Always Well Within

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Leo Babauta: Can minimalism save the world?

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



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  1. Yes minimalism can save the world. Here’s a few observations:

    Technology is helping us become more minimal. We can do more with less energy and resources.

    A minimalist diet (would be vegan or at least veg*n) will be the main part of saving the world, without it there’s not much else to talk about.

    If we need less, we need less input (money), we use less stuff to earn money for the stuff we need. The world economy slows down and people reconnect with the abundance under their feet.

  2. I agree, Ali that it could make a huge difference. The potential inner changes could help us shift into being far more ethical and values based too.

    It’s interesting to hear how being vegan plays such a crucial part. Isn’t a good part of the world already vegan or close to it?

    Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  3. I think the minimalist mindset is really great, as it focuses on the essentials, on what’s necessary. It seems many people are against this because it feels constricting. But it shouldn’t be constricting. Each person’s approach to minimalism is different – like Joshua Becker is a minimalist with kids, 2 cars, and a house. I think the idea is to remove excessive stuff, and lose the mentality of keeping up with the Joneses, or thinking that more money and stuff will bring more happiness.

    Also, I think the minimalist mindset can be extended to other areas, like veganism or the idea of using less resources, therefore also being an environmentalist mindset. Another good overlapping point is making the most use out of an item before tossing it or giving it away.

    On changing the world? It’s a first step in changing lifestyles and cultures, I would say.

  4. Lynn, It seems to me too that the minimalist mind set becomes far more powerful when it extends into other arenas like you point out – environmentalism, veganism, spirituality. I think it can only impact the world if it does so. I don’t think it’s just de-cluttering on its own that is so transformative, but the whole process of thinking about it deeply and looking at the various ramifications of too much stuff. It needs to be done thoughtfully to have a great affect on the world. Of course, I also see that other elements need to fall in place for a better world – like collective actions and points you raised responding to the original post.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. As always, I appreciate your perspective.

  5. Hi Sandra, thanks for slipping a link to one of my posts in. I’ve decluttered many times. I love it and recommend it. Less if definitely more and being surrounded by clutter frustrates and stresses me. But I am surrounded my it! I have 3 kids, they have stuff everywhere! My linen cupboard is overflowing with old towels and sheets I really need to get rid of. When I lived on Waiheke Island in New Zealand I used to give them to the midwives for homebirths as their final great use. I wonder what I can do with them here?! Maybe a doggy washing company could use them….

    • Your welcome, Annabel. Yours is one of my favorite blogs. I’ve learned so much from you!

      With your fantastic blog, marketing and copywriting business, and 3 kids, I can see why de-cluttering is probably not number 1 on the priority list! 🙂 You seem to take it all in stride and with a great spirit. Plus, you are a never ending source of creative ideas like donating sheets and towels to a doggy wash.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Hi Sandra

    Minimalism is in my blood- I cringe when I see writings cluttered with overused expressions and unnecessary words. Yuk! lol.

    I’m also like that with everything, be it furniture, living space, etc. For me, less is definitely more.

    Keep well


    • Michael,

      Like you, I tend to live simply. Maybe it has to do with our astrology! Others seems to be more adept than I am at creating beautiful and cozy environments with the gifts of the material plane.

  7. HI Sandra,
    I am with you and everyone else here…minimalism and simplistic living is the way to true happiness and freedom. I love the freedom that comes from not being tied down by the material things in my life.
    My hubby and I consciously made the decision to simplify a few months back…and have never looked back. We have buy stuff with one simple rule- do we need it or do we want it? We often only go with our needs and let our wants slide. An example is- we need a phone but we want a top of the line latest phone. Or we need water but we want a sugary drink instead…. thats our way of simplifying. Less is still more though…but this freedom is priceless. Makes for better productivity too 🙂
    Loving your new found Headline and Blogging passion 😉 You are awesome!
    Much love,

  8. Zeenat,

    It really is inspiring to hear your personal story! Distinguishing between “need” and “want” is a great tip. I’m glad that simplifying has made you happier and brought you more freedom.

    I had a turning point in my life when I needed to simplify and, like you, I’ve never looked back. However, I’m not at the level of a minimalist, but I try to think at least twice before I make a purchase.

