Minimalism and the Minimalist Lifestyle
How to Live More With Less
Michael Kershaw
45 pages (310 KB)

This is one of those books that can easily be found on the Amazon website either free or very cheap. I got it because the topic of minimalism (also referred to as simple living) has interested me for a while now. Well, remember the old statement according to which those things that are either free or cheap are not worth the trouble? It pretty much applies in this case. Don't get me wrong, this book is not bad. It's not garbage. It's not a total waste of time. If you already have an idea what minimalism (or simple living) is all about, and would like to read about a few ideas on how to implement it (i.e., if you already know about the philosophy, but are barely getting started putting it into practice) then the book is OK.

As expected, the author clarifies what minimalism is from the very beginning:

I often get asked what minimalism is. To put it simply, a true minimalist tries to downsize, declutter and organize all aspects of their life. In doing so, one escapes the stresses placed upon the psyche by the many distractions and excesses of modern society. This allows the non-essential items in life to be replaced by what's truly important. Nowadays, too little emphasis is placed on simply enjoying the simple things in life. A minimalist refocuses on these things and in doing so reaps the rewards of eschewing the meaningless aspects of life.

(Michael Kershaw: Minimalism and the Minimalist Lifestyle, location 18 of 651)

However, he is not talking about an extreme form of austerity that could easily be confused with monasticism (although, to be fair, there are obvious connections between the two):

Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating you stop living. I'm advocating you stop living the WAY you're living in order to reach your maximum potential. People hear about minimalism and instantly discount it as a sterile, monk-like existence. You can go to that extreme if you want, but that's not what this book is about. If you want to go to that extreme, sell all your worldly belonging and head to the highest mountains of Tibet. You can joint a monastery and meditate to your heart's content.

This book is about a looser form of minimalism. One that will allow you to continue living in modern society, albeit living a simpler life with more room for inner peace and true happiness.

(Michael Kershaw: Minimalism and the Minimalist Lifestyle, location 28 of 651)

And that's about it. There is little more than that about the philosophical or ethical underpinnings of minimalism in the rest of the book. From that moment on, we dive into the practical side of things, where the author explains how to practice minimalism, as opposed to explaining what it is. That is both, good and bad. It is good because it means we have a book that, supposedly, we can use. On the other hand, it is quite bad if we are completely new to the idea and would like to know more about it before giving it a try. Said that, the author steps into the practical advice:

The first step of minimalism is getting rid of the things you don't truly need. Look around you. I'll bet there's a ton of items right there in the room with you that you don't need. Items that don't enhance your life or happiness and only serve to clutter your life and make it harder to see the ultimate goal.

Getting rid of the items you don't use or need may be stressful at first. You'll find yourself stressing out and wondering it you're going to regret getting rid of your worldly belongings. This is because you've been programmed to believe that your worldly possessions dictate your value as a human being. Getting rid of these possessions is part of the healing process.

As you clear the clutter arond you, you'll find yourself feeling liberated and refreshed. All you need to be happy is a handful of simple tools, a simple wardrobe and a few personal items that truly bring you joy.

(Michael Kershaw: Minimalism and the Minimalist Lifestyle, locations 28-37 of 651)

Just how much one is going to get rid of will depend on the person. As the author states, there is no clear rule. It truly is entirely up to the individual. Also, one should have a very clear idea in mind that minimalism is a process, a lifestyle, and not a final destination. One of the main obstacles that we will find in adopting this new lifestyle is old (bad) habits. The author recommends to replace them with good habits, and suggests a few of them: exercise, sports, yoga, music, reading, meditation and "deep thought" (location 93 of 651).

