Friday, October 29, 2010

Would You Like Apple Sauce or Pork N Beans?

Minimalism is not about doing without. It is not about continual sacrifice. It is about doing more (or, at minimum, the same amount) with less. That may sound a little like one of the three Rs of environmentalism – Reduce. But minimalism is about making choices that make sense, not necessarily making choices to leave less of a footprint. The end result may be the same, but the motivations may differ.
Let us consider the choice of apple sauce or pork and beans. In the grocery store, a can (14 oz or 400 ml) of beans may cost you ninety cents or so, but no more than $1.20. A jar of apple sauce, on the other hand, may cost upwards of $3.00 for 900 ml (32 oz). Yet, both are relatively inexpensive. Both can be grown and produced by you.
If both can be produced by you, then, should not a true minimalist make his/her own beans or apple sauce? Not necessarily.
This fall, we made our own apple sauce, from a basket of tart apples picked from our own tree. To make six quarts took us four hours. That’s hardly a productive use of our time, since we were working for less than $5 per hour! Yet, our only inputs (the tree was in the yard before we were) were a little cinnamon, the jars (which we already had) and the heat to do the canning. We canned on a cool day, so the heat generated would have been generated anyway, to heat our home. That meant our only true cost was less than fifteen cents worth of cinnamon.
On the other hand, we also grew a variety of beans. Those beans could have been made into canned beans with pork. Instead, we chose to pickle them and freeze some. Less energy input was required on the hot summer days when they were ripe for the picking. Our net cost to pickle and freeze? About six cents per pound. To can them into brown beans with pork would have required sugar, cooking heat, spices, and tomato or molasses. And the time to prepare them for canning would have exceeded four hours for twenty pounds. At a retail price of $1.00 per pound, we would have saved $20 over store-bought beans, minus the input costs of forty cents per pound, and worked for $3.00 per hour. That is considerably less than what we earned on the apple sauce.
There are three additional major differences, though. The homemade apple sauce is pure, with no artificial preservatives added, and no sugars. And we used recycled jars, rather than aluminum cans. For the beans, we had an easier option: freezing. For virtually no cost, and little labour, we preserved the same quantity of beans as we would have canned in the pork ‘n beans scenario.
Sometimes, it is an act of minimalism to buy, rather than produce an item yourself. But where your inputs will exceed what is consumed by commercial production, where quality of doing it yourself far outweighs commercial product quality, or where commercial products generates excess waste, “doing it yourself” is the minimalist’s best option.
Minimalism, it seems then, is not as simple as “doing with less” or “doing it yourself.” It is also about “doing it smart.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

One Knife: A Minimalist’s Take on Extreme Consumerism

From 2002 to 2004, I owned one knife – no more than that.
This one knife was a fish filleting knife. It saw duty as a paring knife, as a fish skinning knife, as a wire stripper, as a butter knife, as a dinner knife, and even as a poor flat screwdriver blade.
I had not intended, in 2002, to be a minimalist. I had no concept of what being a minimalist entailed. I simply had no need of any other knife.
When I remarried in 2005, I inherited more than 60 knives. There were dinner knives, steak knives, bread knives, electric knives, meat carving knives, paring knives, pocket knives, multi-tool knives, cheese knives, cleaving knives, and other knives whose purpose I could not guess. Of course, there were also duplicates of those knives.
The knives, to me, represented the difference between consumerism and minimalism. Each type of knife simplified a given chore, or made use of a knife a little easier for that specific task. But each knife also required specific care: cleaning, sharpening, storing and handling varied for each knife. While each chore was made easier with the correct knife, keeping track of that knife became more complex than caring for one knife.
A multitude of knives meant, too, that many people could do many tasks concurrently with each other (not that it happened frequently). But an assortment of people handling a range of knives complicates the task of tracking & caring for the items.
With my one knife, I never felt the need for more. But now that I possess dozens, I see better quality, more attractive, more durable knives that I want. Ornate handles, eversharp blades, and superior, indestructible quality make each new offering a “must-have” product.
There are risks, as well, with owning a plethora of culinary scalpels. Cuts are more frequent, breakage more common, cleanliness more essential. I can no longer just wipe the filleting knife on my trousers. Each knife need be sterilized. Each knife requires storage, and specialized storage, at that.
And I needed to learn etiquette as it pertains to the proper use of knives.
I am baffled at how I was able to survive for three years with only one knife. I marvel at the rugged pioneer independence of those that have fewer knives than I now possess, and wonder how they manage to tolerate such primitive living.
In 2002, I had no need of two knives. Now, I cannot fathom being without at least 60. It is my minimum.

