On Belonging

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I’ve read no fewer than two articles on the subject of belonging this week (here and here). These days, I sense that with the superabundance of digital content being published at a rate faster than our mind can even begin to comprehend let alone process, our world has careened into a sort of identity crisis. It’s no wonder, witnessing so many opinions and beliefs flying around in the playing field, all the while being bludgeoned and battered by the unfortunate triad of fake news, cyber-bullying, and clickbaity sensationalist news headlines.

Every community, culture, and social construct stems from a system of beliefs and principles. They manifest in the form of behaviors, tendencies, aesthetics, and practices, eventually evolving into traditions. People feel pride in the adopting the traditions and customs of a particular social group or culture – it is in essence a framework, a mold, that we can conveniently use as a guide – an instruction book on how to live life. Yet, I fear that our tendency to gravitate towards assigning ourselves a predefined template for our personalities will steer us away from blazing our own trail and delight of celebrating our ever-evolving selves. We resist potential growth opportunities if we stubbornly cling to steadfast ideas, rooting ourselves firmly, mistakenly believing that such resoluteness is a indication of strength and honor.

It is much easier to declare that you fit the mold of a Hogwarts house, or the personality of  a Game of Thrones character, or a Myers-Briggs personality type, than to express your persona in your own unique way. But when confronted with the idea that *gasp* you could be dabbling in some of this identity, and some of that identity, and those distinctions make you fit not-so-neatly into the box, you’ll naturally find yourself at odds with where you belong and who you really are. Multiracial individuals, multicultural families, individuals living in foreign lands, and first-generation immigrants experience these difficult feelings all the time.

Why should we so quickly ascribe ourselves to a particular group or entity, when we could be remembered as our own unique selves instead?

Why don’t we stop thinking that other people aren’t legit enough to be considered a part of a certain group?

Wouldn’t it be more interesting to be that person with an asterisk-worth story to tell?

Why don’t we make it our goal to draw inspiration from bits and pieces of cultures and entities, and form our own beautifully messy path, instead?

For starters, I am an Asian woman who is neither petite nor delicate. I bike to work and regularly do pull-ups – not to show the world that I can “defy stereotypes,” but simply because being strong is healthy and increases my quality of life. I tend towards math and science, but art and language are equally intriguing to me, so I eagerly treat myself to crafting blog posts and appreciation of modern architecture and design – not because I’m supposed to be academic, but because I am genuinely interested. I take care of domestic chores – not because it’s my tendency/duty as a woman – but because like most people, I would rather live in a clean house than a dirty one.

In reality, I don’t feel the need to justify these behaviors. What’s the point? No one really cares about the justifications. They just want the answers. They just want to know you as That person who Does X, or Is Y.

And psst most people really just want your validation. Imagine everyone walking around with a sign that says, “Make me feel important.” You don’t owe them anyone an explanation of why you are so uniquely you, but of course, it is your freedom to do so anyway.

I hope that the willingness to be comfortable with purpose and change (as opposed to the whimsical and fickle change that drives people crazy) will make us stronger as individuals. which, in turn, will enable us to strengthen the communities we leave our mark in, regardless of whether or not we “belong.”

 

The Danger of Certainty

I am currently reading a Mark Manson bestseller, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. Full disclosure – I’m not done reading it, but I couldn’t wait to finish it to write about it because I got too excited about one of the chapters. I don’t actively follow his blog, but the book was recommended on some Minimalism forum out there and I thought it’d be an educational read for me, especially as  someone who is interested in letting go of mental and physical clutter. I’m 75% through the book and so far I am not disappointed.

“Certainty” is touted as a good thing in society. We hear nice things like “Believe in Yourself,” “Trust your Gut,” “Be Yourself,” “Be Unique,” “Be You,” “Find Yourself,” and so on. I make these kinds of statements on my blog all the time, because I really do believe in the benefits of personal development and self-confidence, and personal development starts with self-awareness, so I encourage people to create mission statements or celebrate their own uniqueness.  Certainty helps people feel secure and grounded and gives them purpose. Not to mention in a lot of situations, standing up for yourself can be critically important. Hashtag, Rosa Parks.

