Last Monday, I went along to an event held by a couple of Americans who were in town promoting their book on Minimalism. Minimalism, for those of you who have not encountered it before (and I only did so recently thanks to my girlfriend, who is really into it), is an approach to life that suggests it can be greatly enhanced by concentrating on only having things in your life (possessions, relationships and so on), if they actually add value to it. This isn’t value in the monetary sense, but in terms of making your life better.
When you start thinking about things in this way, it’s amazing how much stuff you have in your life which not only do you not need, but that actually makes your life worse. Think of the last gadget which you bought on a whim, when was the last time you actually used it? Does owning it actually improve your life in any way? Does it make you more content? Couldn’t the money you spent on it have been put to a better use?
This, then, is the basis of Minimalism, and in a world where we are increasingly judged by what we have rather than who we are, it’s becoming ever more popular. However, the pursuit of stuff is so ingrained into our daily lives that it can often be difficult to work out where to start hacking away at all the things which make our lives worse so that you can concentrate on the things which make it better. This is where a zombie apocalypse approach to Minimalism can help.
So, what is the zombie apocalypse approach to Minimalism? Well, it’s quite straight forward, just ask yourself this: If there was a zombie apocalypse tomorrow, and I suddenly found myself fighting for my life, what would I actually miss about my current life? You really have to think about this, and be honest with yourself, I mean would you really miss the 42 inch plasma TV which you bought on your credit card and which the payments for are slowly bleeding you dry? What about your work colleagues who you spend most of your time socialising with out of mere convenience rather than because you actually have any sort of a meaningful relationships with any of them? What about your job? Your partner? Your poky little flat that cost a fortune (which it is, incidentally, no longer worth) and that you have to work yourself to death for just to pay the mortgage? What about your weekly trip round Ikea, buying things for your house that mean nothing to you, but which you have to spend several hours dusting each and every week ?
When you look at your life this way, it quickly becomes apparent that most of the stuff in your life not only isn’t essential to it, but you wouldn’t actually miss if it was all taken away from you tomorrow. If this is the case, then why do you insist on having it in your life in the first place?
Minimalism isn’t necessarily about not treating yourself or not buying something you really need or giving all your stuff away (although some choose to do this, but that it up to them). Instead, it’s about living a simpler, less complicated life which is filled with things that add to it, rather than things you think you should have.
Sub-consciously, I think I’ve always known this, and I think this is one of the reasons I both read and write post-apocalyptic fiction (my short story, When The Comet Came, is a prime example of this, with its rant against the ills of modern life). In this genre, all the trappings of the modern world are stripped away, and the reality of life is laid before you. Finally, you can see what is important, and it’s not having the latest i-phone. Instead, it is about surviving and making sure that those you love survive alongside you. It’s about coming together, creating a community, working with others to build a better life. It’s about the thrill you get out of doing something and not just owning something. Minimalism has simply put a name to something I think I have always felt.
One of the things which has brought this to my attention recently is the time I have been spending teaching a friend’s daughter how to drive. For the past few years, I have spent a lot of my time writing (both fiction and non-fiction) and building up a small business to pay the bills so that I can spend more time writing, but this has come the cost of not spending much time with friends and relatives. In fact, I’ve probably been very neglectful of them all, which I can only apologise for. Now, the accepted view by many in Western society, would be that this is not only right, but that you need to concentrate on earning money, so you can buy the stuff that lets everyone else know how successful your life is. After all, that’s what’s important in life, being successful, isn’t it?
However, taking time away from work to teach someone to drive has reminded me that success isn’t about how much you earn or how much stuff you have. Instead, it’s about doing good in the world and leaving your mark upon it. If I take the time to teach someone to drive, then that’s a skill they’ll have for life. Surely, that’s a far greater mark of success than having enough money to buy the latest ipad the instant a new one is released? It also let’s them know that I think they are important enough to me to make the effort to do this in a way that just paying for them to have driving lessons does not. Finally, seeing the look on someone’s face when you teach them a new skill, and then when they finally succeed in doing it for the first time on their own, is priceless. It’s the type of thing which you know you will look back on when you’re in your dotage and it will give you a warm fuzzy feeling deep inside. Will thinking back on any of the stuff you buy ever do that? No. And the chances are that you won’t even remember you ever owned it in the first place!
Of course, Minimalism isn’t for everyone, but it seems to me that those who adopt it, in any of its myriad of forms, are much more content with their lives than those who don’t. I certainly know that making more time for friends and family, and doing things with them (or for them) rather than just buying them stuff they don’t really need every Christmas and birthday, not only makes me happier, it makes them happier too.
So, if you have a few minutes to spare today, why not sit back and have a think about your life: If a zombie apocalypse were to happen tomorrow, what bits of it would you actually miss? If you’re really honest with yourself, you might just be surprised by the conclusions you come to.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.