Using alternative fuels

Having made biodiesel from hemp, flax and canola oils, from rancid & sprouted seeds, from waste vegetable oil and animal fat, I had learned that a high-quality diesel alternative could be fabricated quite easily. Having conducted a research initiative into producing biogas from animal manure, grass clippings & old hay and waste or off-grade oilseed & grains, I had learned that a good propane substitute could be made with a little effort and effective production controls. However, I had not attempted to use various petro-fuels as alternatives to conventional ones.
Recently, I began experimenting with various petroleum products in alternative use scenarios. Diesel, for example, can be used as a substitute for kerosene in kerosene heaters or even kerosene and citronella lamps
While the odour of burning diesel is quite obnoxious, diesel heat in a relatively closed space such as a workshop is less risky than using propane heaters. Propane consumes huge amounts of oxygen, and puts out high levels of carbon monoxide, making its use in closed spaces quite dangerous. Diesel, too, has a relatively high flash point, meaning that it is somewhat safer than kerosene if drops are spilled. On the other hand, diesel produces more impurities, and will clog filters and lines more easily.
Last month, I found an ethanol-burning fireplace that claimed to consume 1/3 litre per hour. Since, in Canada, we cannot buy pure ethanol directly, this great “deal” would be valueless, if not for the fact that methanol can be substituted for ethanol. Indeed, when making biodiesel, you may use either ethanol or methanol in the chemical mix.
Methyl hydrate, by the way, is another name for methanol, and can be found in any paint store. At $3.00 or more per litre, though, the price is not attractive. Another option is to buy methanol in bulk (less than 235 litres, as the Dangerous Goods Act restricts transport and storage of larger quantities. Bulk methanol may be obtained at some race tracks and some larger fuel distributors.
The advantage of methanol is that it is not very hygroscopic. That is, it does not attract moisture to the same degree as ethanol. Besides, who wants to waste good whisky by distilling it down to pure ethanol?
Biogas and methane can be used with relatively little risk to the engine in any diesel engine. However, biogas has high sulphate content, and tends to corrode iron products rapidly.
Even manure is not a pure waste product! Well-dried manure will burn, albeit with an unpleasant odour and lots of deposits excreted. Still, it burns a little like compressed & dried peat, so it offers an emergency option for a wood heater.
A word of caution is needed, though. Use of alternative fuels must be a “stopgap” measure only, and must be done with regard to proper safety precautions.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Gift Giving for Minimalists