Truth be told, Manson’s ideas have come into conflict with some of my views. He argues that putting our identity and values on a pedestal breeds narcissism and entitlement, even going so far as to call the assumption that our values are “perfect and complete” a “dangerously dogmatic mindset.” The fact is, when it comes to lofty things like values and personalities and behaviors and tendencies – all those things that make you, you and me, me – well, there is really no “certainty” about them, except that they are entirely subjective and taken to the extreme. Terrorist groups really, truly think that their values are the right thing for society, yet they will do everything, including hurting others, to stick to their values and make their point. They don’t doubt themselves. And that is the problem.

The firmer we hold ourselves to our values and beliefs, the more we are at risk of not allowing ourselves to change them. And we desperately need to allowed to change them, because as humans we are frequently wrong and subject to cognitive biases.

Manson made up “Manson’s Law of Avoidance,” which is:

“The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it.”

That is to say that anything that threatens to change or challenge what you believe in, what values you hold, what you want to represent, how you fit into this world, how you perceive yourself, how you want to be perceived – is scary and uncomfortable. The more protective we are of our identities, the less open we are to the necessary change required for learning and growth. Almost everything we do, say, own, and treat others is in an effort to fit into a our very own, carefully crafted mold. We want to be known to our peers and closest companions as someone who believes this, or does that, or stands up for this, or won’t take that. When we confront a situation where what we want to be is challenged, we fight back with what we are, or what we supposedly are.

Why is letting go of things hard? Why is it so hard to let go of trinkets from failed relationships? Because we consciously or subconsciously incorporate them into our identities and that is how we get stuck with sentimental clutter. Why do we have trouble with falling in love, with big decisions like going back to school, with buying houses, and changing jobs? Besides the magnitude of the consequences and effects on those around us, they are all events that will significantly reshape our identities. Similarly, we’ll have equal or more trouble with falling out of love via breakup or divorce, selling our houses, and so on. It’s even harder to let go of something that has been so ingrained in our identities than something that has the potential to reshape it. So naturally, we put them off or never get around to them.

I’m not trying to say that we should go and pummel ourselves with life-changing events without being thoughtful about them. I am trying to say that we need to understand and adapt to those situations while leaving room for doubt. Nobody on this earth is always right. I am also not trying to say that you should doubt others and have no self-confidence – there has to be a balance, right? Otherwise, what would be the purpose of reading this blog post or having conversations with other people if we’re just going to doubt everyone?

Have the conversations, read the books, and acknowledge that you suck. We are imperfect beings, and we must acknowledge that our thoughts and beliefs are imperfect too.

On Complacency, Acceptance, and Happiness

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As the election draws near, I’m more hopeful than ever before that those around me will find a way to maintain a low information diet. There is so much pollution of information that it is easy to get distracted. So, in the spirit of trying to stay proactive, I want to talk about complacency, acceptance, and where, in my experience, I’ve been finding the most happiness amidst the chaos.

Minimalism is a deviation from the norm, which I will refer to here as the “American Dream.” Anyone who deviates from the norm is undoubtedly going to be familiar with feelings of self-doubt. While it’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, some people out there feel that deviation is the sincerest form of mockery and react as though our ways were purposefully confrontational. Seeing other people live happy lives in ways that differ from our own is often perceived as threatening. Like, hey, that person doesn’t have a car, but he seems to be pretty happy. Or that person doesn’t have a religion, but doesn’t seem to feel misguided about life.  It’s all too easy to think that because the majority of people around us are doing and following the same pursuits, they are somehow right about life. We like being validated, and the easiest way to get it is by immersing ourselves in communities who share interests and activities. Life’s great when we all agree on our lifestyle choices, so to get that sense of belonging, we gravitate towards groups who shares those values. But life gets tough when we suddenly find ourselves at odds with our environment. When you realize you don’t want to follow the crowd or realize you are out of alignment, you start to ask questions. You might wonder if the path you’re carving is right.

Minimalists tend to reject complacency, but often have a hard time with acceptance. We are experienced at making decisions out of intention, but often struggle on our journey as deviants. Other minority groups will feel the same way – anyone who is vegan, an expat, a nondrinker, childfree, or any minority race – will relate to those same feelings of marginalization. There is a constant buzz of frustration about our ways, because there are always critics who won’t stop questioning us. We’re earmarked as strange and wrong somehow.

