately defined by you. Everyone will define it differently, and that is okay. Some may make a more drastic change than others, but the final outcome is a person who is happier and fulfilled. Some may call you weird, but this life is yours, and who ever said weird was a bad thing?