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Why The Minimalist Is My New Hero

February 5, 2014

I love the idea of it: giving shit away until you find happiness. It sounds brilliant because we all like to consume, to consume, and then hoard and consume more. I found a study proving that truism somewhere, but it eludes me at the moment, as saturated in open tabs as I am as I work through my writing projects. So, that is one that will just have to be updated when I find it, proof pudding that I am right. The study, rather loosely interpreted by me here, found that even though people have more than enough, “stuff,” they will continue to hoard, leading others to postulate that maybe the hoarding in and of itself is a human trait, a reference as it may be to our reptilian brain that has an inkling of counting ability when it knows that more eggs are just, well, more eggs and therefore better than fewer.

So, this concept of getting rid of your shit to find happiness? Flies in the face of conventional wisdom, especially given the recent study that says that richer people are not, in fact, less happy. They are more so:

Using data on 155 countries from Gallup, the Pew Global Attitudes Survey, the World Bank and other sources, they found that as countries increase their GDP per capita, the more happiness levels rise. There is no point where that levels off. The richer people get, the more satisfied they are with their lives. “If there is a satiation point,” they write, “we are yet to reach it.”

The new study also takes another look at Easterlin’s theory that within countries, rich people are happier than poor people. They wanted to test whether there is a satiation point beyond which the rich don’t get any happier. Using a 2007 Gallup poll, they found people with the highest incomes report the greatest degree of happiness and satisfaction with their lives. For instance, only 35% of people making less than $35,000 say they are “very happy,” versus 100% of people making more than $500,000.

Go figure. Money does make us happy. So, armed with my two tenuous studies, and too many open internet tabs, I make the stunning conclusion that our coupled need to accumulate things and our innate happiness meter pulsing as we reach higher incomes should mean that the more money we have to buy things, the happier we should be, right?

Except that according to The Minimalist, that isn’t the case for him, or his friend, and to show how damn happy men can be without things, they write a blog about it. This blog is their money-maker, and well, they do have a book, and they seem to have, um, well, a book tour, and maybe someone made a book tour video. Wait, The Minimalists is a co-written venture, not a single dude writing from the back of a pick-up. This is a machine.

Savvy napkin-writer goes on to make big bucks by giving it all away? More power to him, to them, to their book tour, whatever. I will admit that I was romantically inclined to view this minimalism as a true rejection of consumerism, simple. It appears not be that simple, as The Minimalists declare about what constitutes “minimal” to them:

There are many flavors of minimalism: a 20-year-old single guy’s minimalist lifestyle looks different from a 45-year-old mother’s minimalist life. Even though everyone embraces minimalism differently, each path leads to the same place: a life with more time, more money, and more freedom to live a more meaningful life.

Normally I wouldn’t equate more money with minimalism, but this new take seems to reflect the trend that more money does equal happiness. Maybe it’s just the effect of making a radical change that doesn’t hurt anyone–doesn’t seem like anyone would be harmed by giving away all your own shit. Does seem a bit like two people on the wrong path found a better one. But don’t expect the minimalist prophecy to not add in a bit of the absurd with the mention that this duo quit everything to write a book about minimalism and now has a 100-city tour to promote said minimalism:

What if everything you ever wanted isn’t what you actually want?

In 2010, we both abandoned the majority of our material possessions and created In 2011, we walked away from successful six-figure careers to live more intentionally. Then, in 2012, we moved to Montana and started writing a book. This book.

The wait is finally over: Everything That Remains is available today. Feel free to get your copy signed during the 100-city tour, but remember to minimize it once you’re finished—pass it on, donate it, or sell it.

To give credit where it is due, I guess I am in just a bit of awe by the idea that even starting out at such a wrong place, say with the 6-figure job bit, that one can find a better place. That’s the essence of hero worship for me, having that courage to make the big change that leads to happiness. I am suspect of a minimalist claiming that a 100-city book tour is really the minimum essential, but as the bare minimum is apparently individually defined, I am up for the possibility that for these two, that is the bare minimum that happiness requires. So be it.

I suppose you can’t take it with you, and I suppose that there is some truth to that shopping hangover. I know some people who shop like crazy and then spend guilty days returning things. Maybe getting rid of stuff will set you free. I have a basement that seems to be calling my name, a garage, closets, and suddenly I feel tired. Perhaps feeling free is process…

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