I went to talk about minimalism tonight at the Centre for Social Innovation. Promoting their new book were minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, the two men behind the blog The Minimalists. They spoke for about a half hour about how minimalism changed their lives and increased their happiness and then did a really extensive Q&A with the audience.
I thought their stories were inspirational and as someone who tries to cut back on clutter, hates knick knacks and despises junky things I’ll only use once, some of their stories struck a chord. That being said, I think their approach and tactics could use a little improvement. One thing that stood out to me was how easy, seamless and quick they implied the transition could be. Although they were quick to clarify that no one should quit their jobs and sell all their stuff at the drop of a hat, I wish they’d elaborated on their individuals processes and struggles a little more.
I love the idea of minimalism and rejecting the culture of consumption that we all live in. I think the world could be a better place if people weren’t so obsessed with owning the next gadget or having the biggest TV. And I realize the irony of being a historian who hates junk and is constantly throwing things in the garbage. But as much as I try to embrace this philosophy in my everyday life, where should I draw the line? And where should historians draw the line?
One of the speakers told the audience about cleaning out his mom’s house after she died. He said that he threw everything in the garbage (or sold it or donated it) except for a box of photographs. But then he said he later digitized them and threw the actual copies out. He also said that he took some pictures of things that held special memories for him. His reasoning was that although these items hold memories for us, the memories are within ourselves and not the actual object.
A part of me completely agrees with his thoughts. But another part of me thinks about the feelings I have when I touch an old object that is meaningful to me, like dried flowers from a special occasion or a handwritten note. The historian side of me is appalled at the idea of taking pictures and then throwing away artifacts since this would render museums obsolete. I know that old artifacts aren’t going anywhere anytime soon due to the digital camera, but in this throwaway culture, perhaps tomorrow’s artifacts won’t exist anymore because the digital generation will be satisfied with an Instagram shot of it.