Friday, May 20, 2016

Book Review: I Am Not A Minimalist...Or Wait! Am I?

I would never describe myself as a minimalist.  I have had my life enriched by voluntary simplicity, sure and can be a little old-fashioned, too.   But I've got an abundance of stuff.  In fact, a lot of it comes along with our DIY, simple lifestyle.  I've got sewing supplies, garden supplies, canning supplies, cooking supplies, soap making supplies, knitting supplies, tools, musical instruments, etc.  I love art in all sorts of mediums and have countless pieces displayed around the house--on the walls, shelves, windowsills, and so on.  It's not sparse.  It's not blank.  It's not bland.
Gee, "sparse, blank, bland."  That makes it all the more clear to me that I've been holding a very limited view of minimalism in my mind's eye.

I recently finished this book, The More of Less by Joshua Becker, and it sort of hit me.  I guess, I am a minimalist.  Huh.  That was surprising.  I mean, I knew I liked things clear and tidy.  I knew I was organized.  I knew I didn't enjoy shopping and prefer to spend my money on experiences rather than things.  I knew I valued quality over quantity.  But still....I was indeed surprised, somehow, by this realization.  Me, a minimalist!  Ha!
I guess I was forcing minimalism into a one-size-fits-all sort of approach, which, the book made abundantly clear is NOT the case.  There are loads of ways to practice and live minimalism in the day-to-day.  That was pretty revolutionary thinking for me.  Why did I always think it involved so much whiteness...?  Turns out that minimalism is really about removing unwanted, non-essential distractions and clutter so that we're free to focus on what we really love.  The emphasis should be on what is kept, not what is given away.  That definition makes sense to me.
Joshua Becker is a blogger and this is his first book.  Unlike my ramblings here, his blog has a very clear theme--minimalism.  More specifically I think Joshua is trying to save the world by making people realize enough is enough.  That by having too much, likely that means someone else doesn't have enough.  That we can all make a difference just by buying, storing, and using less.  I'd never heard of Joshua or his blog before I selected this book through my Blogging For Books connection.  It is a good message though and one I am totally on board with spreading.  We (most of us) live surrounded by too much and rather than making us happier its making us more tired, crabby, disconnected, harried, and discontent.  And its ruining the planet, too.
The short review of The More of Less is that it is a very fine introduction for those who are tired of perpetually chasing the so-called American Dream with a credit card.  It was easy to read and offered practical places to start and answers to common questions.

The long review is more complicated and much more personal.
The book wasn't terribly thrilling for me and in the end I realized it was because a lot of it was, well, old news.  I don't have a closet overstuffed with clothes.  I read advice in the section about creating routines which prevent clutter from rebuilding once you've minimized and was already doing them.  One of the examples was just taking the two minutes to drop all the junk mail in the recycling bin as you sort through the mail so it doesn't just pile up on a table or counter for days or weeks.  I'd never thought of it as clutter control or minimalism.  I just put rubbish where it goes and straight away--because who likes looking at a stack of auto flyer and pizza ads?
Additionally, I found much of the advice not super applicable to the life we lead today.  We don't eat out.  We don't got to the mall.  We don't have cable.  We only have one car.  Heck, we don't even have the internet.  At one point I was reading about a couple who realized they'd spent $10,000 on online purchases over the past four years, none of which were more than $40.  I've heard about the hazards of One-Click-Shopping from friends and colleagues, but it's not something with which I have much personal experience.  The idea of frittering away $10,000 like that on small, inconsequential household purchases, how I else can I say it.  It makes my brain say:  Does Not Compute.  It is too far from my life.
This is the same thing that I feel when I cycle past a garage that is packed to the brim with boxes and stacks.  I don't get it.  I just don't get it.  And I am thankful for that because according to some stats from The More of Less, this is a fairly common problem for the average American--25% of those with two-car garages cannot park even one car in there on account of all the clutter and an additional 32 % have room for only one car in there.  That blew my mind....until I remembered all those garages I've passed on my trips through town.
I found a lot of the advice and "revelations" just a couple years too late to be super helpful to me.  That said, I could see how it might benefit many other people I know, people at an earlier stage in their quest to simplify, reduce, and refocus.  I think we all know people who have very good paying jobs, but never enough money for what they want.    People who are always getting the newest tablet, smartphone, etc, even though theirs is still perfectly good.  People who watch hours and hours of television a week and complain about never having enough time to practice their art or take more vacations or spend more time with family.

[Sidebar:  One of the new-to-me ideas I found most interesting was the difference between "functional obsolescence" and "technological obsolescence."  The former is when a device stops working right and prevents you from performing needed tasks so you "need" to buy a new one.  The latter is when the next upgrade gets released and makes your current device out of date so you "want" to buy a new one.]
I think the message that makes this book different from any other cluttering/minimizing/organizing type book or article I've read is Joshua's insistence on service to those in need, that it's not just about improving your own life, but the lives of others.  He goes beyond just telling you to donate your extra stuff to service organizations and urges people to realize that the less stuff you own the more time and money you have to make a difference in the world.  He advocates starting to volunteer and make donations to charities a part of daily life, even small contributions.  I liked that a lot, even if it did get, well, a little preachy.  Its good stuff.  I volunteer a couple places and donate, very sporadically, to charities.  I can totally see how it's a circle of goodness.  I feel good helping and others benefit from my help.  Still, this is something I'd like to place an even greater emphasis on in my life.  That chapter has given me things to think about.
I also really dig how much emphasis Joshua places on meaningful relationships.  His own journey into minimalism starts because he's too busy trying to clean out the garage to play ball with his son.  Clearly, his son is more important than a bunch of stuff he didn't use.  So, he got rid of it and found more time for his family.  In a world where people are feeling more often isolated and disconnected from people I thought this was a refreshing perspective.  And a simple one.
There is a Christian tone to the book which I wasn't expecting.  Its not a book that's trying to convert anyone though.  That is the background Joshua grew up in and is active in to this day.  It makes sense he's made it jive with his minimalist lifestyle.  I mean, I doubt Jesus would be living in a big ol' house, buying new sandals on eBay, even if he had the chance.  So, the Christian element was neither a deal breaker or maker for me.
I'm going to pass the book along to someone who I think would get a lot out of it.  I don't know who yet and am giving it some thoughtful consideration, but I am certain it can serve someone I love well.  I'm glad to have read it, but don't see myself referring to it often enough to justify its shelf space.  (Hmmm...there I go again with my, apparently, minimalist tendencies....).  And I can always check out his blog.  That seems just like what Joshua would want me to do.
Having less really is more, I know that.  Its been a blessing in my life to come to this realization.  There is so much freedom and joy in simplicity.  Or minimalism.  Or whatever you want to call it.  Less is more.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book through Blogging for Books in exchange for my review.

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Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas. I value the advice and friendship that you share with me!