But it is our ability to resist complacency that empowers us. Humans are naturally lazy creatures – that is why we choose motor over muscle (snowblowers vs shovels), hire cleaners, order take-out, and have so many things done for us – so any effort to resist the norm, like bike-commuting, home-cooking, the pursuit of circus arts, or entrepreneurship – should be a celebration of the gifts we enjoy as highly capable and highly intelligent creatures, especially in a country that enjoys so many freedoms. We should celebrate deviants. We need to celebrate people who have the courage to do the unthinkable, like scale Everest, compete on Olympics teams, go to space, ascend the seven summits, and so on. We don’t need to depend on some higher order to supply those purposes for us. Our ability to not choose the “default” path should be celebrated.

And besides, any truly happy person has very little interest or time to criticize other people or the general populace – a happy person is going to be too busy pursuing fulfilling activities to worry about those things. That is why concepts like a low-information diet and limiting social media are so good for us. There is nothing more draining and frustrating to me than wasting my time reading articles from profit-churning news companies prioritizing revenue generating over authentic, well-researched information. There is something so unsettling about reading about everyone else’s accomplishments announced to a seemingly unknown readership, fishing for likes and arguing with people who aren’t necessarily supposed to be your “friends” in the first place. Social media is great for reconnecting with acquaintances, spreading ideas and inspiration, and arranging events – but it is so easy to fall into the trap of blindly scrolling through a toxic newsfeed and feeling cynical about our own lives. I know it because I’ve been there. And it’s not a pleasant place to be.

Being complacent about our lives is one thing. Accepting our lives is another. And celebrating our miracles, the earth, and our abilities through hard work, stoicism, and optimism is always worth our time. When we are just so capable of more, let’s not confine ourselves to a box, a couch, a bed, or a small mindset jailed by silly indoctrination. There’s no point in spending our time in the trenches of arguing with those who don’t follow a philosophy of never ending the exploration of our environments. There’s no point in filling up our spaces with things and experiences for the sake of everyone else. Embrace the divergence of pursuing what fulfills you, and I’m sure you’ll be a better person for it.

The Ridiculousness of Luxury

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Living in America is, by definition, already a luxury. Look how far along society has come in the last 50 years. In the past, we had to chug along in squeaky, horse-drawn carriages. We used to have to farm our own land and weather storms by the fireplace, hoping that we put enough effort into our autumn harvest and that no one catches dysentery. Now, at a moment’s notice, we can hop into our personal gas-powered miracle machines they call automobiles, loaded with fancy surround-sound audio systems, padded seats, and blast air conditioning into our faces as we drive a couple miles to the nearby store to buy some more Fancy things like plastic cases and thin glass sheets for our expensive blinking gadgets we can command to do things like set personal alarms, tell us the predicted weather for the next hour, or navigate us to the nearest pizzeria. Heck, we don’t need to do even that – we can simply power up our overpowered computers, press a few buttons and make a few clicks, and said plastic case and thin glass sheet will show up on our doorsteps in a matter of hours. There are even more Fancy things we can do if we pay enough money. We can buy massive floating machines and hire people to drive them for us as we sip expensive wine. Every time we eat at a restaurant, we’re essentially hiring someone to cook our meals and deliver them to us on a serving platter. We don’t even need to do so much as lift a finger. All we need to do is sit back, relax, and do absolutely nothing. That is what we’ve defined as The Good Life. And that is where the Good ends. Because what those things have in common is that they help us avoid exerting any effort at all. Bring us the Good Life on a silver platter, and allow us to bask in laziness. I sure am curious to know why the feeling of no effort is so satisfying, because I find more satisfaction from earning my way through life and taking full credit for my success.

Society seems so content with lifestyles that suck money and time out of our wallets faster than we care to count the dollars. We insist on eating out once, twice, maybe even several times a week. We book expensive tickets to jet us off to places where we can be coddled in a luxury hotel or private room with a view that looks basically the same as the view in a public area on a cruise ship yet costs several times more than a normal room. We buy absurdly expensive brand name vehicles that, despite having more powerful engines and a slew of Fancy features, still have to follow posted speed limits and are just as likely to suffer a dent or scratch from careless drivers around you. We’re completely okay with buying multiple $7 cocktails on a weekly basis and $30 steak dinners. We buy silly experiences like indoor skydiving, sitting in a motorized teacup to get dizzy for a few minutes, the chance to be a member of an exclusive club of people bragging about their “success,” or a chance to get the latest fashion styles before everyone else does.