So, how do we break those old habits? Kershaw offers a "simple 3-step program":

  1. Choose a single habit you want to break. If you have multiple habits, you should only try to break one at a time. Trying to quit smoking and drinking at the same time is going to be harder than quitting one, then the other. Choose the most destructive habit first. If you smoke two packs a day, you're probably going to want to quite smoking first. On the other hand, if you find yourself drinking yourself into a stupor and passing out in the middle of the road, drinking's going to be the vice you want to give up first.
  2. Start slowly but surely replacing the bad habit with the good habit you've chosen. If you want to quit smoking and have decided to replace smoking with eating vegetables, you're going to need to work your way into it. Say you smoke a pack a day. That's 20 cigarettes a day, give or take a couple. You know you always want a smoke when you get up in the morning. Replace that smoke with a handful of carrots (or some other veggie you like). Force yourself to do this until you get used to it, then replace another smoke. Slowly but surely chip away at the amount you're smoking until it's at an acceptable level or you're able to quit. I have a buddy who used to be a full-time smoker who used this method to cut back to where he has a single smoke once a week after drinking a beer at the local bar. He enjoys his beer and smoke, but has learned to control both habits so that they are kept to a minimum. One smoke a week probably isn't going to do much damage and the single beer he drinks is probably helping him more than harming him.
  3. Learn what triggers the desire to engage in your old habit. Each and every time this trigger takes place, engager in your new habit. Do this until your subconscious replaces the old habit with the new habit as its coping mechanism.

(Michael Kershaw: Minimalism and the Minimalist Lifestyle, locations 120-137 of 651)

In the end, what makes bad habits so difficul to get rid of is that they become routine:

Most of life consists of habits and routines. Habits become routine by doing the same thing over and over and over again, ad infinitum. You do many of the same things day in and day out. That bad habit you're having trouble kicking has become a habit over the course of years of doing it daily. It could take years to completely kick it.

(Michael Kershaw: Minimalism and the Minimalist Lifestyle, locations 137-147 of 651)

Yes, I know. Nothing special there. It's just common sense, right? Indeed. Yet, I suppose it doesn't hurt to lay it out once more. Furthermore, Kershaw recommends changing habits through a one-month trial period to see whether we can live with it.

But what do habits have to do with minimalism? Why even bother with this? How is smoking associated with less clutter and a simple life? Well, of course, the reason is that we live surrounded by clutter precisely due to our own bad habits.

In addition to braking old habits, you're going to want to develop new habits. Keeping a clean, uncluttered home is a habit. Learning to think through each and every action and eliminate the unnecessary is a habit. Living a minimalist lifestyle is habit.

Humans are creatures of habit by nature. This is both a boon and a bane. It's nuisance because old habits die hard, especially bad habits that are ingrained in our psyche. The advantage is that once we break these old habits and replace them with new ones, the healthier habits will be every bit as ingrained in our daily routine. It's just getting to that point that's a little rough. You can train youserlf to do anything you want to. Just look at long distance runners who have conditioned themselves to push their bodies way beyond what would kill a normal human being. This isn't something that can be done overnight. It has to become habit.

(Michael Kershaw: Minimalism and the Minimalist Lifestyle, location 229 of 651)

So, aside from the "simple 3-step program", what does Kershaw recommend to break those bad habits? A few tricks that are, once again, well known but perhaps worth repeating. For starters, reflect on your daily actions. Just that. Instead of going around on auto-pilot, as we tend to do, be aware of what you do and how you do it. Among other things, this may unearth even habits you did not know you had. Kershaw calls this "self-remembering". I'm not sure I like the term, since I have the feeling that it confuses more than it clarifies. Regardless of the term, though, it makes sense.

Kershaw then moves onto "the minimalist home", which is uncluttered of unnecessary objects. What is or not necessary is up to each individual, of course. There is no easy template to follow. But, whatever you do, don't simply move the objects to storage. The temptation to move them back into the house will always be there, and it will be strong. Instead, give them away or sell them.

