The biggest challenge

In this post, I’m going to say a few controversial things that I’ve believed for a long time but haven’t had the courage to say outright. I think this blog (and me) has finally at a place in where I can confidently say how I feel. Not everyone will agree with what I’m about to say, but I guess you wouldn’t be reading my MS if we didn’t have something in common 🙂

I’m often asked what the hardest thing about minimalism is. In the beginning, I had no idea, various things were hard – getting rid of stuff I had gotten attached to, resisting buying things I wanted to, finding alternatives that were just as good … and so on.

But, after a few years I’ve gotten so used to such things and they’re no longer very hard to do. Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest obstacle a minimalist has to overcome is to challenge the collective mindset that society has been based on since human history.

You’ve got to overcome always wanting more.

The constant hunger for more than we need is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we have come to think of it as human nature to be greedy and that there’s nothing we can do about it. There was a time when being greedy was good. It meant that you ate more than you needed to so that you can survive the winter. It meant you took more than you needed to so you wouldn’t waste energy walking all the way back. That time was the Stone Age.

But even today, how can one possibly imagine not wanting to live in a huge house? Who wouldn’t take a Ferrari if they got it free? Why would anyone pass on brand-name clothing if they had the money for it?

For us, the house-with-a-white-picket-fence (plus everything in and around it) is a symbol of achievement. It tells the world that we have ‘succeeded’ in the game of life. That we ‘won’.

It may be true for very few people, for the most part, nobody ‘wins’ when they get everything they want. Because there’s really no such thing. Even if you get the ideal house and car, there’ll be something else that you’ll want, like a more understanding spouse, better friends, fame or more leisure time. And when you get those, there will be something else that you’ll wish for like a special talent, clever children or a ‘beautiful’ body. Think about all of the people that look like they have an ‘ideal life’. It seems they have everything, but in your heart you know they don’t.

There are an infinite things you could want, but you could probably count the things you actually need to make you happy with just your hands.

The biggest challenge about minimalism is realizing that almost everything you’ve been told as a child isn’t necessarily true – you don’t have to succeed in school, you don’t have to be popular, you don’t have to find a job that pays well. I’m not saying one should live on the street or never aim high, but if only people could be just be content with what they have, instead of chasing lies like a donkey with a carrot on a stick, they may actually find satisfaction and lifetime happiness.

One you’ve realized this, the next biggest thing is making it your philosophy and living by it. We’ve come a long way from the greedy and uncontrollable animals we were in the Stone Age. We’ve upgraded to humans now, who can overcome this way of thinking and choose our own way.

So that’s the biggest challenge. I’m challenging it, are you?

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  • Yes, that is so true! I believe that the thing that what shows that you are succesful is when you are happy and healthy. I guess that being happier is even better than being healthy, because I learned to live with my poor health.

    But, moving on, being happy and healthy is something you should work on. In stead of trying to get a bigger house, bigger car, etc., you should work on trying to get a loving family where everybody is happy.

  • Glenna

    I agree! It seems like whenever I am around a group of friends or family members that point out some material object that they want, my first reaction is OH MY GOSH YES, I WANT IT TOO! But I have to stop, slow down, and think about why I truly need this thing. Is it going to improve my quality of life? Is this purse truly worth $300 to me? (That’s a no.) Is it something that will end up sitting untouched in my house for months? Or, is it something I know I will use multiple times a week, and will make my life much easier?

    The idea of possessions representing a successful life seems to be a sad but true reality for the majority of people. Minimalism has helped me look outside the “keeping up the the Jonse’s” box, and I feel better being content with what I have, rather than always striving for some unrealistic and contest-like lifestyle.

    Great post!

  • Alex

    I think that this is completely true. It’s understated, especially in smaller blogs, but it’s definitely understood by a lot of people, and it’s good to get it out in the open.

    I remember when I was a kid (roughly between 8 and 12), I would fantasize about living in a giant house (usually the HGTV New Year’s Giveaway House for that year, especially the one in North Carolina) and having all the weirdly specific little gadgets from infomericals. I wouldn’t have a needle and thread – I would have a hemmer, and tear- repairer, and a button-reattacher. I would always try to have pencils and pens and white out in school so I would always have whatever I needed.

    Now I know that a needle and thread are far more useful, and the like. It really is liberating – I don’t need to freak out over not having white-out anymore. But it was a long journey to that point, like Glenna said.

  • Jay

    I agree that being content with what you have is one of the biggest challenges and also one of the most rewarding. I think it is so important to remember to be grateful for what you already have. I also believe that one of the ways to learn to be content in this way is to practice focusing your attention on the present moment rather than focusing on only the future or past.

  • “you don’t have to succeed in school”

    That (along with the article) was something I needed. Thank you for saying it like you did

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  • Roshini

    Do you think being content with what you have stops progress? If humans start being content with what they have, then there would be no new inventions or new solutions. True or not?

    • Jessica

      Hm, Roshini that is a good point! I have thought about this, and of course I don’t think it’s true. Perhaps I will write a post about this soon, thanks for the comment!

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  • Sohhom Bandyopadhyay

    I was speechless when I found your site.

    This is _exactly_ what I had in mind, for about a year, but couldn’t, for the life of me, really believe in it. The usual conditioning kicked in every time I tried…

    You’ve been a lot of help, in realizing that this philosophy is still possible, and plausible. Thank you!

  • Hi Jessica. I agree with you about we should not rely on everything we were told when we were kids. But having no success at school is not the same than not having success on what a real education means.For me (I’m a teacher) the most important thing in minimalism philosophy is to be aware of the fact that we can achieve a state of mindfulness in which you are really conscious about what is actually important and what is not. To do so you need to focus in a real education based on arêtes.

    Thank you so much for your interesting post.

    See you