Relationship issues naturally seem to follow a decision to make a major change in one’s life.
When a career change hits, it impacts on more than the person whose work path is redirected. It impacts on a spouse, on family members, and on one’s social life. Similarly, a change of residence means school & friendship reorientation for the children, a probable job change for a spouse, and a shuffling of extended family interactions due to distance. Obviously, a change of religion brings unique relationship realignments.
My decision to live a minimalist lifestyle occurred well before my remarriage. My spouse has done an amazing job of adjusting, accommodating and even aligning her value systems to meet my preferences. As I indicated, though, in one of my earlier blogs, I felt compelled to live as a “closet minimalist,” in order to maintain my image as a successful business consultant. That changed when I retired.
The most difficult relationship adjustment has come, not from those immediate family members such as my own children and my spouse, but from “extended family” and friends. Even my “new” children (a friend calls them “bonus children.” I love that expression!), after a couple of years, learned to accept that my value system was not something they should try to leverage or modify, in the same manner that I respected their way of looking at life. We share ideas, but do not strongarm our ideas on each other.
My new in-laws love to give gifts; for Christmas, at Easter, at every birthday and anniversaries. Regardless of how I protest, they simply laugh it off. Regardless of how I try to encourage them to, at least, spend less (they are in their late 70s), they ignore the requests. So how do I get them to understand that I do not want these excesses, without being exceptionally blunt and perhaps offend them?
Long-time friends of my spouse, and friends of mine who love to socialize with us insist on bringing dinner gifts for every occasion. They remember special occasions, and provide gifts. They look at our dearth of furnishings, and bring knickknacks and superfluous decorations. Yet, they all know my preferences. So, how do I deal with them?
A simple solution: let everyone know you appreciate their thoughts and generosity, and let them know. Each time they bring a gift, who or what charity you have donated their gift to. Let them know how valued those donations are by the recipients. Let them know that, regardless of their attempt to “fatten me up” while I am on my minimalism diet, I will continue to appreciate their generosity, and thank them for their charitable nature by giving gifts that they know I will prudently donate to the appropriate charities.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Eating Wild

“Eating Wild” is a new blog that introduces readers to the world of wildcrafting. Wildcrafting is the art of “living off the land,” or locating, harvesting and preparing the hundreds of edible flora and fauna available (for free) across North America.
We will show you the range where each item can be found, the best way to locate that item, how to harvest it, its historical uses, the best methods of preparation & storage and the cautions that accompany use of each edible article. Occasionally, we will feature items that are not edible, but quite useful, in other ways, in your home.
This blog is a logical extrapolation of our “Living Lean and Green” blog, and our “Yurt Living” blog. The blog will include links to invaluable information on wildcrafting. The various items featured will be presented, as much as possible, in season. That is, just before the best “harvest date,” we will provide articles relevant to that wildcraft product.
The first blogs will feature the following plants for harvest:
1. Morels. Although we are into the harvest season in some areas already, morels are so popular that we feel we need to act today, instead of waiting until tomorrow.
2. Dandelion greens. These little gems go from delicious when picked early to disgusting if picked late!
3. White willow bark. A great “headache remedy, they are harvested best when the sap is just running
4. Cattail roots. Although harvestable anytime, now that the ice is off the ponds, it is an ideal time to harvest.
5. Alpine strawberry leaves. Great & nutritious tea.
6. Spruce buds. Yech! But a healthy tea awaits.
7. Tansy. A long-standing folk remedy, which can be harvested from August until May.
As you can see from the sample of articles, our approach to wildcrafting is eclectic, with healthy harvests, folk remedies, nutritious drinks, delicious side dishes, and savoury staples. Each week, we will post seven new items (one per day, ideally!). But if you want to know about a specific item, or want us to “jump the queue” by responding to your unique request, we would be more than pleased to do so. Just let us know in the “Comments” section, or email me at

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Head & Heart Conditioning Preparing yourself mentally & emotionally for minimalism

