Before I dig into how I got to embracing minimalism as my final lifestyle choice, let me introduce myself. I am at the age heading toward fifty now. I’m single and live in a 63 square metre one-bedroom apartment in Sydney West suburb. I co-own the house with my parent, so to this extent, I’m lucky enough I don’t pay house rent.
My current casual job in the event industry only pays day to day basis of living cost. I don’t save big because I can’t afford it. Instead, I rely on my saving tin — coin by coin, note by note — and a little bit of tax return until I can afford to travel the world. Since COVID-19, my income has plunged into the depth of uncertainty. To sustain Sydney’s unforgiving living cost, I have been eating once a day for a year.
In the materialistic world, here are your daily life: you scroll your social media updates. There are ads in between scrolls. Commercial ads on your radio alarm will wake you up in the morning. Sometimes you choose to ignore it, but some other times you look into it. Whether or not you’re interested in purchasing the product, you only have two options: to buy or not to buy.
Every product marketing bombards us from when we wake up from bed in the morning to the time we go to bed at night. The world simultaneously reminds us that everything is what we need. But how about if I don’t have everything I need? Can I survive living in the jungle of the capitalistic world?
But this is what I learned from the economics study. Needs and wants are always unlimited while resources are scarce. Under the economics assumption, everything else is equal — cateris paribus, a firm, manufacturing company, or producer will always generate profits in the competitive market equilibrium. But at what cost?
You and I are the cost of it all. Capitalism is around us because it is the foundation model of Western Economics. As much as you despise capitalism, we can’t run away from it. We can’t eliminate it. We are breathing it in and out from the time of birth.
So you will always come to this one thought: your measure of happiness is solely from the attached fulfilment of needs and wants while you’re living from scarce resources; your income, car, clothes and shoes, kitchen, and living room. Our Western world constantly teaches us to ‘never get enough’ while it reminds us our resources are scarce.
We live in a world where the power of consumerism constantly bombards us. What is terrible about consumerism is that it is planted deep down in our mindset. Our parents and friends do it. It’s accepting and isn’t a big deal. We can’t have enough of things, and we will never be. Our life, in a way, is built by many attachments, past and present. The attachments can be possessions, sentimentalism of the past — and both, we have been cluttering our life endlessly.
When I travelled solo to Kyoto, Japan, in May 2019, I was visiting Nanzen-Ji temple. Nanzen-Ji is a Zen Buddhist temple in the Higashiyama area of Kyoto. There are many zen gardens, tea room, sub-temples, and a European style canal in the complex.
It was the end of spring. Leaves began to turn colours, has and cherry blossom has fallen and left lines of skeletal trees. I walked around the temple’s zen gardens and admired its simplicity but didn’t quite understand what it was? What was unique about it? I didn’t get it.
All of a sudden, I stumbled upon a handwritten sign on the wall at the Zen garden. It writes
Do not let put troubles catch in your mind, nor future fears. Live in this moment, this place in pure mind without regret, and each day will be a good life.
The wisdom is the teachings of the Honorable Dai Min, founder of Nanzen-Ji temple. For me, the knowledge is so powerful that until I returned to Sydney, I couldn’t help myself thinking of it.
As I strolled the unassuming zen gardens, I contemplated their elegance and simplicity. I began to ask myself for all those my lifetimes whether I live in the moment; my thoughts, past relationship, and regrets. If finally ended with my materialistic possession: Did my belonging representing me of the past time or the present time?
The ancient wisdom from the thirteenth century was a big slap of the twenty-first century in my face. If I want no troubles caught in my mind; if I wish to no fear to face future; If I want to leave the past without regret; if I want to have a good life, what can I do? I began to look at myself and questions many things I’ve done in life.
I looked around my living space. I looked at every possession I’ve got: my large screen iMac; do I need a high-performance Imac? I’m not a designer, not a film editor. Why didn’t I have a basic Chromebook laptop that exactly does the job? My large flat-screen TV almost took over the entire wall. I had clothes and shoes I didn’t wear anymore. I fancied the most up-to-date technology, fashions, homewares, and many more. I kept buying stuff — with the help of the buy-now-pay-later method — and piling up stuff.
I question my credibility, being critical about it, and challenge myself by sorting out clothes and other unwanted items out in the storage. The ones that stay are those I use on a day to day basis. I only keep a few stuff for a sentimental reason. As for the rest, before I say goodbye to them, I keep reminding myself of living in the moment. The less attachment you have, the happier you become.
Minimalism hasn’t been a straightforward quest for me either. It took more courage than I thought to downsize, give away possessions to those who need them the most. You don’t dump your stuff you don’t need anymore in one go and one day. You learn to live with what you need within a limited space without compromising your happiness.
So over the year, I’ve ended up with a few things on my sight: any items lying on any surfaces in your house are those you use daily. In other words, they’re there because they have their function in your daily routine.
Embracing minimalism isn’t an overnight change but rather a journey. As you’re travelling along, you choose which method best and work for you. Organising and reorganising, sorting out, and decluttering is a process that, in the end, helps you focus on your life goals.
If living in the moment is the foundation of minimalism, living with less attachment is its soul. Here I am, forty-nine years old and frictionally jobless, but to tell you the truth, living less is empowering you to live more happily.