A few days ago I read a blog post by a guy who is a committed minimalist and writes about how others can and should rearrange their lives in the way he has, with as little material stuff and as little distraction as possible. I’m not going to name and publicly diss this specific blogger because there are plenty of others like him. And I don’t mean to argue with the basic tenets of minimalism, since it’s obvious that we cannot go on consuming at our present insanely unsustainable rate. However, this post set my teeth on edge. It was about how wonderful it is that he has no routine and does whatever he wants at whatever time he wants. I’ve always thought the Zen concept of “eat when hungry, sleep when tired” made great sense, but since one does not live in a vacuum, nor usually in a cave, for most of us it can only be followed to a point.
Our unscheduled friend quit his six-figure job (which he refers to constantly in exactly those words) early in 2011 because the routine he used to have was killing him. Now he is living a “more meaningful” life. Since he has been pursuing his new lifestyle for a few months now, he is experienced and well qualified to preach to the rest of us.
He has also now reached the wise old age of 30. I’ve read that criticisms of the minimalist lifestyle tend to come from older people, and the criticisms seem to be dismissed on that basis. These are mostly twentysomethings we’re talking about. Of course they know far more than people like me who are twice their age.
I looked at more of his blog. He’s countered some of the obvious comments I might make, like the fact that most people would love to have a job with a six-figure income in the first place, especially while still in their 20s. But if you ask me, he still comes off as a bit smug and holier-than-thou.
A person who sleeps and eats at completely spontaneous times obviously does not have any children. In fact, he can’t even have a dog or cat if he’s going to live like that. He can’t have anyone depending on him to be available at regular intervals to feed or care for them.
In order for our friend to bop down the street for lunch and use the cafe’s WiFi, which he doesn’t have at home because it’s such a time-sucker, someone has got to produce the food, deliver it to the cafe, prepare it, and serve it to him. Then someone has to clean up. All that depends on other people following schedules and routines, too. That’s if the blogger orders food at all, of course. He described spending 2 or 3 hours at a local coffee shop in order to use the WiFi and publish his writing. During that time he ordered a total of an herb tea. Geez, that’s why our local Blue Dragon cafe went under! If you can’t or don’t want to pay for your own internet access at home, I think you should give some support to businesses that are willing to provide it for you. Being frugal is a great value. Taking unfair advantage isn’t. (I’m writing this at Annapurna’s 4th Street location, a great place to concentrate. I have paid for lunch and tipped well.)
This particular minimalist owns a car, but many don’t. If you are going to manage without a car and go anywhere beyond walking distance, you have to live someplace that has good public transportation, and better yet, Zipcars. (Hint: Not most of New Mexico.) If those buses, subways, and trains are going to be of use to you when you need them, they have to run on time, which means that someone has to be there at predictable hours to drive them, maintain them, and handle tasks like ticket selling and accounting. Someone has to clean the stations. It’s likely that many of these people are not exactly living their dreams, but in order for the privileged few to live theirs, they must show up for work every day.
Community service has been stated as a major value among minimalists. Good for them. I’m certainly not going to complain there, except that it does seem like, if you are going to be a volunteer, you’re expected to show up predictably, not at random times. Our friend says he doesn’t own a watch, so I’m not sure how he organizes himself for volunteer work that involves other people.
Of course, in our present society it’s still necessary to bring in an income. A lot of people are now managing to make a living online, so that their jobs are completely portable and don’t require major physical facilities. Some seem to be doing useful things, while others remind me of the phone sanitizers and such who were sent on the ship to nowhere (the one that landed on Earth) in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Our friend is paying his minimal bills by writing literary fiction. Yes, you read that right. If he can actually sustain himself that way, I’ve gotta hand it to him, especially since his former business career seems to have given him no specific preparation for it. The majority of people probably don’t have literary or artistic abilities that would open this career avenue to them, though. I read that there were suggestions around for location-independent gigs for the less talented, but so far I haven’t been able to find any of them.
In our present society, and any conceivable one, we need to have individuals performing all sorts of different services and producing many kinds of goods, and since they need to coordinate their efforts, they need to have schedules. The challenge posed by our blogger, I think, is not so much to jump ship from our regular jobs and responsibilities, but to bring a sense of freedom and fulfillment to the work we already have, which in many if not most cases contributes to the well-being of others and is therefore meaningful. What can we do to find our true selves and our true priorities in our everyday, not-necessarily-exciting lives, as we chop wood, carry water, drive buses, and stock grocery store shelves?
In his concluding paragraph, our spontaneous friend writes, “The good news is my life is no different than yours, minus the routine.” “Bourgeois bullshit,” said my daughter, after a 10-hour shift serving up drinks. Although I respect his spirit of experimentation and simplicity, I have to agree.