This trend culminated about ten years ago with the Law of Attraction phenomenon and the fairly popular book The Secret. Thousands believed they could attract whatever they wanted, simply by focusing their desire. Fortunately, the pendulum is swinging back the other way. Welcome to the age of Minimalism.
The philosophy of minimalism is simple. Reuse, Reduce, Recycle. Packaging is getting smaller, products are being made from the waste of other products. And it doesn’t stop there. There are hundreds of stories of people giving up ‘the good life’ to live one of simplicity. Couples trading in their far-too-large homes for tiny houses. Entire families choosing to live ‘off-grid’.
On the surface of this trend there are tremendous advantages for the individual as well as our global environment. Less trash, less pollution, a greater concern for nature, and for our future generations as well. But that’s just on the surface. What lies beneath goes far beyond just clearing out closets or donating unused items to charity.
First, let’s admit that, for the most part, Americans are really good at adaptation. We can find ways to popularize concepts, repackage ideas or philosophies, and improve the marketability of just about anything. Take the yoga fitness craze for example. What started as a deeply spiritual activity in the Eastern Religions has become a way of losing weight or improving flexibility.
And though there is nothing wrong with either of those, to repackage this practice just to make it more popular removes the original intent, creating a watered down version that does very little compared to what it was created for. This same type of repackaging is what we see now with minimalism. All we hear about is what lies on the surface of this movement. No one talks about what lies underneath.
Clearing out and getting rid of stuff we no longer need, use, or want is a wonderful thing. Changing our habits to reduce our impact on the world is awesome as well. But there is a danger in stopping there. Far too often I hear people who have become students of minimalism talking about the need to say ‘no’ whenever someone offers you something, especially if you don’t see it as useful or necessary.
The danger in doing this is the exact same danger in believing we can have everything we desire. It pushes the pendulum too far. It actually cuts us off from the ebb and flow of life. Look at it this way. Life is like a gently flowing creek. As long as the water is moving, it remains clean and clear. But when it stops flowing, it stagnates.
The Law of Attraction philosophy was like building a dam, trying to hoard all the water for ourselves. The more we hoarded, the more we needed. Too much stuff required places to store it all, and things to store it in. When we ran out of places in our closets and garages, we started renting storage facilities outside the home. We bought, and stored, and bought some more, until one day we realized we were flooded with stuff. Just as would happen if we dammed up that creek.
But to swing back the other way too far would be to refuse the flow of life. It would be like damming the river before it reaches us. When we refuse what comes our way, we cut ourselves off from this flow. Eventually, our lives dry up, leaving us thirsting for what we used to have. And, even though we may be able to convince ourselves that we are better off now, will future generations see it the same?
The good news is, there is a middle ground. There is a path that allows us to both accept everything and anything that comes our way, and still provide us with the same opportunity to reduce our impact on our world. What’s even better is, we don’t just reduce our impact on the world, but we reduce the world’s impact on us. I’ll talk about that more in the next post.