The second step in my 15 Steps to Minimal Living is head & heart conditioning.
This step is one of the most difficult to do, one of the easiest to skip. Only if you have successfully completed Step 1 – Identifying & Inventorying can you complete Step 2 appropriately.
Why are you contemplating the minimalist lifestyle? If the reasons are purely monetary – for example, you already are experiencing financial problems – then like a diet forced on you, your efforts at becoming a minimalist will fail. If, however, your reasons for embracing minimalism focus on a desire to get the most out of each moment of life rather than out of each acquisition and possession, you are pointed in the right direction.
Heart & head conditioning requires that you brace yourself for the downside to lean and green living, while being invigorated by what you will gain by “walking gently.” Since lean living means relinquishing many of the excesses that one acquires throughout life, it is important to identify those items as excess, rather than essential.
That is where heart versus head conditioning comes into play.
Are you willing to give up your vehicle entirely? Probably not. In fact, the auto is a virtual necessity for many of us. If you live outside the reaches of public transportation, for example, that car provides you with the link to your job, family & friends, etc. Even though car pooling, buses, etc. offer options, they may not be realistic or appropriate. When I worked as a business consultant, I kept my auto – a 2000 Toyota Echo – to travel to clients’ places of business. Note that the Echo offered the least ostentatious vehicle option. At the same time, it was eco-friendly, great on gas, and provided the ability to transport almost any goods I needed to move.
Deciding to downsize to the Echo, though, was an illustration of heart versus head conflict. Would I have preferred a fancy, upscale vehicle? Probably. However, giving up on greed has its own intrinsic satisfaction.
In deciding on what you are willing to relinquish, examine the emotional attachments and desires that each object represents. Going lean and green should not be a decision to deny yourself of the joys and pleasures of life. Instead, minimal living simply directs you to give up on non-essentials. There are many instances where what may be non-essential for some people has such an emotional attachment that is becomes vital for another.
Last year, we donated our entertainment centre, our love seat, our extra bedroom furniture, exercise equipment, many of our appliances, and my Toyota Echo to others. They were superfluous.
However, we retained our Wii Fit and television, while dropping our cable coverage. Did we retain a luxury in the Wii station? In my opinion, we demonstrated pure minimalism. The exercise equipment duplicated our fitness regimen needs, our kids have all moved away ( so we did not need the extra furniture), and we are using a minimum of electrical equipment (making the appliances unnecessary). The Wii, indeed, represents “lean” for us!
Heart essentials and head essentials each should be evaluated in your plan to go lean and green. The two are not incongruent or incompatible.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Maximum Minimalism

It is difficult to observe people who live lavishly, with fancy cars, expensive clothes & accessories, luxurious homes and exotic vacations, and then make the decision to live minimally. Yet, it is the very opulence of these excessive lifestyles that should provide you with the impetus to reject those monuments to self-indulgence.
One of the very first steps that I outlined in my 15 Steps to Becoming a Minimalist was the need to identify. That process involves more than the need to identify whether or not you are suited to the minimalist lifestyle. It involves, among other things, identifying what you want out of life, what is important to you, what you will need to give up, what you hope to achieve, what you expect out of this change in direction.
It is commonly assumed that those that seek to acquire things (including money) are seeking to acquire comfort. That may be far-removed from reality. For some, the need to acquire is the need to feel safe from lack or want. For some, it may be that they are looking for social approval and status. For some, it may be that they are uncomfortable with any sort of deprivation. For a few, it may be nothing more than the greed – the need to obtain -- at the expense of others. The reasons are varied and diverse.
Similarly, the reasons for the urge to embrace a minimalist lifestyle are far-ranging.
The most common reason for adopting a minimalist way of life is found in the “fox and the sour grapes” fable. What you cannot reach, the fable implies, you are likely to scorn as something not worth having. Hence, many people (students & youths, for example) reject material possessions, largely because they cannot see the wherewithal to obtain those very examples of “arrival.”
I have met many aspiring “lean & green” disciples who cite the need to be socially responsible as their justification for their new lifestyle. At the same time, a great many seem to want to self-flagellate, punishing themselves for perceived greed. Others subscribe to a political philosophy that requires that they share everything, and aspire for nothing. Still others, in an effort to rationalize indolence, declare that reaching for such mundane goals is beneath them.
Minimalism is nothing of the sort described to this point. It is a choice of living in a specific manner that embraces wealth of a different sort – an opulence that recognizes the value in alternative ways of viewing self-indulgence. As a minimalist of many years, I am convinced that I have far greater wealth from choosing my way of engaging life than I had when I owned a multi-million dollar business, and owned a hoard of physical assets.
I look forward to assisting you in identifying how you, too, can be wealthy by being poor, and how divesting yourself of everything can make you rich. I look forward to helping you living your minimal lifestyle to the maximum!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why Buying a $32,000 Car is An Act of Minimalism