As someone who does not do any of those things and does not feel any FOMO, I am confused by the people who feel like they’re poor or lacking excitement because they are simply not doing those things. I can do them should I so choose to throw money around at pointless, empty activities, but what for? I feel no envy for other people’s cars, purses, or foreign countries they’ve set foot in, though I may feel some disdain if it means they’re wrecking more of our earth. I don’t care about the dinners people have in the premium airport lounges (especially because I am skilled enough at cooking to make a meal I’d enjoy equally as much if not more), or the “crazy night out” they had at an exclusive dance club where supposedly they witnessed an “important” celebrity.

The trouble with criticizing this lifestyle of luxury is that no one likes to be told how they should enjoy life. It’s not some kind of universal standard where everyone should enjoy the same kinds of things, even if it has been proven that happiness is not coming from those things per se. I am just some random blogger on the Internet, after all, who just happens to really enjoy pursuing minimalism, and there will always be those who resist it. They have something of a “need” for it. But I think can safely say that there is more satisfaction to be gained from creating rather than consuming.

Let’s make our own silver platters and serve them to the world. The privilege to create and be free with our time on this earth – that is the ultimate luxury.

You Don’t Need to be Privileged to be a Minimalist

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Recently, minimalism has come under fire for being oppressive, boring, offensive, and being a form of lifestyle porn. That minimalism can only really be enjoyed by the privileged, and primarily bachelors. That minimalism deprives our lives of joys like art, fashion, nice things, hobbies, momentos, symbolic objects, and other tangibles, rendering us powerless, more consumerist, and stressed out.

First of all, a lifestyle or a concept being “boring” is inherently a subjective judgment. What one may find boring could be someone else’s life’s passion. But today, I want to address point number 1. I admit that my previous experience as a maximalist did drive me toward minimalism, and that I have the privilege of choosing minimalism rather than force myself into it. First by living in the United States, and second by being raised by dedicated parents whose efforts enabled me to make it big. For me, minimalism is a choice I can enjoy.

Unhappiness comes from wanting what we don’t have. Lots of articles about minimalism are written by relatively wealthy people who gave up their formerly ostentatious lifestyles for simpler ones. Examples like, “I gave up my fancy BMW for a used Honda Civic and am much happier for it!” They’ll then go on to talk about how fancy cars and televisions didn’t end up making them happy (I guess I am an example of that too) and even put them in debt. Critics then retaliate and point out that there are people in other parts of the world who live simple lives because they are victims of systemic issues, but aren’t getting lauded for their even more simplistic lifestyles. For them, minimalism is not by choice, but a necessity.  For them, making do with what they have is characteristic of being poor.

Rich people who choose not to indulge in consumerist luxuries shouldn’t even be looked up to, really, because this whole concept is just putting a well-off person on a pedestal for not succumbing to materialistic desires and then slapping a sexy label like “minimalism” on his or her lifestyle. Mix up the minimalist lifestyle with an art form that just happens to also have the same name and of course minimalism becomes a symbol of the ultimate first world problem. It’s an aesthetically pleasing luxury that only gets attention when privileged people talk about it, and the holier-than-thou undertones that some minimalists employ tends to irritate people.

Minimalism isn’t meant to be a one size fits all solution! There is no one way. If someone has a greater problem at hand than too much stuff, that person should probably focus on tackling that problem before even thinking about minimalism. But that is true of a lot of issues in this world. If we’re going to start attacking minimalism for being unfair to the rest of the world, we might as well start telling everyone in America to stop complaining about everything for the sake of starving families and war-torn countries everywhere. Criticizing people for trying to eliminate waste and live with less isn’t helping anyone – at the end of the day, we might as well call such articles clickbait. We aren’t trying to tell people to live with the least amount of stuff possible, we are trying to promote the efficiency of our lives in ways that work best for our own unique life situations. If that means we are keeping some “stuff” because we can’t afford to replace it, that doesn’t mean we’re not minimalists! There’s no sense in beating ourselves up over not being the most minimalist, whatever that even means.

The point is, we should stop reading media clickbait, and feast on real stories of everyday people who reaped benefits of minimalism, from small scale changes to large scale changes.

For further reading, I recommend this thread.

7 Reasons Why Eating Out is Overrated

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“Getting brunch” or “getting dinner” is a default “let’s hang out” activity for millennials (that, and Netflix). Perhaps there is the allure of being “served.” Being put in the position of a pampered guest, if you will. You’re the Important one, and your food will be brought to you by a (usually young and attractive) team of servers. You can sit at a clean table and relax, strike up a conversation with your date if you brought one, and leave the oh-so-tedious work of preparing food and washing dishes to someone else.

