Minimalism: Discovering The Things That Matter

While I was living on Maui in 2011 my brother, Matt, and I were Skyping. He had a big smirk on his face the whole call. After an hour of this I finally told him to cut the shit and tell me what the giddiness was about. “OK, but don’t tell anyone,” he said. A long dramatic pause and then laughing: 

“I’m a minimalist.”

I love this moment because an idea changed his life. More than selling and donating most of his things, the giddiness was because his relationship to life changed. He began to look at his relationship to objects differently. His context for living was no longer based on them—the trends, the fitting in, the being good enough—but on himself.

This year my brother is on a six week tour with two guys, Josh and Ryan, who call themselves The Minimalists. They’re creating a documentary to give people insight into what minimalism is. Last week they stopped in Los Angeles giving me the opportunity to hear them speak at one of my favorite venues, The Last Bookstore, and spend some quality time with my brother.

Matt and I have talked at length about how people perceive minimalism, and it’s one of the reasons he’s so passionate about creating this film.

Our minds are always looking to define things. We need to know the rules and how we fit in. What does it really mean to be a minimalist? Is that what I am? Does being a minimalist mean I have to get rid of all my things? What about my books? My photos? My shoes? But…I like my shoes.

The truth is that these are not the important questions. The important questions are the ones about our lives. Like, am I really happy? Do I fill my life with things because I think they make me happy? Who would I be without the clothes, home, gadgets I identify myself with?

Being a minimalist doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy things; it means that we don’t allow things to hold power over us. We can lose objects in a fire—even photographs—and it will all still be ok. We realize that it would suck to have lost those things, but we wouldn’t have really lost anything important. It wouldn’t destroy us.

I think this points to the great truth of life: nothing is permanent. We have to let go of everything at some point. If not now, we’ll be forced to do so in death. I think our attachment to objects is actually a very deep desire to feel safe in this world. We’ve become a culture identified with our things, and I think partly because we‘re avoiding the truth that everything disappears at some point.

To me, minimalism isn’t about the things we have or don’t have. It’s about our relationship to things.

It’s about realizing that these objects don’t actually hold value—even if the world around us tells us they do. The things that hold value are intangible. It’s in our relationships, in our love, our laughter, in our moments with each other. Josh and Ryan ask themselves one simple, yet profound, question:

Does this bring value or joy to my life? 

This isn’t about not having things. It’s about being more conscious about the things you do have. 

The key here is getting real with yourself. Ask yourself why you have it. Question what you put value in. At the end of our days the things that really meant something won’t have been our objects; they will have been our moments with people and our moments with ourselves. No one finds out they have a terminal illness and thinks about all of the dresses that are hanging in their closet or run out on a shopping spree. We think about the people we love and the people who love us, the beautiful sites of the world we’ve seen, the moments that made every bit of pain worth it. And I bet you anything not one of those memories has a thing to do with a thing.

Minimalism can bring a lightness to life.

That’s what I saw on my brother’s face over three years ago. He found some secret to all this craziness that made him joyful. I’ve never seen that expression on the face of anyone receiving an object. It’s not a feeling that can be attained by a thing. It’s a knowing of a deep truth—that the things we thought that mattered actually don’t and the things that actually matter are the “things” we’ve had all along.

Update: The film is out! Check out how you can watch it here.

Photo Credit: Matt D'Avella, Catalyst


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