Minimalist is Not Trendy But Timeless, and We are Puppets on the show of Consumerism

- I’m trying out this trend of being a minimalist!

A friend shared with me over coffee, enthusiasm in her voice.

- I have practiced it for a while.

I replied.

I started reading about living minimally in July 2014. Ironically because I was on the verge of compulsive shopping disorder. And the awareness I have gained has been life changing, not only in curing my shopping disorder, but also in opening a noble path to a fuller life. Contrary to common misconception among young people there is no “trend” in living minimally. In fact, this very perception can obscure the journey to minimalism. 

Let’s trace the root of the “minimalist” notion. The word “minimalist” was invented in 1960, primarily refers to someone practices Minimalism – a visual art and music style that uses pared-down design elements. By early 20th century, this word extends its meaning to a person who follows a minimal, simplified, low-consumption way of living – Simple Living. This includes reducing one’s unnecessary possessions, increasing self-sufficiency, streamline habitual “processes” and so on. Simple Living is distinct from living in forced poverty, as it is a personal lifestyle choice.


Simple Living has been around since antiquity. Various religions and spiritual traditions encourage this practice: Buddha, Jesus, Zarathustra, Laozi, Confucius, Diogenes of Sinope themselves lived a simple life. Many iconic figures and great minds in our history adhered to Simple Living such as St. Francis of Assisi, Ammon Hennacy, Leo Tolstoy, Rabindranath Tagore, Albert Schweitzer, Mohandas Gandhi, and the list goes on.

Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy, one of the world’s most radical social and political thinkers, found in spiritual and simple living the antidote for his lifelong torment and addiction to the questions of the meaning of life. Later in his life, Tolstoy gave up drinking and smoking, and became a vegetarian. He inspired the creation of utopian communities for simple living, which was later spread around the world and lead Gandhi to found an ashram in 1910 named the Tolstoy Farm.

A number of political leaders besides Gandhi also walked the path of simplicity. I recall my own experience visiting the house of President Ho Chi Minh – the father of the Vietnam Revolution – during elementary school. As I walked through the grand granite walls of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, I saw a humble wooden stilt-house besides a fish pond. Inside, there were a working table, few plain furniture, a pair of “tire rubber” sandals that he used everywhere – so much for a President’s life! My country’s greatest figure in the history and for centuries to come, who is called affectionately by all Vietnamese “Uncle Ho” was – well, before it was cool – a “minimalist”. 


I regard Simple Living as a principle and a virtue, like Honesty. “Trend” implies something followed by the human herds and has a short life, like high waisted shorts.

Buddha lived it. Religious teachings mentioned it. Outstanding figures praised it. Yet after centuries we gave it a cool name and follow it as a trend. Yet the Vietnam news often featured cases such as a working-class mother buying an IPhone at the cost of 5 times her monthly salary! Yet a ridiculous and severe personality disorder called Compulsive Buying Disorder (CBD) was born, destroying hundreds of millions of people – men and women equally – health, happiness and relationships, and compel them to commit crime everyday. Yet recent research studies in Canada, Mexico, Brazil and most countries of western Europe, Israel, Australia, South Korea, and now even China, suggest that over shopping demographic widens almost daily.

What went wrong ? Some inconvenient hiccups along the course of history? Well, rather a volcano eruption in the process of civilization.



In To Buy or Not To Buy, one of the best self-help books and superb read on the topic of Compulsive Buying Disorder, April Lane Benson turns the spotlight on consumerism:

quotation markIn more and more part of the world, economic growth is dependent upon selling foods to populations whose basic needs have already been met. To promote that goal – to cultivate in the general public the desire for goods they don’t need – a formidable array of resources has been mounted. Advertising and the media shape our material desires, and the credit industry makes these desires seem tantalizingly affordable ...

He goes on telling raw truth about frightening consequence of this brainwashing process:  

quotation markEveryone of us is targeted as a consumer. We are pushed, prodded, programmed to purchase … Shopping itself has become a leisure and lifestyle activity; malls are the new town centers. We’re immersed, cradle to grave, in buy-messages that, with greater and greater psychological sophistication, misleadingly associate products we don’t need with feeling-states we deeply desire.

My brain synapses connected as I read this passage one morning 4 months ago in a café in Bonn, Germany. I’d trolled around shopping malls many weekends. I’d been obsessed over a new pair of jeans despite my full closet. I’d bought unnecessary and expensive things while being in debt just for the thrill of the cash register. Not only money, I’d wasted precious energy and hundreds of shopping hours  – once I spent 6 hours straight on a Saturday – which could be used on a good read, a blog post, a conversation with family or friends.

I was startled by the glaring truth: I was a puppet on the show of consumerism.

Quill small

Minimalist Monday features weekly articles on the topic of Simple Living, which offers help to those who are also walking the path to a more simple, fuller life.

Minimalist Monday:

- Minimalist is Not Trendy But Timeless, and We are Puppets on the show of Consumerism

- Minimalist Mindset 1: Enjoyment and Development are Earned, Not Bought

- Minimalist Mindset 2: When Net worth becomes Self Worth, Our Freedom Clutches its Throat 

To be continued on Monday, 3 Nov 2014: Minimalist Paradigm Shift 1: Enjoyment and Development are Earned, not Bought

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