Survival Minimalism: What Falls Away

Minimalism.  It’s a trend/movement that’s been picking up steam for at least a decade.

People are attracted to minimalism for many reasons.

Some accidentally – they travel with just a backpack, and decide life is better with less baggage.  But some become minimalists out of sheer survival – because their health is so poor they just can’t continue to live life the way they used to.

A smaller house/apartment, fewer things to maintain – choosing to downsize can make life easier to handle logistically and financially.  It can also make life easier to handle psychologically.  But, in many ways, shedding possessions is the easier course of action.

Shedding commitments is much more difficult.

Duty.  Responsibility. Taking Care of Others.  Social Responsibility.  Civic Duty.  Family.  Friends.  Job.  Church.  Volunteerism.

We are so busy, in our current culture.  We pride ourselves on how busy we are.  We compete with others over how busy we are, as if that is a symbol of our worth.  We are human doings, not human beings.

Until.

Until we get the news, or the diagnosis.  Until something happens that alters our priorities and shifts our perspective.

Until we remember that the privilege of being is the most important thing.

For a very long time, I tried to keep doing all the things.  I got sicker and sicker because I tried to power through it.  I “couldn’t afford” to be sick.  I needed to fulfill my responsibilities at work – one hundred percent or more.  I  had to fulfill my commitments to my family, and friends, and to the organizations for which I volunteered, and to the kids I mentored, and, and, and…

And then I woke up one day and couldn’t do ANY of the things.

I couldn’t keep the plates spinning anymore.  And they slowly started crashing to the ground…

I fought it for a long time, even after that.  “I can’t keep them all spinning, but I should be able to keep these three spinning.”  CRASH!  “Surely I can keep these two spinning.”  CRASH!!  “Come on! I can keep at least ONE spinning, right?”  CRASH!!!

And then I wallowed, frustrated and unwilling to believe that I could do NONE of the things.

But facts do not change simply because we do not like them.

And the fact is that I am currently dealing with either severe allergies or an auto-immune disease (or both?).

And suddenly life is becoming much more simple, due to survival minimalism.

I used to find it very difficult to get rid of papers and books.  Although I have been trying for years to downsize and become more minimalist, books and papers were the challenge for me.

I love books.  I love physical books.  I have resisted getting an e-reader because I like to hold books in my hands, and write notes in the margins, and highlight important parts of them, and even mark reference sections with book darts.  Book darts.

I once lived out of a backpack for a year – worldly possessions in storage, traveling the world.  Know what I missed?  My books.

But now… I am allergic to book mold.  And possibly to dust as well.

And, suddenly, old books and old papers cause an allergic reaction that makes me ill – for days.

So now I am parting with books, and reducing the papers (currently in binders, and in filing cabinets, and in stacks).

I will most likely purchase a high-quality scanner, to save some of the information on those papers, and an e-reader, to replace some of those books.  And, although parting with the books makes me sad, it also feels like freedom.  I don’t dither anymore over whether to keep a book or a document.

It has become very simple: It all must go, because it makes me ill.

The same thing is happening with my diet (post pending).  I have passed through the mourning period for all the foods I can no longer have (pizza commercials were torture!).  Now I can watch food commercials on TV with disinterest.  Easy to do, when you know eating it will make you sick for days…

Likewise for social obligations.  Initially, I felt guilty for all the obligations I could no longer fulfill.  But the current reality is that I can’t leave my house without getting ill.  The outside world is BRIGHT, LOUD, and full of FRAGRANCE.  Not to mention ALLERGENS.  So, if it’s not critical to my health (doctors’ appointments), I’m not leaving the house.  Sorry, not sorry.  You’re welcome to come visit me, if you’re not wearing FRAGRANCE (that includes scented laundry detergents and fabric softeners).

It’s getting all Oregon Trail up in here.

Remember playing Oregon Trail, and starting out with all the items you thought were essential, but jettisoning more and more of those items as the trip went on?  Survival Minimalism.

“But that’s a Family Heirloom!” “The Indians are gaining on us – toss it overboard!”  “But that has sentimental value!”  “The oxen are too weak from thirst – leave it by the side of the trail.”  Survival Minimalism.

Priority Shift.  New Perspective.  Life suddenly becomes very simple.

