Technomads and the Future of Minimalism

For the first time in history, minimalists can have access to more content, stimuli, ideas and value than any clutter-junkie ever could, and at the same time we have the choice to be free from all of that data-rush at any moment. A near-endless supply of exceptional media and intimate communication can be accessed from devices that fit in our pockets, giving us access to both rich culture and the great freedom to live simply. It’s a wonderful change.

There’s a pile forming of names for a new kind of minimalist that is becoming more and more visible. Extreme lifestyle-minimalists, neo-nomads, neo-minimalists, and technomads have all been tossed around, but the core of these emerging stories is that minimalism is easier and more beneficial than ever, and people are creating vibrant lifestyles from that insight.

Over at mnmlist.com, Leo Babauta shared his view on “addition by subtraction“, which is a clear expression of his version of contemporary minimalism.

Another thing to consider, rather than adding, is subtracting.

If you think you need a new notebook in order to write, maybe the problem isn’t your lack of a notebook, but your desire for a nice new one. Subtract the desire, and you can write without acquiring.

If you want a new iPhone (as I often find myself doing), consider whether this is a true need, or just a desire that can be eliminated. If you want new workout equipment, consider whether you can work out without any equipment.

An empty room (or the outdoors) contains all you need, other than food and water and basic clothing. In an empty room, you can meditate, sleep, pray, think, compose, do a workout, talk with a friend.

What you already have beyond an empty room — books or access to a library, a computer or access to one at a library, pens, maybe some paper, and all the other possessions in your life — are way, way more than you need.

Leo seems to have chosen a less technologically-embedded life than many of us would be willing to commit to, but his sentiment of embracing minimalism for the freedom it provides is echoed in many of the new expressions of minimalism that are emerging.

In my own case, I have digitized much of the media I used to have as physical objects: where once I had countless CDs, DVDs, books and paper documents, I now have a pair of hard drives, a netbook and a phone. I try to use the increased space, flexibility and freedom to live a richer life, and usually I succeed. I certainly feel that I have more room in my life for things that matter.

The marvelous Boing Boing, home of happy mutants, has been following the rise of technology-enriched minimalism for a while now and recently brought it into sharper focus with three articles: “Article about extreme lifestyle-minimalists“, “The nitty-gritty of whittling down your possessions“, and “Neo-Minimalism and the Rise of the Technomads“. There’s a wealth of information, advice and promotion of minimalism to be found in those great pieces, but I want to share some bright passages from the latter, by Sean Bonner.

he common thread here is a growing number of people are realizing that our mountains of physical stuff are actually cluttering up more than just our houses. All of this is exciting to me, because it’s something in which I have a growing personal interest: I have been taking steps to get rid of the mountains of stuff I now realize I have no reason to hang on to. In fact, I’m not just doing it myself—I’m trying to help start a revolution.

The process has been slow going, filled with reflection on individual objects and their value to me. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about who I am and what I want out of this life.
I decided to value the gathering of experiences over the acquiring of stuff, and to get rid of stuff which would enable the gathering of more experiences. I’d have more cash from the sale of my stuff, and less stuff to worry about, should I want to move or travel for a while. Stuff gets old and breaks and takes up room in your house, experiences stick with you for life and make you a better person.

The one interesting criticism of this new wave of minimalists that I have encountered strikes me as a bit misguided. Paul Raven at Futurismic expresses frustration at what he sees as an expression of “Western privilege” in “Living with less: digital lifestyles versus consumer materialism“.

It’s kind of romantic, in a somewhat smug and self-aware po-mo kind of way: the New Nomadism! A reaction to the consumerist lust-for-stuff that helped bring us to global financial collapse, etc etc. What it fails to take into account is that there are hundreds of thousands living just as nomadic a lifestyle, only without the luxuries of a fresh Macbook Air and a custom-built fixie; having too much stuff is very much a #firstworldproblem, and as much as it’s satisfying to see a turn away from that, it’s frustrating to see how, already, it’s destined to be repackaged and sold as a lifestyle trend.

Yes, any of us who are fortunate enough to have a netbook and an Android phone are incredibly lucky. I’ll never argue against that, and will always be in favour of extending every beneficial aspect our lives to as many as possible. What I think Paul misses somewhat is that a technology-enhanced minimalism is far more scalable, sustainable and ready for the wider world than any other lifestyle of the fortunate. Cellphones’ growth in developing communities has already shown that multipurpose and portable devices are wonderfully disruptive. I think Paul’s caution shouldn’t be ignored, but I believe there is too much potential in minimalism to squander it with pessimism and cynicism.

Back to the practical bits of living a more minimal life, Leo Babauta has some insightful advice for overcoming an aversion to decluttering.

You bought these items with hard-earned money, and you don’t want that money to go to waste, so you’ve been holding onto them. It’s a burden that keeps you from freeing yourself of these unneeded possessions — it forces to you keep the space they occupy, to maintain these possessions, to constantly see them every day even if you don’t want them, to walk around them or trip over them or live in a cramped, cluttered space. This is a burden, paying penance for your initial wasted expenditure of cash.

But: the waste was when you bought it, not when you get rid of it. You bought something you didn’t really need — and the real waste would be to ignore this and not learn from it.

Leo goes on to provide some simple tips for determining if possessions are clutter or not and is generous in his encouragement to live better through minimalism.

Leo is a beacon for living a more minimal life, and his expression of the joy to be found in simple pleasures is contagious.

I’ve been finding that simplifying things means I can savor life more fully.
Savoring life starts with a mindset. It’s a mindset that believes that excess, that rushing, that busy-ness, that distractedness, isn’t ideal. It’s a mindset that tries instead to:

  • simplify
  • do & consume less
  • slow down
  • be mindful & present
  • savor things fully

It’s the little things that make life enjoyable: a walk with a loved one, a delicious book, a chilled plum, a newly blooming tree.
And by simplifying, we can savor life to the fullest.

As his article title advises, it is best to “Simplify, and Savor Life“.

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