A $32,000 toy hardly is anyone’s idea of simple living, or of “doing without.” Yet, my $32,000 car precisely represents how I view minimalism, and how that kind of cost can be justified as being responsible.
My toy is a 2009 Prius – a hybrid vehicle that, in winter, gets 42mpg (Imperial gallons, 51 US gal.), and 60 mpg in the summer. Yes, that is a little way from the 72 mpg rating that it has received, but those tests are made on the flat, at constant temperatures and speeds without the air conditioner on. But this kind of mileage is one of the reasons I bought my responsible toy. Each year, based on the average distances I drive, with a fuel cost of $4.50/gal (Cdn), I will spend $2,700. The next best mileage in a comparable vehicle would cost me $900 more per year. I plan on keeping that car 20 years. I will save $18,000 in fuel alone.
My experience with Toyota vehicles is that they last longer than the Energizer Bunny. My most recent car, a Toyota Echo, is still going (I gave it to my son to replace his Ford F150), and has 496,000 km on the odometer. It has been treated extra roughly, maintained poorly, and used, often, like an offroad vehicle. But, until I gave it to my son, I spent less than $1,900 on repairs and maintenance, including tires and windshield wipers! Estimated cost of maintenance and repair on the average sedan is more than $1,100 per year, so I will save at least $16,000 on repairs.
My Prius is not a small car. We have transported my wife’s parents on long excursions on three occasions. Luggage for four people, plus those passengers still did not fill the car completely. So, I will seldom need to rent a trailer or U-Haul to move items.
The Prius is designed for older people, with its easy-entry doors, high seats, good site lines. We will still be able to drive this car safely when I am almost 80!
The car’s colour is quite neutral. Fewer washings, less worry about fading, easy exterior maintenance all reduce costs.
Toyotas hold their value. If I needed to sell the vehicle, my return would be far better than any domestic car. So, again, its initial cost is not a cost, but an investment.
There are dozens of other reasons why this car is economical, dozens of reasons why it represents green stewardship, dozens of reasons why it is the best car a minimalist could buy. There are very few reasons you could find as to why buying the Prius is an act of excess, or indulgence. But, in spite of all the pros, and very few cons, there is one overriding reason why I bought this car – my wife insisted on it!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Is Minimal Living An Act of Selfishness?

From George Bush to Barack Obama, from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown, from Jean Chretien to Stephen Harper, every leader has, in one way or another, urged us to spend more to save the economy, to create jobs, to make the nation strong.
Minimalism teaches us that we should do without. Environmentalism guides us into using less of nature’s resources, and to protect non-renewable and renewable resources alike. Survivalism demands that we eschew the excess of society and government, and rely on more primitive lifestyles.
Clearly, the urgings of governments are at odds with the “isms.” If we are to rely on the wisdom of collective society, then, we should heed our government, not our urges and isms.
Let us examine the paradox of using less being selfish. If we stop using energy, then the earth is not being depleted. However, if we stop using energy, then new research into alternatives will not be needed, and jobs will dry up. If we stop using energy, the cost-per-unit to produce for others will increase, and they will suffer, because of our decision.
If we consume less food, we deprive growers, processors and retailers of their livelihood. At the same time, cost=per-unit, again, will increase, placing a burden on those that do purchase.
If we get rid of one of our cars, we’ll save gas, and wear and tear on roads. But, for every 18 cars, one job is created directly, and four others indirectly.
If we opt to downsize our homes, countless tradesmen will suffer, not to mention lawyers, real estate agents, repairmen, etc.
If we choose to do without government programs and assistance, countless politicians will experience a sense of loss and abandonment, while bureaucrats will slowly become extinct!
And think of the loss if we choose to barter, grow our food, help each other instead of relying on social networks, learn to enjoy having less but experiencing more!
I choose, though, to live minimally. Instead of using and abusing, I leave, for others, the responsibility and burden of consuming too much, living too large and asking for too many rights. My right is the right to waive my “entitlement” to waste, and, if I am displaying a selfish attitude by so doing, that, too, is my right. There are too many in need for me to believe that rights are granted to me to take extra food out of the mouths of the poor, clean air out of the lungs of the sick and frail, and the right to share in the world’s resources from those that treat this world with respect.
I, indeed, suffer from one, if not all, of the isms. And I’ll proudly wear my badge of selfishness.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Living green and lean

