Friday, December 21, 2012

The Cruisin’ Minimalist

When I view minimalist art, I do not appraise it and declare, “That’s not minimalism.  It’s not doing without.”  In fact, the idea that minimalism is about focusing on that which we relinquish or don’t have is an entirely distorted perspective on simplicity.  Minimalist art does without nothing.  It is akin to the old wood carver, who was asked how he decided what to carve out of his length of raw wood.  His reply was simple.  “I merely look at the wood, and see what is in there.  Then I just get rid of the stuff that doesn’t belong.”
I have heard this analogy before, in various settings.  Minimalism focuses on finding what should be there, and nothing more, whether it involves interior design, business operations or lifestyles.  I regularly read blogs and articles by those who espouse minimalism, simple living, voluntary simplicity and frugal living.  Many of those writers espouse getting rid of stuff, and living with less.  This seems intuitive, since minimal implies living with the minimum of something. I, too, consider myself to be a minimalist.  I have relatively few household possessions, keep my wardrobe to the most basic, have forfeited our second vehicle, shop for bargains, employ those assets that can do double duty, and so on.  These all are tenets of voluntary simplicity, as it is commonly accepted.  Yet, I also indulge myself.
Minimal art does the same.  Minimalist art decries the clutter of unnecessary elements, and, in turn, highlights the focus, and the most significant facets of the work.  In my book, The Last Drop Of Living: A Minimalist’s Guide To Living The High Life On A Low Budget, I draw the comparison between minimal living and displays in an art gallery or museum.  The focal piece on the gallery is not hidden by an assortment of frivolous support pieces.  Instead, it likely will be found on a pedestal apart from other pieces, or on a naked wall, featuring only that artwork.  It is the most critical component, the only element that matters.  It is not diminished by being alone.  Rather, it is enhanced.  Minimalism should allow us to find the most important things in our life, and focus upon them.
With that in mind, I built my personal strategy for “going minimal.”  It involved a very basic process: decide what is important to me, and what is unimportant.  Next, I opted to relinquish  those things and ideas that may have value, but that were less vital than others.  Both my wife and I chose to focus on our leisure as vital to our enjoyment.  Essential to those recreational priorities was the idea of cruising.
Today, I write this blog on board the @Norwegian Pearl, as we leave the Grand Stirrup Cay for our next Caribbean destination.  How is such a lavish holiday “minimalist?”  Simple.  In exchange for giving up frequent dinner-out evenings, a second vehicle, extra home furnishings, a big house, etc., we are able to apply some of our surplus resources to a great holiday.  It is the second of four cruises we will have taken within the year.
But sacrificing in one area of living and then splurging in another is like saying, “Well, I stuck to my ‘no smoking’ pledge for six months, so now I’m going to celebrate by having a huge cigar, or overeating for the next six months.” 
As a dedicated minimalist, I need to show  restraint in the area of my holidays, as well, if I wish to avoid my own internal dissonance.  So, I cruise minimally, as well.  Websites like (,, individual cruise line websites (like ( and several other discount providers offer discounts that may be as much as 80% off the brochure price.  By screening carefully, one can boast of significant savings, and demonstrations of frugality.  By purchasing in a 90 day window prior to sailing, prices may drop further.  By booking inside staterooms, you are able to obtain rock-bottom prices (inside staterooms, after all, are only used for eight hours each night, while the rest of our time is spent on shore or on deck.).
When I factor in the cost of food, entertainment and supplies, plus the cost of accommodations, I discover that each day on a cruise costs less than the cost of a budget motel room each night!
Ask the more rigid advocates of minimalism whether we truly can be considered to be living a life of voluntary simplicity and you will receive a resounding “No.”  That’s fair enough.  They see the world differently than I do.  But tell me, would you rather live in a cardboard box, eat scraps and proclaim yourself a minimalist, or would you prefer to get the most out of each moment at the best price while being ostracized by the self-professed puritans?  Live minimally.  Cruise to your heart’s content!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Minimalism In The Big City

Voluntary simplicity and minimal living have great cachet in today’s fragile economic times.  Frugal living is nothing new, and simple living has bee the mainstay of many environmentally aware people for decades.  However, the concept has not gained widespread acceptance for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the tendency to look to rural living or escaping from the “big city”  standards of living as the primary technique for achieving a simple lifestyle.  Yet, living minimally actually is easier to undertake in urban centres, even though the social pressures to conform to more materialistic lifestyles are significant.
Living with less is the primary focus of this lifestyle, but, in truth, the most gratifying aspect of cutting back on frills is the ability to focus on the most important aspects of our lives.  That is unique to each of us, yet proponents of the way of living too often urge us to adopt their own perspectives and interpretations of simple living.   It is far from an accurate or satisfying approach.
My wife and I opted to live in a yurt, off the grid, for several years.  However, I would never advocate that everyone else who wants to embrace voluntary simplicity move to a rural environment, live off the grid or build their own yurt.  It was our personal preference.
Other acquaintances have employed a more basic approach to living in the city, without any difficulty and with a lot of enjoyment.
In the city, one has greater access to options than in the country, and greater opportunities to employ alternative strategies to reduce ownership while increasing enjoyment of assets and activities.
One of the greatest materialistic and economic burdens is the automobile.  Yet, any owner will tell you that the car is essential to daily life.  There are several options, however, to reduce reliance on personal ownership of a vehicle in the city.  While public transportation is the most frequently cited substitute, other alternatives include “car sharing” (where owners either opt for specific times of the day or days of the week to use a shared vehicle),  commuter vehicles (mopeds, etc), bicycles, weekend vehicle rentals (or on-demand rentals) and seasonal leasing.
Of course, to reduce the need for a vehicle, simply either move closer to work or search for a job closer to home!
In the 1970s, many young people (most often, young men) cut housing costs by sharing a house.  The modern-day extension of this concept is for homeowners who wish to cut housing costs to lease out rooms or share the house with other renters.
In the vein of shared housing, consider sharing other entertainment assets.  On average, a video or DVD is viewed fewer than three times, yet millions of us buy and store vast collections of movies.  Similarly, print books gather dust on the shelves after one or two readings.  Why not develop an exchange program with friends, passing these movies, CDs and books or magazines among the members of the group.  Lower cost, greater reach of each piece of entertainment!  Even many e-books can be shared or “loaned” on Amazon and other e-book vendors.  Hundreds of thousands of free songs and books are available, legally.
Inexpensive entertainment can become free entertainment, if you opt for “open house” days at local zoos, art galleries, museums and even local high school drama productions.  In summer, most cities offer myriad free entertainment, including bands, dance groups and theatre.
Many places offer discounts for groups of six or more people.  Inquire as to whether the entertainment venue that you wish to visit will provide a bulk rate, and then arrange for a group outing.
Weekly visits to restaurants form the backbone of the food service industry.  However, home-based parties provide a much more relaxed atmosphere.  Consider arranging for a regular rotation of hosted dinner parties (e.g. each member of a group of eight hosts once every two months).   
There are hundreds of ways to minimize costs while simplifying your life in the big city.  Most rely on the principle of owning less, or getting more mileage out of each possession.  Be creative, and the need to own will become less of an addiction, or even a craving.  At the same time, you will find that your budget dollars last much longer!