Michelangelo Buonarroti, the great sculptor, artist, and engineer of the 15th century remains to this day one of history’s greatest talents. Legend has it that an admirer, after viewing his sculpture of David, asked him in awe how he had done it. Michelangelo allegedly replied, “David was always there in the marble. I just took away everything that was not David.” Whether this conversation took place and not is not the point of this article. Maybe we can learn an important lesson about that chunk of marble which is our own life.
Minimalism is a lifestyle choice that some have chosen as a reaction to the materialism of post World War II American life. Baby boomers and their children have enjoyed incredible opportunities for the accumulation of wealth, possession, tools, and utensils of all varieties. Middle-class Americans and even lower middle-class Americans are able to accumulate incredible amounts of what comedian George Carlin would call “stuff.” Here’s his take on our fascination with accumulation:
Initially, it may be hard to see what Michelangelo and George Carlin have in common. Upon further examination, you may notice that they are giving us the same advice. Perhaps we can lead a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life if we prioritize what is essential is important to us. Many of us spend far too much of our waking hours doing things we don’t like to accumulate stuff that we are led to believe that we need in order to be happy. A lot of stuff that we own we have used a handful of times, maybe two or three times per year, and store way somewhere in our homes. If you are honest, you probably have a jigsaw, coffee grinder, sledgehammer, breadmaker, or some reasonable facsimile collecting dust somewhere in your living quarters. While the product may be top-quality, do you really need it? And, more importantly, would you be better off if you had less stuff to worry about?
Minimalism is a radical approach that some have taken where they strip away the nonessential possessions, tools, and artifacts to simplify lifestyle. For some, it is almost a countercultural pursuit, analogous to the Hippie movement of the late 1960s. While there’s no need to join a commune, stop bathing, and smoke a bunch of weed to be happier, there may be some mental health benefits from paring down some of the stuff that has become a burden to your life.
Here are some of the benefits of incorporating a minimalist attitude toward your lifestyle:
1. You’ll spend less money. If you’ve ever had a yard sale and walked away with a few hundred dollars, then you are acutely aware of the monetary value that your useless stuff can have. You’re also probably very aware of that exhilarating feeling you get when a lot of your junk is removed from your life. One person’s junk is truly another person’s treasure.
2. You’ll have less stress and day-to-day living becomes easier. No need to store, maintain, clean and dust around a lot of useless stuff. Living simply means less stress.
3. More freedom. By having less and wanting less you free your mind from desire. Think about how often an advertisement on TV makes you initially say to yourself , “Wow, I’d love to have one of those.” Next time you have that thought, ask yourself some probing questions. Maybe Janis Joplin was right when she said, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
4. More available time. The pursuit of and maintenance of stuff is time-consuming. Most of us complain on a daily basis that, “I don’t have time for _______________.” You can fill in the blank with your own personal excuse. Less stuff = more available time, and coincidently, less excuses.
5. Improved quality of the stuff that you do own. By spending less in total costs for a whole lot of stuff that you don’t use, you are freeing up available cash for better quality stuff that you will use. Minimalism doesn’t mean that you go without. It does mean that you go with what is essential.
6. Minimalism is the ultimate in Going Green. If the environment is important to you, then the basic premises of minimalism should make clear sense to you.
7. Minimalism can lead to a better sense of self-esteem. Most people who suffer from self-esteem problems do so because they are comparing themselves, unfavorably, to others. As adolescents, they begin to compare themselves, unfavorably, to others with regard to attractiveness, grades, athletic abilities, and talents. As adults, these same people begin to compare themselves unfavorably to others with regard to material possessions. Once a person can wrap their mind around the the idea that self-worth does not come from material possessions, self-esteem becomes less of an issue.
No one’s advocating that you give up creature comforts and live in a tent in your backyard. It’s probably safe to assume, however, that you have accumulated, over the course of your life, a lot of stuff that upon further examination is just that, a lot of stuff. Take a look at that chunk of marble that is your life and try to find what’s really there. As Bruce Lee said, “It’s not the daily increase but the daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.” Chip away, removing a little from here, take away a little from there, and see what emerges. Maybe focusing on who you are, as opposed to what you have, will become what you’ve been pursuing all along.
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