On an evening in July 2014, along with my brother and another hundred perspiring attendees, I crowded into one of the few remaining indie bookstores in my hometown. We weren’t there for a rock star novelist, I’m sorry to say, but rather for two non-fiction writers. I’d been reading their blog for a few months and their message was already having a positive impact on my writing (and larger life). I was eager for an in-person reinforcement.
Have you heard of Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, aka The Minimalists? They are two contemporary leaders in the — surprise! — minimalist movement.
To be clear, I’m not speaking of minimalist literature, which is a form of stripped-down prose made popular by authors such as Hemingway and Raymond Carver, but rather a lifestyle in which one aims for a mindful pattern of consumption so that you’re not trading valuable time and energy for possessions you don’t prize.
Nor am I claiming to be a poster child for the minimalist movement. (As if.) But I was and remain at a point in my life where the message was welcome and necessary if I was to keep on writing fiction.
How can minimalism help in the writing life?
1. It can help recover writing time.
I live in an aging, middle class neighborhood and my cul de sac contains ten homes, housing approximately twenty-three people. We weathered a winter storm two weeks ago, yet if I stand at my front window, I can count eleven cars which have yet to be cleared of snow. That’s eleven vehicles which have been superfluous for fourteen days, and which weren’t protected from the elements because their logical homes — the double garages abutting each house — are stuffed with boxes of surplus possessions. (Only two of the ten homes in our neighborhood can park vehicles in their garage.)
I’m not judging my neighbors. They are kind, mature adults who have the right to make their own financial decisions and bear the results.
Also, I’ve participated in the same pattern of over-acquisition. My present weakness is books and kitchen supplies, and in a past, dramatic example, we over-consumed with the travel-trailer which nearly killed us.
But I’m sure you can appreciate that each vehicle represents a huge investment: time spent to earn the money so they could spend time to shop for the car, so they could spend time on its maintenance and cleaning. When a vehicle outlives its use, they’ll spend time to dispose of it properly.
Minimalism simply invites us to recover our time by eliminating unnecessary purchases upfront or, once we’ve acquired objects, to pare them down to what we truly need and mindfully desire, thereby reducing the time we waste on the latter part of the consumption cycle.
Personally, it’s a message I need to hear repeated at this time of year as we make decisions about gift-giving and receiving. Rather than saddling our family with time-stealing objects, we’re aiming to give them experiences, such as attending a movie or play together.
2. It can help recover writing energy:
Once I adopted a sparer aesthetic, I discovered an interesting thing: more willpower to begin writing, which is at least 60% of my internal battle. According to this article, I’m not unusual. (There are other simple measures to boost willpower, meaning that the same things which help you write will help you stay slimmer over the holidays.)