Google “minimalistic lifestyle” and every one but one of the first 100 websites focuses on getting rid of stuff you own and discarding ownership. Both concepts are ridiculously simplistic, and, unfortunately, completely unrealistic. It is the realm of starving artists and struggling students.
Perhaps the term “minimalism” leads us into an overly basic view of living minimally. And the term evokes different ideas for different people. Ask an environmentalist, and your response probably will focus on cutting back on non-renewable consumption. Ask a survivalist, and expect to hear how “going minimal” means eschewing government, big business and big-city lifestyles. Ask a young person and money, furniture and belongings will be the focal points. For an entrepreneur, it will mean “trimming the fat” from operations.
This bias of interpretation comes from the subjective perception of “doing without.”
Back in 1984, Canadian Prime Minister John Turner bragged about he had grown up in relative hardship. Apparently, the house staff had been let go due to hard times when he was a child! Not to be outdone, his opponent, future Prime Minister Brian Mulroney bemoaned his own hardships – a corporate lawyer with an affluent background! How many millions of Canadians wished they could have faced the same tough times.
Minimalist lifestyles could more simply be viewed as living “green and lean.” But that catchall phrase misses a basic human characteristic. Appreciation of beauty is innate, and may be one of the reasons we adorn our homes and ourselves. So we need to extend the quotations to include the word “living.” Living is not existing, subsisting, or depriving oneself. So, to be minimalistic, one must appreciate living, and learn to appreciate beauty wherever it exists.
Beauty may come from a newly opened flower, or a panoramic view of the wilderness. It may be found in the innovative scribbling of a graffiti tagger. It may be found in the dyed purple hair of a rebelling teenager, or the concentric, expanding circles from a rock tossed on the water. However, it should not come from a need to accumulate, to own bigger, to climb over others, etc. True beauty, for a minimalist, is found in unique and exciting places, and there is no need to own beauty. Instead, beauty needs to be appreciated, where and when found.
Understanding and framing the concept of minimalism in relation to your own lifestyle and needs is essential to being able to adopt that “living green and lean” philosophy. Once you are able to identify your concept of beauty and comfort, once you prioritize your needs versus your wants, and once you realize that being minimalist is less realistic than going minimalist, you have taken the first step to going lean and green. After all, like life itself, a lifestyle is a journey, evolving, adapting and embracing new ways & days.
I wish you good luck on your journey. Can if offer you anything less?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Building my yurt: a doorway to a new lifestyle.