    Thanks for sharing your story. Always a joy to see you hear. Keep bubbling!

  9. Thought-provoking post. I like diversity, and I don’t think that there’s a fixed lifestyle that fits everyone – we ar all different, and we all have different priorities, likes & dislikes, etc. and that’s just fine.
    Personally, I like to keep things simple – minimalist house, minimalist wardrobe, minimalist shopping. My husband and I try to buy only what we need, and what we consider beautiful (I wrote a post about the importance of buying only beautiful things, in case you’re interested).
    For me, minimalism means ‘quality over quantity’. It also means ‘be aware” – I find that it’s only when I’m not fully present, fully conscious, that I tend to buy things on an impulse, or eat even though I’m not hungry, etc.
    Society is designed to make us buy constantly – often cheap stuff that wears out quickly, or breaks and cannot be fixed…but once you are aware of this, it’s easier to spot the tricks, and avoid the traps.
    Decluttering is the first step to make room in your life for what really matter. I don’t know if minimalism can change the world, but I know that I can only change myself, and that’s what I keep working on. If everyone could really think of his/her life, and make changes to make it worthwhile, the world would be a better place.
    Thanks for sharing.

  10. Crisitna, I’m so glad you added your voice to the conversation. You contribute an important point – beauty and minimalism are not a contradiction by any means. I especially like your 2 guiding principles: quality over quantity and be aware.

    When I read the about page on your website, your description of your mother’s thoughtful approach to beauty made be see what a vehicle it can be for mindfulness.

    Minimalism can be seen from so many different angles and contribute to a good life in many different ways. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  11. I learned to let go through lots of loss.

    I also learned how very little I need from my cross-country road trips. I could only bring so much with me, and the less I brought, the less I had to worry about. Ultimately, though it was a mindset — enjoying what you’ve got while you’ve got it, and not dwelling on it when you don’t.

    I am a fan of taking care of the basics and having a firm foundation for surviving and thriving — but that’s all about improving your mind, body, and emotions to succeed in any situation.

    • J. D. I am sorry for your losses. They can be painful but also powerful times of learning. You bring another incredibly important lens to the question – how learning to enjoy and let go is at the heart of the matter. I’m so drawn to your blog precisely because your writing is infused with insight and wisdom even when you address practical matters. I can see the name of your blog was not a coincidence. 🙂 Thanks for adding to the dialogue.

  12. I’m not interested in reading the works of Patrul Rinpoche. Everything we do counts…everything. When we understand how powerful we each are individually and learn to do what’s good and right…miracles happen. Thanks for the link love and thanks for continuing to comment on your post on my blog. I appreciate you! xo

    • Tess, I’m always so happy to see your bright face! Oh gosh, I’m not expecting everyone to read the works of Patrul Rinpoche! I draw great inspiration from his writing, but the wonderful thing about the spiritual path is that there are many different approaches and skillful means. I couldn’t agree with you more – and I think Patrul Rinpoche would agree too: everything we do counts, everything we do matters, everything we do has an effect. That’s so important to know and remember and I’m so glad you raised that point here.

      Many thanks and lots of love to you.

  13. varuni chaudhary

    Congrats! You have a very lively discussion on.
    i enjoyed reading both your post as well as the comments. learned from both.

  14. Very nice post and I really like the way you stand outside outside of the subject and observe the key points, then bring them back into your intent. It makes a persuasive case for minimalism.

    I, too, am one of those who started by decluttering and and ended with the revelation of peace and clarity and a heckuva lot more connectedness to the process of life outside of my own little sphere of being. Learning to let go is indeed the key, and not just letting go of possessions–our loved ones, pets, health, homes, passions, all are subject to change and expiration. We learn to appreciate the beauty and essence of what we love, and that it remains even after it is no longer around us.

    • Welcome Meg,

      You have shared such an eloquent comment with us! Thank you. I appreciate the beauty and the depth of your words and how learning to let go is the heart of the process.. It is a tremendous help to hear from individuals who have engaged in simplifying and learn of the benefits you have reaped. I love the way you speak about going out of your “own little sphere of being.” It’s very nice to meet you and I hope our paths continue to intertwine from time to time.

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