Ever since I became comfortable in the kitchen, which was basically ever since I lived in my own apartment for the first time, I stopped being impressed by the vast majority of restaurant food. I always wondered why there was such a resistance to learning how to cook and an overwhelming lack of confidence in cooking ability in my generation. I hardly spent any time watching my mom cooking as I grew up, but it didn’t take me long to gain some kitchen finesse. All it took was some good old-fashioned hard work, willingness to learn from my mistakes, and I thus eliminated a dependency on a paid chef to make me something delicious. After all, who knows your taste palette better than you do?

So most of the time when I’m dragged out to a restaurant, I’m pretty disappointed. Here are the reasons why.

  1. You have to get there. Thanks to our silly 3-meals-a-day system (or 2, on the weekends), at the time you want to go out to eat is around the same time everyone else wants to go out to eat. Hi, traffic jam. Bye, time you could spending…you know, doing something other than sitting in your car hungry.
  2. You might have to wait in line. It can be a few minutes, or an hour, or a couple hours…of just standing around memorizing the menu. Some restaurants have implemented call-backs, but what is there to do around a restaurant? Usually not much. Maybe buy some useless merchandise? Or proprietary sauces?
  3. You have to wait (who knows how long) for your food to be prepared and brought to you. I get that sometimes you want to sit there and chat with your friends, but there is, to me, an optimal waiting time before I start wondering why the food is taking so long…and that becomes a source of frustration.
  4. Everyone knows this already, but the food is overpriced. Almost always. Then again, you’re not just paying for food – you’re paying for service. You add tax and tip, and your $10 meal ends up being $15. Or your $25 meal is over $30. You know what you could buy with $30? A lot of ice cream. Or enough apples for a week. Or a ton of cabbage. In the grocery world, $30 can go pretty far. Let’s not forget that you’re not only paying money for food, but you’re paying with the time spent waiting. And perhaps transportation, in the form of Uber or gas or a subway ticket. Add a few bucks to that.
  5. You have very limited control over what is actually going into your food and how it is prepared. Yeah, maybe you can ask for dressing on the side or another helping of bread. You can even ask the chef to prepare the dish again…but then you feel like the ungrateful customer, and your poor apologetic server (or disgruntled one, who knows) runs back to the kitchen to have the dish prepared again. At this point, the rhythm of the meal is off, and by the time you get your meal, your friends are already done eating.
  6. Eating out is usually touted as more “special” than eating in, but you still run the risk of your food being a disappointment. You might not have enough food, it might taste off, they may have prepared it incorrectly…the list goes on. You hardly even know if they’ve washed the vegetables. Yet you still need to be somewhat grateful, you know…for the sake of manners. And if you don’t get enough food, then you have to buy more overpriced, potentially unhealthy food.
  7. Restaurants are wasteful. Any food you don’t eat goes in the garbage. If you’re taking out, you’re using disposable containers, usually plastic or styrofoam, which are not easily biodegradable.

Not every circumstance of eating out is complete waste of time and money, but in most cases, I’m happiest eating my own food that I made with my own hands in my own kitchen, because I have taken matters into my own hands and figured my way around the kitchen.

For some help with not succumbing to the millennial tendency to eat ourselves broke, read this for advice.

Unhealthy Minimalism

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Can we abuse minimalism? Can it lead to destructive habits and unhealthy mindsets?

There are many debates and criticisms around the topic, so I sure think so. Here are three manifestations of unhealthy minimalism.

1. The Obsessive-Compulsive Declutterer

Decluttering to the point of obsession can easily turn the purest of intentions into a crazy runaway train of OCD. We remove all the broken objects, then move on to the pointless objects, accelerating into a letting-go and throwing-it-all-away frenzy. We get a high from each removal, each responsibility lifted, each space cleared. Gradually, we are winning the power struggle against our stuff. The taste of victory is just grazing our tongues. Yes! We’ve finished decluttering, our spaces are clear, and our minds are free! Until they’re not.