Why would anyone give up a comfortable house in the city to live in a yurt in the bush? For me, the decision has more to do with enriching my life than it does with simplifying it. For my wife, it is an adventure.
A yurt is a Mongolian felt and animal hide structured tent, in which they live year-round in the Himalayas. Modern yurts are constructed of lattice, space-age insulation and polycarbonate tarpaulins.
BC Yurts, a Canadian manufacturer of these innovative antique structures, claims that they are liveable – indeed, comfortable – at temperatures below -35C. Their round shape allows winds to flow aerodynamically around them, with little wind resistance and, consequently, reduced wind chilling effect. Their 30degree sloped domes allow snow loads to slide off like an avalanche. Because they are constructed as a single, large room, air flow is free, reducing heating demand. In summer, the dome skylight and screened windows allow such good ventilation that, on the hottest day, these houses are quite comfortable.
But, why move to a yurt? A yurt is more a statement about reducing clutter, waste and excess than it is an actual reduction in lifestyle. A yurt is symbolic of true minimalism. It gives you more, for so much less. At a cost of under $15,000 for a complete 800 square foot unit, it clearly minimizes the impact on the pocketbook, compared to typical 800 square foot homes or condominiums in Manitoba that cost upwards of $125-190,000.
The one-room concept provides a great-room feel, with absolutely no wasted space, uncomfortable corners or hallways. As a result, one room provides the impact of a huge house.
Minimal complexities of design and layout reduce cleaning and maintenance requirements. No hard walls means no painting. Open rooms minimize demand for lighting and heating infrastructure. Minimal infrastructure means minimal maintenance, and more time to enjoy life.
Our yurt will be entirely “off the grid.” Our lavatory is a composting system – completely waterless. Our lighting is provided by a combination of wind and solar, with LED lights, and 90-watt refrigeration. Our cooking equipment will consist of biogas-fuelled ovens and grills, while backup energy is provided courtesy of a biodiesel-fuelled generator. Heating comes from a unique geothermal/biomass heating system. Grey water from the shower and sink will be filtered through an eco-pond, and used to nourish our nearby garden.
All of this may sound a little avant garde, or even idealistic and unrealistic. However, our entire concept has been tested successfully, in various component prototypes. In fact, rather than being a little too idealistic, we believe that our move to reduce our environmental footprint and minimize our economic crater of consumption is a major enrichment of our lives.
We invite you to follow the building of our yurt, and our first year living our new lifestyle. Each week, we will be updating our progress on our new blog,, or visit our occasional posts on this blog location.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

New Image Needed for Minimalism

Almost without exception, ask someone to describe a minimalist lifestyle, and you will get “Getting rid of everything you own and living without much of anything.”

That’s not minimalism. In polite circles, that’s a Spartan lifestyle. For those of us prone to being too blunt, that’s dumpster thinking. Life in a cardboard box.

Minimalist art certainly is not about eliminating everything. It is about simplifying background noise to allow viewers to focus on the simple, obvious item in front of them. It is about eliminating the unnecessary. Minimalist living should be the same. The public image requires re-branding to drag the lifestyle from obscurity to avante garde.

Today’s environmentalists are on the cusp of minimalism. Their public persona is that of caring for the world around us, of reducing our eco-footprint, of living clean, and independent of the noise of pollution. How is that different from minimalism?

One of the major impediments to large-scale embrace of the minimalist approach is the people with whom the concept is identified: radical artists, reactionaries and starving, idealistic youth. Environmentalists, on the other hand, are perceived as well-educated, somewhat affluent and insightful.

To explain to an acquaintance that you are a minimalist, you invite their view of you as living on the cusp of poverty. In my world, I deal with a variety of bureaucrats, a wealth of money-handlers, and an army of potential entrepreneurs who are looking to score their millions. To explain to them that I live a minimalist life would immediately cause them to revisit their beliefs in my competence as a business developer. I know. I’ve done it, and am not likely to repeat that error!

I have compensated. When I leave work, none of my clients are invited into my personal life. I go home to my barebones home, in my ultra-economical Echo, and change into my $5 tee-shirt and $16 jeans. In the morning, I climb into my suit, pick up my Blackberry and laptop, and rejoin the “normal” world. Am I comfortable with this compromise? Not really. But the public image of minimalism currently does not allow for coming out of the minimalist closet.

While my approach may seem hypocritical, it is essential to survival.

When one adopts a divergent approach to anything, and is called to defend it, a person almost always takes one of three tacts: deny passively, adapt, or defend aggressively. As a solid environmentalist, I support forest conservation. I do not support the approach of radicals who pound spikes into trees to thwart chainsaws. As a solid believer in small business, I do not support the heavy-handed irresponsibility of multinationals. I also do not support those protesters who inflict violence and destruction on innocent businesses at the G-9 conferences. Unfortunately, those extreme approaches are the very visible reactions by people who are challenged to defend their divergent views, and are unwilling to passsively accept any alternative.