What exactly constitutes a minimalist home is up to interpretation, but ther's a few things that come to mind immediately:

  • Everything is clean and clear. There are very few items left sitting out in the open. Aside from the children's room, there are 6 to 7 items total sitting out in plain view at any given time. There's more than that on one counter in most homes. The items that are left out should be pleasing to the eye and not contribute to visual clutter. There should be a few pleasing decorations scatter around and maybe even a picture or two on the walls. Just don't go overboard.
  • Minimal amount of furniture. Keep what you need, get rid of the rest. A table and a few chairs for the kitchen, a couch or futon for the living room, a bed and a dresser for the bedroom. Some people like to keep a comfy chair or rocking chair. If you have a piece of furniture you're really attached to, there's no rule that states you can't keep it.
  • Nice stuff, but not too much. Living a minimalist lifestyle doesn't mean living in a lean-to in squalid conditions. You can still own quality items, just not as many of them. There are as many, if not more, minimalists that have money than there are that don't. We've all heard the story of the old lady who lived in a simple home with meager possessions who nobody had any clue she was filthy rich until she passed on and left her fortune to a local shelter. It's a lifestyle choice, not something forced on people who can't afford to buy a lot of stuff.

(Michael Kershaw: Minimalism and the Minimalist Lifestyle, locations 318-329 of 651)

Kershaw offers a few tips on how to achieve this minimalist home: clear the counters and flat surfaces first, actually get rid of the stuff you don't need, make sure the floors are clear too, only work on a single room at the time, keep decorations simple, plain patterns work best, etc. He also offers a thumb rule for our decluttering efforts:

When clearing clutter, it helps to remember that every item that is left out in plain view demands your attention and further serves to distract you. Each of these distractions add up and serve to disturb your inner peace. Enough little distractions can build up and combine with other stressful factors like looking for items lost in the clutter and the time it takes to clean up a huge mess of a house.

(Michael Kershaw: Minimalism and the Minimalist Lifestyle, location 381 of 651)

He also offers tips for cleaning: don't allow dishes to build up in the sink, pick up throughout the day and do a quick scan at the end of the night for items that are out of place, put everything in its place when you get home, empty the trash once a day, take 10 minutes a day to scan the house for clutter that is starting to build up, clean up after yourself, clean the shower or bath after you use it, make you bed when you get up every morning...

The next chapter is dedicated to minimalism and money or, to put it a different way, how to live in a society so utterly dominated by the notion that one's value depends on material wealth:

A minimalist acquires fewer things and, in turn, spends less money. People have been taught that the key to financial freedom is making more money. The problem with this way of thinking is that no matter how much you make, you could be making more. People tend to live beyond their means, so you'll always feel like you're living right on the edge of what you can afford. This pushes you to want even more money so you can reach a comfortable level of income. It's a never-ending cycle. You make more money, you spend more money. You spend more money, you need more money.

A minimalist is able to break this cycle. By realizing what level of cash you need to live comfortably, you know exactly what you have to make. The only increase to the fixed cost of living minimally is increases to the cost of living in the area you live in. You no longer have to concern yourself with trying to constantly move up the financial ladder to make more money. All you have to is keep pace with the cost of living.

(Michael Kershaw: Minimalism and the Minimalist Lifestyle, locations 441-450 of 651)

Once again, nothing we didn't know already, right? And yet, let's be honest. All too often, even though we do know all this, we just go on living as we have always done. It's the power of inertia, social pressure and, of course, habits. So, what does Kershaw recommend as practical steps to get our expenses under control and gain more financial freedom? A list of quite sensible steps, actually: eliminate services you don't need, stop going out to bars and clubs, end magazine subscriptions, use the public library instead of purchasing books, avoid the frequent trips to Starbucks, downsize your home, avoid storage costs, cancel cable TV, get your news through means other than the usual newspaper...

That's about it. I suppose Minimalism and the Minimalist Lifestyle is not bad for a free digital book, but it left me feeling that it lacks quite a bit. It could provide more information about the philosophical and ethical underpinnings (perhaps even the psychological benefits) of a minimalist lifestyle. It could also provide more detailed practical information on how to implement such a lifestyle, although it is definitely much better in this regard. As I said above, altogether it's OK for a free book, but not a must-read, especially if you have no clue what minimalism or simple living is all about. In that case, I'd recommend you start with something else.

Entertainment Factor: 6/10
Intellectual Factor: 4/10