I started to suspect that I was getting addicted to decluttering, especially at the end of the journey, when I looked around my living space and realized there wasn’t much left that I could remove without actually making my life harder, yet I was still picking at my stuff, wondering if I ought to get rid of more. It took me a while to adjust to my new decluttered environment and that’s not to say I never relapsed – I still found myself shopping for no reason, buying things and immediately regretting them, and eventually needing to declutter them.

Bottom line is, do not declutter to the point where the lack of stuff becomes a problem, or you get stressed out about all the things you do own. Because at that point, well, you’re kind of missing the point.

2. The Freeloader Minimalist

Boomers and Gen X’ers are scratching their heads at us millennials, an increasing number of us who still live at home or are spending lots of time “figuring ourselves out.” Consequently, some millennials are finding that they don’t need much stuff to live, and by way of circumstance, dub themselves minimalists.

It is perfectly acceptable, even smart or necessary, to move back home…if the following are true:

  1. Your parents are not reluctantly letting you in. Some parents would be absolutely delighted to have their adult children live with them, especially as they grow older and need help around the house!
  2. You’re bringing something to the table other than an empty stomach and an empty bank account. Perhaps you are a caretaker or are splitting the bills. Perhaps you are living with your entire extended family and everyone takes care of each other under one roof (a common arrangement in other countries). Wins for everyone (especially if everyone gets along!)!
  3. If the above two aren’t true, you’re making a concerted effort towards your independence. Reducing dependency, after all, is a key tenet in minimalism.

If you are thinking, “my parents are supplying all of my needs so I don’t ever need to learn how to pony up and manage my life…” then you just might be shirking responsibility rather than living intentionally. Let’s not explain away freeloading with minimalism. Taking advantage of other people’s generosity and attributing a lack of responsibilities and stuff in the name of “leading a minimalist lifestyle” is an inaccurate use of the term. You can declutter yourself into a broke bum and declare yourself “above” adult responsibilities, but minimalism is not meant to absolve you of basic adult responsibilities, and freeloading is only going to exacerbate our bad reputation of entitlement.

3. The Cynical Minimalist

It is really easy to be cynical as a minimalist because minimalists are already deliberately opposing the status quo to some degree. Cynical minimalists tend to dwell on negative aspects of the societal norm and the expectations that are thrust upon people. They also have a tendency to rant about societal reform. I recently read a Reddit comment about how humans should worry less about being productive and more about not being destructive through productivity – an idea that really got me rethinking the necessity of “productivity” in our lives. Yet, should we really be clapping for people who hold their heads high and declare their pride for living a life of apathy (who does that anyway?)? For living a life that was neither destructive nor productive? For a life that was neither fulfilling nor unfulfilling?

We ought not to shame mediocrity and being conventionally uninteresting, and in any case we should not shame people for what we may mistakenly judge as mediocre anyway.  Anyone who decides that someone’s lifestyle is mediocre or unremarkable is passing unwarranted judgment anyway – why waste valuable brain energy on something so base? I truly believe that all of us are capable of doing good for others, and we don’t need to put forth a ridiculous amount of effort. Small victories add up to big gains.

To avoid productivity, taking action, and living idly due to fear is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. An utter lack of doing things is not minimalism at all – and especially not active minimalism.

If minimalism is preventing you from taking action, then perhaps you are avoiding confrontation of that which is holding you back.

Minimalism when applied appropriately, is meant to be empowering.

Use it wisely. 

Why We Should Question, Doubt, or Challenge All Traditions

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Traditions are deeply woven into our social fabric. They are solidly embedded in the backbones of religions, clubs, social groups, businesses, and cultures, defining them and connecting their members on a deeper, sometimes spiritual, level. I emphasize the word “backbone” because traditions really do play a supportive role. People tell stories about how, in their search for identity, they rediscover a tradition and reach some flavor of nirvana. These stories should certainly be honored and appreciated in their own right.

As social creatures, we naturally want to feel connected to one another and ideally to our communities, and traditions facilitate that. When uncertainties or difficult times plague the present, we often rely on traditions to call upon the past to guide us and remind us that without the happenings and sufferings of the past, we wouldn’t be where we are today. After all, old customs and rituals have survived so long, so they are often seen as testaments to endurance and reliability. Overall, humans haven’t changed too much. We still have largely the same tendencies, don’t we?

