Happiness, as far as we’re concerned, is achieved through living a meaningful life—a life that is filled with passion and freedom, a life in which we grow as individuals and contribute to other people in meaningful ways. Growth and contribution—those are the bedrocks of happiness. Not stuff.- The Minimalists
I read this article by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus on Revolution.is. It so closely mirrored a conversation I had just had with a friend that I gave it a closer look, and felt the need to bookmark it for future reference. In this blog post, two men are talking about a life over-haul that they took on after realizing that they were basing the value of their lives on the things that they owned. Taking on a minimalistic life approach seems to have helped them to pursue true happiness rather than chase after status symbols and shallow outside appearances of success. They have even created a blog about it called The Minimalists.
Living a minimalist life is a topic that has been floating around the philosophical circles for a while. The financial crash from which the world is still recovering was stimulus enough to make people examine how they live their lives and where they place their values. For me, the stimulus has come over time: living in Africa, lack of access to stuff, and my nomadic-suitcase-driven lifestyle (read about that in "Luggage Allowances") has created in me a desire to keep it simple and live with less. I don't feel that I am living in lack, and I enjoy knowing that what I do have is of quality and is meaningful to me. My son, on the other hand, has a different idea of how we should be living our lives.
Minutes after opening the train in the above image, my trainaholic was asking for another train that he did not yet have. 'Seriously!?" I incredulously replied, "You JUST opened Gordon! You haven't even played with him yet!" Unfazed, matter-of-factly, his comeback: "I don't have Rosie..."
By constantly asking for MORE, MORE, MORE, my five year old off-spring has, as of late, been challenging my minimalistic values. I am trying to in-still in my little man the idea that we don't need to have more stuff (in his case, every Thomas train in existence) to be happy- we have to take care of and enjoy what we have before we take in more. He isn't buying in, and it baffles me. Where did he get this idea that he has to have STUFF??? He has a mom who keeps her carefully weighed out, intentional purchases to a minimum, who keeps clutter at bay, and who does what she can to use what she has before bringing in new items.
So that my son doesn't feel as if my choices come out of lack, I am careful to use phrases such as: 'We have to take care of what we have before we get more;" "We are not choosing to spend our money like that;" "Be grateful for and enjoy what you have before you look for more." "A lot of children don't have ANY toys!" He just looks at me like I am crazy and turns up the whiney-production that grates on my every nerve. "BUT I DON"T HAVE ROSIEEEEEEEEE!!!!"
So what do I do? Right now, I have the buying power, which means that my values ultimately run the show, but that doesn't mean he values my choices. Is it every kid's job to ask, ask ask, and the parent's job to quell (or give into) these wants? I ask myself if I would give him more if our financial pot was bigger, and maybe the answer to that is yes, but I hope my "No-s" are not just financially driven. I truly hope that we maintain a lifestyle in which the value of minimalism reigns as our financial pot grows. Because there is one thing I do know for sure: a room full of stuff isn't going to make you happy. You cannot buy away the blues or overly-decorate away dissatisfaction. Competing with the Joneses isn't going to increase your self worth. Now, how do I translate that into five-year old speak??? If only he could read; I'd make him read this article. Maybe as a bedtime story.
If you struggle with the game of stuff in your home as well, please use the comment space below to share how you keep the gimmes at bay.
Yours in Thoughtful Parenting and Purchasing,
In the fast paced, eager to be heard world in which we live, it can be so easy to be present without truly connecting to our surroundings and those around us. Technology. Texting. Tweeting. Posting. Agendas. Stress. Noise. Wanting to be heard. All of these things can get in the way of listening to our environment, and to what those around us have to say.
I recall an assignment given my first year in acting school. We were told to take 10 minutes each evening to sit and listen. Just tune into our space, and to record in a journal what we heard. We also had many, many exercises intended to develop our ability to hear our acting partners, and to listen to the subtle cues given to us on stage. My listening assignments became my favorite 10 minutes of the day, and for a while, I found myself listening to others in a different way, really wanting to tune in to what they were saying.
Another time my attention was brought to the importance of listening was at a seminar I was attending that discussed a concept of listening through filters, or the idea of "already always listening." Meaning that, as people with histories, we listen to people and interpret what they are saying through previous experiences. I will never forget a story a woman told about her Sundays spent with her mother. The story goes likes this: Every Sunday, this woman, (whom we shall call Kay) went to visit her mother. Kay's Sundays with Mom always ended in a fight, and so each Sunday, as she dutifully drove to her mother's home, her stomach would tie into knots. The scenario usually went like this: Kay walked to the house, greeted her mother, and then the trouble began.
Ma: Oh, Kay. Whatta' ya wearin' that for?
Kay: (Hearing criticism) Ma, why do you always have to be so hard on me?
Ma: Whatta' ya talkin about? Why can't I ever even talk to you without it being an issue?
Kay then held a grudge all day long and bickered with her mother until she left, or on especially tense days, Kay stormed out of the house and held a grudge until the next Sunday, when it all happened again. Kay was already always listening in a way that interpreted her mother's words as criticism. Made aware of this habit, Kay decided to listen, and ask questions. On the next Sunday, when Ma asked her why she was wearing what she was wearing, Kay asked:
Kay: Ma, why do you always have to ask me why I am wearing what I am wearing when I visit you?
Ma: Because you always look so dressed up and nice, and I am just your Ma! I want to know why you get so dressed up for me!
This simple moment changed the dynamics of those Sunday visits. By simply receiving and then asking, Kay and Ma connected in a deeper way. Because Kay was willing to challenge her filter, their connection became anchored in the NOW, and not in the past.
As of late, I have been struggling with the concept of being present where I am, and not thinking to the future so much. (both immediate and long term...) I've been looking for ways to anchor me to the NOW. After listening to Julian Treasure's talk, I realize that focussing more on listening may help me with this pursuit. On reflection, I realize that, as of late, I probably haven't been listening to those around me so well. A busy schedule, long to-do list, endless multi-tasking, and constantly trying to stay connected with others far away may contribute to my not staying connected to the now, to those in my immediate proximity. There is also the maybe-not-so-great-habit of thinking of how to respond while someone is talking that gets in the way of hearing what they have to say. Interesting that a habit created out of the hopes of deepening a connection may actually get in the way of truly connecting!
RASA, simple, easy, and worth the effort if, as Julian Treasure says, it will lead to connection, understanding, and peace.
Erin Michelle Threlfall
Theatre Artist, Activist, and Educator, Erin is the mother of a budding genius in his 7th year of study. Erin and her little man, Edem, have a plan to investigate world theatre and influence education one continent at a time. Ghana, South Korea, Togo and Bali have been checked off the list of places to live; these days they call Brooklyn home.