Recently, we had a dynamic – even passionate – discussion at Always Well Within about Everett Bogue’s minimalist solution to the problem of oil dependency.  If you missed the first post, take a minute to look at his 4-point solution for overcoming our oil addiction.

This discussion serves as a wonderful example of how vital it is to continue the dialogue, learn from each other, and inspire one another as well.  Here are a few highlights from the comments:

  • “My first question is does this guy have a family and if so how many children does he have?”
  • “It’s always easy to tell other people what to do.”
  • “You’ve got my neurons spinning.”
  • “It really takes a village to make a change.”
  • “Everett’s position is interesting….simplistic and unrealistic, at least for me.”
  • “I do agree with Everett for the most part because I think we are at a critical enough time that drastic measures need to be taken.”
  • “I find I disagree with Everett on several points. First is that he lets BP and the government off the hook completely.”
  • “He’s right.”
  • “Lifestyles will have to change if we want to be truly sustainable… But at the same time, it is not the only important factor in turning our society around.”

A few days later, thanks to a tweet by @UpcycledLove, I found these remarks from Leo Babauta – a lucid exponent of minimalism – on the question of whether minimalism can save the world.

Leo Babauta says minimalism is just the start

Leo Babuta

In his article, Leo says he has received criticism that his “minimalist philosophy of downsizing our lives is too individualistic a solution.”

In response, Leo says “minimalism is just the start.”  He feels it’s worthwhile to pursue solutions that will improve your life and that you believe are better for society as a whole regardless of whether the entire world follows suit.

Leo says that minimalism is beneficial because,

“It can change your life, for the better, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.”

“But will it change the world? Will it solve poverty and global warming? Obviously not, if it’s only adopted by a small number of people. For it to work, it would have to be widespread.”

It seems Leo is hinting that minimalism does have the potential to impact worldwide problems like poverty, climate change, and oil dependency if it’s adopted by large numbers of people.

Minimalism is an organic solution that can have an unpredictable and exponential impact because it transforms internally.  It can make you dig down deep and really think about the world and your place in it. In any grassroots process there is the power to unleash a new, powerful, and far-reaching paradigm.

I believe motivation is also an important factor.  Some people embrace minimalism only thinking of themselves and how to streamline their own life, when, in fact, it makes far more sense to be wisely selfish by thinking of others.  But even with less than altruistic motivation, the inner effects that occur may have serious eye and heart opening repercussions.  

Leo closes his article with this jewel of inspiration:

“Once we have shown that a minimalist life is not only possible, but a good thing, it will become a shining example to others. We can move others with our very lives. As Gandhi also said, “My life is my message.”  Let your life be your message to the world, your example for a better life, and let that be the start. From such small beginnings, great things can be born.”

The beauty of Leo’s approach to minimalism is that it’s non-prescriptive.  Leo says,

“There are no set rules. There’s no one way. What I suggest for living minimally isn’t what someone else would recommend, nor is it how you would live your minimalist life. In general, however, you want to live simply without too many unnecessary possessions, distractions, clutter, or waste. You want to live frugally, debt-free, sustainably, naturally.”

Patrul Rinpoche: the ultra minimalist

Throughout the ages, great sages have warned us about the troubles inherent in amassing wealth and possessions.  The illustrious 19th century master Patrul Rinpoche was the ultimate minimalist.  At his death, it is said that he had just three possessions.

“Throughout his life Patrul Rinpoche emulated the uncompromising simplicity of his master.  …he spent his life wandering from place to place, camping in the open, in the guise of an ordinary beggar.  If he was offered gold or silver he would often just leave it lying on the ground, thinking that wealth was only a cause of trouble.  Even when he became a famous teacher, he would travel around unrecognized, living in the same simple and carefree manner.” -from The Words of My Perfect Teacher

Patrul Rinpoche tell us,

“Our sufferings are in direct proportion to the extent of our possessions.  For example, if you owned a horse you would worry that it might be carried off by an enemy or stolen by a thief; you would wonder whether it had all the hay it needed, and so on.  Just one horse brings plenty of trouble.  If you owned a sheep, you would have one sheep’s worth of trouble.  If all you had was a bag of tea you could still be sure of having a bag of tea’s worth of trouble.” -from The Words of My Perfect Teacher

Just replace “car” for “horse” and you know for yourself how time consuming and money-eating watching out for possessions can be!

Patrul Rinpoche advises:

“So reflect and meditate on how important it is to live in peace, following the old adage ‘without wealth, there are no enemies.'” -from The Words of My Perfect Teacher

From a spiritual perspective, over-entangling oneself in the accumulation of possessions and wealth is an obstacle to using this life for its most meaningful purpose – the expression of love and compassion and the realization of your true nature. That doesn’t mean you have to be an ultra minimalist.  Of course, we need some things to get by and be effective in the world.

The key point is this – it’s not the possessions that are the fundamental problem, but our attachment to them. Why else would we go into a tailspin just at the very mention of minimalism?

Plenty of great spiritual masters have lived in comfortable surroundings.  But they lived consciously and often simply – without attachment to all the stuff. They understood that lasting happiness never comes from possessions nor wealth.

I agree with my readers who say that minimalism is not the entire solution to oil dependency or any world problem for that matter.  Collective action is also essential.  But as Leo Babauta says, it’s a start – in my eyes a beautiful start.  Living simply can transform and enrich your life, infuse your existence with meaning, and be a contribution to the betterment of the world.

You may not be able to live with only 50 or 100 items, like the most avid minimalists, but that’s OK.  Just start and see what you might let go of today. There’s a very good chance you will be happier for having done it.

I will let your in on a few minimalist secrets.  Those 50 or 100 items they list on their blog as their possessions are only personal items; the number doesn’t  include items you share with your family or cohabitants.  And most minimalists seem to count their socks and underwear as one item each  Now, I’m not suggesting cheating!  But maybe it’s not quite as scary as it seems.

Give it a think. There’s no better time to start than right now as the world is at a critical crossroads.

Have you started to declutter?  I would love to hear how the process has been for you.

If you liked this article, please share the link with others.  Thanks so much!  Sandra