It is, however, that exact attitude that can dangerously hinder progress. If we want improvement (and I’m fairly certain that we do – otherwise, we wouldn’t be buying or doing anything to make our lives better, would we?!), we should not be afraid of, at the very least, asking the critical questions, such as:

  • Why does this tradition benefit the entity I am part of?
  • Does this tradition benefit the greater good?
  • Is this tradition actually destructive or offensive? To someone else? To something? To Mother Earth? To an entire group of people?
  • Is this tradition actually good for me?

Challenging tradition is often perceived as questioning the legitimacy of the entity it is associated with, or worse – the morphing of an entity into something it was not meant to be. Change can be scary, especially when tradition is all we have ever known. What would a marriage be without a wedding is like asking what would pancakes be without a generous dose of syrup, or what Halloween would be if we substituted carrots for pumpkins, or how we would salute America without all the songs and customs that are performed at sports events and other public events. But we need agents of change to challenge tradition – otherwise, issues like women’s rights and racial equality would not have made any progress.

These are the kinds of questions that bring us to minimalism. Who would we be without our stuff? What would I do if I give up so and so activity? Without constantly defining and redefining the priorities in our lives, our paths would be quite linear, wouldn’t they? And linear is comfortable. Blindly following a tradition is easy…and dare I say it, lazy. You don’t need to perform any critical thinking whatsoever. Questioning, challenging, and if it comes down to it – breaking tradition – is necessary for change, and change is necessary for progress. Like most things in life, questioning tradition is also difficult to do, and even more difficult to do so outwardly.

I like to believe that there is always a way to improve our lives and the lives around us, if we use our oft-ignored imagination and creativity. Blindly following what always was is easy – just turn off your brain and do something for the sole reason that it was always done that way (if you work in business, I’m sure you have heard this phrase at least once).

We don’t always need to change the status quo, but we should always be looking for ways to do what we do better. I started by changing my own status quo. Tap into your creative mindset and move forward with as much courage as you can muster.

Minimalist Challenges: Fitting in and Dealing with Criticism

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Minimalism is a lifestyle that inherently, or even deliberately, challenges and resists societal norms. For that reason, it can be an isolating way of living, especially because support systems are just starting to emerge. People do not become minimalists to fit in with society. As with any cultural deviation, people tend to respond to minimalism first with disbelief. “You’re doing that?! You’re getting rid of what?!” In a society where “bigger is better” and pursuing a higher social status is a common goal, adopting minimalism is going to elicit criticism no matter what (this is especially so in countries where the social divide is more apparent).

In my own experience, friends and family question my life choices out of concern and worry, so I find myself constantly reassuring them that I am happy with what I have. Over time, minimalists hope that these kinds of reactions will gradually turn into a sort of respectful curiosity as our loved ones witness us reap the benefits of a minimalist lifestyle. I have to admit – while I try to be cautious about giving others the impression that I am preaching minimalism to them or criticizing their lifestyles, it is hard to avoid coming off that way when I am so passionate and excited about it. I remind myself that gently introducing the idea with a humble attitude and acknowledging the mixed consequences is probably more conducive to a smooth reception than a brash, “everything you’re doing is wrong!” approach.

I attended a wedding recently, and while I won’t go off on a rant on the wastefulness of the average American wedding, I had several occasions where my minimalist decisions managed to offend loved ones. The day of the wedding, it was raining and about 60-70 degrees. I wore a simple machine-washable dress, raincoat, ballet flats, and a pair of stainless steel studs. Before heading to the venue, my dear mother insisted that I wear one of three necklaces she had brought, despite me telling her I purposely did not wear or bring a necklace to avoid the possibility of losing it. In the parking lot of the venue, I encountered some family friends. The mother insisted that I was too cold (without asking me), and gave me a huge purple shawl to drape over myself. Mind you, the wedding was inside, and we probably spent about 30 seconds walking from the parking lot to the wedding venue. I repeatedly thanked her for her concern and told her I was fine and did not need the shawl. Later on, I was even told that I “needed” to wear something more colorful because my outfit was not “interesting” enough. Somehow, my choice to appear simple was a source of distress for someone else.

Minimalists, and indeed people in general, are often told that they don’t have “enough” – especially from parental figures who may not have been blessed with abundance in their childhoods. Minimalists need much less materially to feel satisfied, but they have the same desires as everyone else – to be loved, to contribute to society, and to live a meaningful life. We should not be afraid of refusing what we do not need, but we just may need to try harder to show others that we appreciate them and their concerns. What better way to do that than to give them our time and attention in return?