Minimalize this, or don’t

McMurray Musings Connects

By THERESA WELLS, Connect Columnist

One of my great pleasures, and an annual event I eagerly anticipate in this community, is the Fort McMurray International Film Festival. The opportunity to see short film submissions from around the world, along with longer-length features, is one I cannot miss, and this year I was intrigued by one documentary film in particular that focused on something called “minimalism”.

You may have heard of minimalism before, as the concept is currently sweeping North America. The typical narrative seems to be a successful person (often young) earning a good income (often referred to as “over six figures”) suddenly has an epiphany and decides that they are drowning in their material possessions.

You may have heard of minimalism before, as the concept is currently sweeping North America. The typical narrative seems to be a successful person (often young) earning a good income (often referred to as “over six figures”) suddenly has an epiphany and decides that they are drowning in their material possessions.

In an attempt to achieve happiness they divest themselves of their material goods, selling and/or giving away most of their “things” to live a simpler, cleaner lifestyle. They have become “minimalists”, focusing on only a few possessions that have “meaning”. Right now the minimalist lifestyle is receiving maximum attention, and I find the whole thing fascinating, a bit puzzling and, if I am very honest, rather annoying.

It would seem I was at the forefront of the minimalist movement way back in the late 80’s when I lived in a studio apartment just off Queen Street West in Toronto (long before that area of “the Big Smoke” became gentrified as it is now, and where I once witnessed a stabbing while at the local Laundromat folding my towels).

After all, my roommates and I stored our clothing in plastic milk delivery crates we “borrowed” from the corner store, our stove was so old that when we bought it second-hand we found several mummified mice inside it, and our fridge would only stay shut with the assistance of strips of Velcro.

Our table was a sheet of plywood on cement blocks, and we sat on the floor (until we bought some hideous plastic lawn chairs). We had very few possessions, and what we had was precious to us indeed – except we didn’t refer to this lifestyle as “minimalist”. We were just poor.

The entire concept of minimalism seems centred around people who have perhaps never experienced “poverty induced minimalism”, where you don’t have things not because you have chosen to not have them or have given them away, but because you simply cannot afford them. The images of young, likely middle-class raised, well educated, financially successful young adults espousing the “minimalist lifestyle” amuses me to some degree as minimalism for most of the world is not a choice, but the only reality.

Then too I find the entire concept of minimalists who travel North America hawking hardcover books on their minimalist journey and lifestyle deeply ironic, as those books are going to simply add to the clutter in someone’s home, and I doubt the authors hope the readers will share the book as to do so would reduce their income and profits. The act of selling a “thing” to tell people how to not to surround themselves with “things” may well be one of the most entertaining and baffling behaviours I have seen in recent years.

However, it was the minimalist who shared his belief that minimalists have a responsibility to tell others of their lifestyle choice – to help them see what really matters and what is truly important – is what got me annoyed. You see, there is a lifestyle choice one makes that affects their own life and theirs alone, and then there is an evangelical approach to a lifestyle choice, in which you decide not only must you follow this lifestyle but so must everyone else.

I am not a minimalist and will likely never embrace the lifestyle, but then again I have no plans to convert anyone to a more consumerist way of life, either.

I am not a minimalist and will likely never embrace the lifestyle, but then again I have no plans to convert anyone to a more consumerist way of life, either. To imply that any one person has the inside track on what really matters or is important in our lives kind of ignores that our lives are not all the same, and each and every single one of us has different priorities and different views of what really matters – and we are entitled to them.

The documentary screened at the film festival, entitled “Minimalism: A Documentary”, is most certainly worth viewing should you have the opportunity as it is an excellent depiction of a very real movement that is taking place right now, and one that likely says a great deal about the nature of our society and our troubled relationship with our material possessions. For some it may well be the epiphany for which they have been searching, while for others, like me, it may simply be an interesting exercise in trying to comprehend the complexity of human behaviour.

– Connect Weekly –