Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Good News for the Poor: You Can Afford to Have Nothing!

Like many people, when I discover something new and exciting I tend to immerse myself in it, almost to the exclusion of everything else. For example, when I discovered the bold and color-coordinated world of fixed-gear freestyling I spent hours and hours practicing barspinzzz in parking lots, under elevated expressways, and on municipal property. Also, I just found out that George Michael was in this underground industrial band back in the 80s, and since then I haven't listened to anything else. Similarly, now that my eyes have been opened to The New Minimalism (not all the way opened, mind you; we minimalists tend to go half-lidded through life) I simply can't get enough of it. I'm now convinced that adopting a fashionably minimalist lifestyle is the key to enlightenment, and fortunately for me, there's paradoxically tons of minimalism out there.


By the way, minimalists should not be confused with "Manimalists," which are of course obsessive fans of the TV show "Manimal:"



Anyway,, my newly-adopted minimalist siblings have been criticized for, among other things, really just being a bunch of rich people with a penchant for Apple products. This couldn't be further from the truth. Consider this post from minimalist blog "mnmlist," which explains that "minimalism isn't just for the affluent:"

First of all, if you didn't figure it out from the above, if you're not "middle class or above" I regret to inform you that, yes, you're poor. This means that, even if you've been living happily and getting along fine despite occupying that income bracket just below what some sociologists and economists variously and somewhat arbitrarily call the "middle class," then you are now poor and should begin acting accordingly. An essential tenet of minimalism is having an overly simplistic worldview, so for the convenience of all minimalists if you're poor please turn to a life of crime and pack your government-subsidized home with lots of unnecessary crap immediately.

If you're still not sure of your class, here's a quick checklist you can use to see if you indeed fit the minimalist definition of "poor:"

1) You own a computer marketed by a company other than Apple;
2) You own a cellular telephone marketed by a company other than Apple;
3) You don't feel the need to turn what you do with your disposable income into a philosophy because you don't have any disposable income;
4) You live someplace other than New York City or San Francisco.

In any case, once you've started acting like the poor person you are, you can then begin to redeem yourself and experience the joys of minimalism by following these simple instructions:

Eliminating unnecessary possessions also means you’ll need a smaller home, which will save on rent and heating/cooling. Buying fewer things means less debt. Spending time with loved ones or doing things you love means you spend less. All of these things are good whether you’re wealthy or not.

It’s true that the poor are often thought of as not having the luxury of even thinking about simplifying, or minimalism. They’re too worried about putting food on the table, or where the rent is coming from, or how to avoid creditors until the next paycheck. And there’s a lot of truth in that. But it doesn’t have to be true: anyone can pause, breathe, and decide to live differently.


Say what you will about minimalists, but if it wasn't for them who would tell the poor people of the world that they should live in smaller homes and buy fewer things? And can you believe that some poor people don't even think about how they can simplify their lives? What's with that anyway? The poor are so self-involved! Consider the people who live in these houses in Africa:

Do they really need all that thatching? Isn't it a bit excessive? They should really consider more minimalist roofing options. Why can't those three families just become minimalists, stop wasting thatching, and start sharing a single home like this?

Not only is it minimalist, but it's also "green," so those poor people can finally start helping us to "save the Earth."

Or what about these people in the Amazon?

(Is this boat really necessary?)

I bet that big house is cluttered with nets, blow guns, and bows and arrows. Can't they just downsize to something more elegant and "sustainable," give all their hunting equipment away on Craigslist, and consolidate by buying the new Apple iSpear? Seriously, if they can only count up to five then why do they need so much stuff?

If only poor people would put more thought into their lifestyle, the world would be a better and more minimalist place. Meanwhile, while poor people are frittering their lives away by working to feed themselves and their families, minimalists are reaching levels of self-denial that would amaze even the most devout yogi. Believe it or not, some of them aren't even buying iPads:

Just think about that while you're slurping thin gruel in your straw hovel.

Of course, a key component of minimalism is the bicycle, and almost all minimalists either own one or plan to own one. However, don't confuse this with actually riding the bicycle, for in the minimalist universe bicycle ownership is less about riding the bicycle and more about bragging about not using a car. Consider the author of the "mnmlist" blog, who recently moved to San Francisco and went "car-free:"

We’ve gone car-free, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s almost impossible to do on Guam, for many reasons, though we did manage to go car-lite while we were there. Today, we walk and take transit everywhere, and it’s easy. We plan to get bikes soon.

Like Manhattan, San Francisco is one of those places where in many ways it's actually more difficult to own a car than not to own one. In this sense, bragging about being "car-free" in San Francisco is kind of like bragging about being "goose down parka-free" in Miami. Meanwhile, the "mnmlist" couldn't be "car-free" in Guam (instead opting to be "car-lite," which I guess means he didn't drive to the bathroom), which is a tropical island of only 209 square miles:

Even the most feeble "fixter" could probably cover the entire island on an IRO in a couple of days. You'd think in the interest of minimalism he could have at least traded his car for a scooter.

Meanwhile, as it happens, a number of readers have informed me that the BBC ran an article about minimalism yesterday:

The article profiles minimalists like Kelly Sutton:

By now, the "minimalist" pattern should be familiar: a person who lives in a trendy neighborhood with thousands of dollars of designer electronics renounces a bunch of stuff nobody uses anymore anyway. He also has a website, on which he says it's impossible to own nothing, even though it's entirely possible:

Then he lists his many possessions and reveals that he's getting rid of everything that's not expensive, trendy, or both:

He has sold his Fuji track bike and accessories, though, which could indicate that either his minimalism is about to reach the next level of austerity--or, more likely, he's about to buy a Mini Cooper. You'll notice he's also sold all the books about sex and marriage, having finally come to terms with the fact that he'll never get "laid" again.

Meanwhile, the other guy in the article is a professional couch-surfer:

"Back in the day," this form of minimalism used to be known as "freeloading." He's also only just realizing things about records that the rest of the world figured out in like 1986:

"Things like records snap and wear down over time. It's upsetting."

Though it is worth noting that records tend to last quite a lot longer when you have a home instead of a backpack.

Speaking of minimalism, I recently took delivery of a non-minimalist bicycle for testing:

It is an Electra Ticino 8D, and here is what it looks like when it is assembled:

I will share with you my impressions of this bicycle once I've spent some time with it, but my first ride was a "comfy" one, and I felt like an utter dandy despite my slovenly attire:

In the meantime, should you see me "palping" this genteel bicycle about town, please feel free to greet me in the traditional "minimalist" manner:

(Minimalists greet each other by holding aloft their iPhones.)

One thing I will say about the Ticino is that it provides for a rather upright riding position--though not quite as upright as an ElliptiGO, as photographed by "Daddo One:"

I wish the minimalists would move on to these and leave bicycles alone.

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