For years, I’ve been drawn to the concept of a minimalist lifestyle.  Several years ago, I stumbled across an online video created by a young guy who designed and built tiny houses and who had created an online video series to encourage others to explore the possibilities of doing the same. He was seeking sponsors to enable him to do more videos and I found his ideas absolutely riveting.  At the time, my company was doing especially well, so I offered my company’s sponsorship. As is so often the case, I got busy and lost track of the guy, his videos, and whether my money made a difference. But I’ve always remembered how intrigued I was by his tiny houses; I remain intrigued by the things. It wasn’t just the tiny houses; it was the frame of mind they nurtured: living a minimalist lifestyle.

Though that experience happened years ago, I remain drawn to minimalism, though I certainly do not live the lifestyle. I am just as addicted to ‘stuff’ as the next guy. Perhaps the difference is that I recognize my willingness to purse ‘things’ suggests an implicit acceptance of the concept that more things should equal more happiness; that bothers me. A lot. And it has for a very long time.

From time to time, I find myself in the middle of a daydream in which my circumstances have changed and, in order to survive, I am forced to make my own way in the world without the massive amounts of luggage tying me to one place.  In my daydream, I must grow my own food, create my own shelter, solve my own problems, and think my own thoughts. It’s almost as if I were wishing for the meltdown of society, just to force me to abandon my attachment to objects that do not matter. Because, you see, without being forced, I don’t think I’ll allow myself the luxury of abandoning the useless glitter with which I surround myself. It’s embarrassing and upsetting. Rather than focus my attention on the things that really bring me joy, I willingly allow myself to care about smart phones and new furniture and the latest technology and having a closet full of clothes and all those other symptoms of greed; greed replacing humanity.

If I were a stronger person, I’d be able to just cut the cord with conspicuous consumption. I would not allow myself to be swayed by television advertisements or friends’ enthusiasm about the latest trending ‘gotta have it.’ I suppose part of it is laziness. And part of it is that my wife doesn’t necessarily share my ennui about capitalism run amok.

I have enormous admiration and respect for people who opt to pursue lifestyles that eschew luxury and consumption in favor of a more ascetic and more inner-directed world. I am not sure whether I’ve ever told anyone, except a friend from my early college years, that I really wanted, many years ago, to live the life of an ascetic. My interest was not religious in any sense but, rather, intensely personal; I wanted to know who I was. I felt that the only way I could learn who I was would be to direct my attention to my own thoughts and making my own way in the world, relying only on myself for food and shelter and rejecting overabundance. My friend and I talked for hours about such a lifestyle. He was of the same mind as I, but I think he had greater discipline and focus than I. I am not sure, but I strongly suspect that he pursued that lifestyle, at least for a time. And I suspect, if he did, he came to know who lived inside his head.

I still don’t know who I am and I’m afraid it’s too late to try to find out. If I had acted on my interest at the time, I might be the same person I am now or I might be someone different. But at least I’d know which one. I wish I knew.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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