Minimalists tend to overreact. (That comment is sure to get a rise out of those readers who choose the more divergent approach to the concept, by divesting themselves of every piece of comfort and every stick of worldly possessions). However, what I mean by the comment is that we tend to want to show our dedication to the philosophy by throwing away everything, and every link to conventional lifestyles.

A more moderate approach is much more successful if change is to be sustained. Obviously, I now have both a barebones wardrobe, and the more worldly one. My two suits and five shirts are more than adequate to “put on the Ritz” when needed. On out-of-town business calls, I rent the occasional mid-level intermediate sedan. I own technology, but I do not subscribe to more than basic cable (news channels are an essential!). I largely “live off the land,” but bring along store-bought (instead of homemade) wines when I socialize. The transitions are easy.

For me, the move to minimalism was more abrupt than for most of you, in many ways made out out of necessity. Maintaining the lifestyle became a choice. But for most, the move to minimalism should be made gradually, partly because of the shock to the system when you first seek out your fine jewellery for that special outing (and it is no longer there) or when the children come crying fore the latest designer clothes because their friends are mocking your kids’ perceived poverty. But gradual moves will enable you to integrate your public persona with your private lifestyle, and allow you to be selective in your new minimalistic approach.

Getting rid of everything may give you a momentary feeling of triumph, but climbing into that cardboard box at night is sure to send a feeling of chill down your spine!

To be sure, minimalism needs a new image, but, to paraphrase the old saying, “image-building begins at home.” Get your own head around what minimalism means to you, before you try to convince the outside world of the rightness of your divergent approaches.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Living the High Life on a Low Budget

Dr. Frank De Luca says, “A rich life is cultivated, not learned.” But Napoleon Hill and Andrew Carnegie’s book, “Think and Grow Rich,” focuses on how to acquire financial wealth and live in riches, and virtually ignores the De Luca philosophy of richness of living. It is this rush and thrust toward material success that blindly leads many of us to assume that material wealth and rich living are synonymous. They are not.

I know few people who feel they have reached the pinnacle of wealth accumulation. In fact, a constant in today’s world is that the vast majority of the upper middle income and upper income earners do not categorize themselves as “wealthy.” It is almost comical to observe a politician trying to re-define “middle class” so that he and his well-heeled family will fit, or re-brand his middle-income upbringing as a “poor joe” experience, so that he can relate to the masses. Indeed, it is an axiom of society that, whatever we have, there is more that we need.

Unfortunately for most of us, the quest for a rich life bypasses the real richness that is available to every person.

Living a minimalistic life can be very easy, very sanguine. However, it is getting to that level of comfort that poses critical challenges. I promote embracing a 15 step system of acclimatization.

These steps are:

1.Know before you go! Inventory your life, your assets, your priorities.
2.Head & Heart Conditioning. Prepare yourself mentally & emotionally
3.Choosing direction. Identify what is important to you.
4.Always be prepared! Identify fallback (emergency) items
5.A soft place to land: Identify items & emotions that are based on nostalgia & memories
6.Putting your feet up: What you do for entertainment, and what you need for it
7.Double duty, half the cash: Identify multi-purpose items
8.Twopence, cautiously, frugally invested in the bank! Know economical from expensive
9.Mental de-clutter before material de-clutter
10.Conditioning the pack rat: Reorganize before de-cluttering
11.Any friend of mine … Network of associates reorientation
12.One part of your life, one activity, one room at a time
13.Monitor and measure
14.Spongebob’s philosophy — soak it up.
15.Steer clear of the pulpit.
Many of the points seem outrageously obvious. But, like trying to put on your underwear after you have buckled your pants and laced your boots, sequence and attention to the little things are vital if you want to sustain and maintain your new approach to life.

I will go through each of the 15 steps over the next several weeks, offering anecdotes and illustrations, as well as the “whys and wherefores.” Converting to a rich man’s lifestyle on a poor man’s budget is rewarding, but it will require some thought and significant adjustments. Please, be patient, and enjoy your journey.

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