Do.  Or Do Not.  It has become a no-brainer.

I’m letting go of the things that make me sick.

I don’t “should” on myself anymore.  I do what I can for others, and I let the rest go.

The world rushes on past, in its busyness, and I am here, in my quiet eddy, learning how to be.  Striving to be…healthy.

It’s a crucible, and all the non-essential things are being burned away.

Survival Minimalism.  It’s not for everyone, but it might be for you.

2017 New Year’s Resolutions

In the spirit of mindfulness (or contrarianism), I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions “just because.”  Because it’s tradition; because it’s expected; because everyone else is doing it.

Many years I don’t make any New Year’s Resolutions.

 One year my resolution was the direct opposite of what most people do – a resolution to start a particular vice.

Although I was inclined not to make any resolutions for 2017, after reflection I have decided I have two:

  1. To get back to the practice of daily yoga and meditation; and
  2. To eliminate BS from my life.

I started 2016 with daily yoga and meditation, and definitely benefitted from it, but the wrist surgery ended that habit.  However, wrist rehabilitation has progressed to a point that I can resume (restorative) yoga, and the elbow seems like it will heal quickly, so I’m going to commit to a daily practice of  healing yoga – but not putting any more weight on that arm than my occupational therapist allows.

Daily yoga and meditation relaxes me, improves my flexibility, and makes me more mindful.  The breathing exercises give me a tool that enables me to release stress throughout the day as I encounter stressful situations.  And I hope that as I regain function in my left arm, I will eventually be able to use yoga to build strength as well.

Regarding the second resolution, well, that’s the result of several years’ worth of experience and reflection.

I have been reading minimalism blogs for about the last five years.  Simplicity blogs.  Tiny house blogs.  Minimalist travelers’ blogs.  I aspire to live a life that has less drag – less “stuff” weighing me down.  Less to clean.  Less to maintain. Less to haul around.  Less to insure.  Less to organize.

After retirement, Spousal Unit & I moved to a home that was 40% of the size of our last home in the military.  We sold stuff, and donated stuff, and packed and moved stuff, and cursed the burden of our stuff.  Despite that, we still have a lot of stuff.

I have read practically every technique or suggestion for how to get rid of stuff.  Except Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.  This book was sweeping the minimalism/simplicity blogs a while back.  I read all about other bloggers’ experiences of applying her book to their lives.  The basic premise, as I understand it, is to collect all of one type of your belongings (clothes, books, etc.), see how many you have, and then pick up each item individually and ask yourself whether that item “sparks joy”.  If not, you should eliminate it.

No offense to Ms. Kondo, but her approach just didn’t resonate with me.  I was looking for an approach that just made intuitive sense to me, an approach that was simple but got at the psychology behind my behaviors.  For many people, Marie Kondo’s techniques – “the Konmari method” – does that.  But it didn’t do it for me.

And then one day I read an article about getting rid of B.S.  Shazam!  That was my lightning bolt.

If ever there were a simplification technique that would resonate with veterans, this was it.  Just ask yourself:

“Is this B.S.?”

If the answer is “Yes,” eliminate it.

I don’t care if it sparks joy, but I am all about eliminating B.S.

In fact, the longer I thought about it, the more I appreciated the simplicity and directness of this approach.

Engineers appreciate the elegance of a solution.  An elegant solution is simple but sufficient.  It solves the problem efficiently.  The often-cited maxim of elegant design, from aircraft designer and author Antoine de Saint-Exupery, states: “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

A truly elegant solution also has broad utility.  Eliminating B.S. can apply to getting rid of possessions.  But it applies even more so to emotional baggage, perceived social obligations, and peripheral tasks that eat away at your time (a.k.a. “queep“).

The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule, observes that “the majority of results come from a minority of inputs,” or put another way,  80% of the results/output/profits comes from 20% of the work/employees/customers/etc.  Thus, management experts enjoin us to focus our efforts on the inputs that get results, and spend less resources on the inputs that have diminishing marginal benefit.

In other words, eliminate the B.S.

So my second New Year’s Resolution for 2017 is to eliminate B.S. from my life.  I anticipate that as I do so, I will write about it here, in a series of posts.  I hope you will join me.