A lot of people don’t do minimalism because it doesn’t seem realistic for their lives. But what they often mean is that they don’t want others to think they’re weird.
Wearing the same clothes every day might seem weird to your friends and co-workers. Having no car might make you seem like an oddball. Not having a smartphone might make you uncool. Living in a small home or an RV might make everyone think you’re poor or crazy. Eating vegan food might make the meat eaters in your life groan or roll their eyes.
But who are we living for? I am all for living to help other people, but when we live our lives to the expectations of other people, we end up living lives we don’t want. And what do we get when we live up to the expectations of all these other people? They really don’t care—they just don’t like things different because they are uncomfortable with change. Staying the same as everyone else doesn’t make everyone else happier—it just doesn’t force them to reflect on their lives.
Where do these expectations come from, anyway? Other people didn’t just make them up—they are customs built up over the years, often very consciously by corporations trying to get us into expensive buying habits. For example, we have so many clothes, gadgets and other possessions because ads have sold us on the idea that we need clothing to look stylish, to be successful, to feel like a woman, to be as good as the people on TV. It wasn’t always this way, and it’s up to us to decide whether we want it to be that way from now on.
I’m not saying we should go live in the woods and ignore society (though that’s not a bad option). I live in society, and yet no one minds me wearing the same clothes all the time. People don’t go wild with anger when they hear that I’m not buying Christmas presents. I might get a raised eyebrow when they find out I don’t have cable TV or a car, and I might have to explain myself when they hear I’m a vegan, but no one gets mad at me and they go on with their lives. I sure go on with mine.
The way everyone else does things isn’t working. People aren’t happy with a life filled with possessions. Driving cars all the time adds to stress, makes people unhealthier, pollutes. People get unhealthy with their standard American diet. Just because everyone else thinks this is the way it should be done, doesn’t mean it’s the best way. Go against the stream—the other fish don’t know where they’re going either!
When it comes to others, be helpful, compassionate, grateful. But don’t live up to their expectations. You’ll be freed of the shackles of meaningless customs, so that you can live as you want.