I saw an article the other day about a man who had chosen to get rid of all of his possessions except for a fair amount of computer equipment, a couch, and a few odds and ends. (I’m not linking to the article because I want this post to be about a hypothetical extreme minimalist rather than the specifics of one person’s story that I know almost nothing about.) For a moment such a lack of possessions seems like a virtuous lack of attachment to material goods. But on second thought it seems incredibly selfish.
This man owns only what he personally wants. He has nothing for the benefit of anyone else. He cannot offer anyone a place to sleep, or even a place to sit down. He has nothing to loan to a neighbor. Not only does he have nothing to meet anyone else’s material needs, he is probably a burden on others. I imagine he is able to do without some things because plans to borrow from neighbors or relatives when necessary. Such extreme minimalism would be an interesting exercise, but a sad way to live.
I’m not saying that minimalists are selfish. Minimalism is entirely subjective: each person defines what his or her minimum is. Some take others into consideration when deciding what their minimum should be and some do not. Some even become minimalists in order to have more margin to serve others.
Minimalism becomes ugly when it turns into a more-minimal-than-thou contest.
“Read my blog. I only have 47 things!”
“Buy my book. I have only 39 things!”
“I’ll see your 39 and lower you five!”
In a contest to live with the fewest possessions, one way to get ahead is to jettison anything that only benefits someone else.
Update: See my follow up post clarifying my ideas of minimalism.