Sometimes a zeitgeist is at work (a movement of the age) and I don't even notice. Actually, this happens a lot. It happens a lot because I've turned into that parental dottering type, wherein I remind myself as my mother and think that the music I grew up with is still "cool." Though even when it was cool, my age group's music sucked. Backstreet Boys anyone?
Anyhow, minimalism is one of those movements. Apparently all over this fine land, people are sitting about counting the number of things they own and trying to get under a hundred. By doing this, people in the third world will have bread to eat. Vegan bread. Or something.
A fun game can be had examining just what these lists exclude: most have no mention of cleaning supplies (12 bottles Dawn detergent, 2 boxes borax, 1 half-full jug vinegar, 1 large bottle bleach, 3 boxes baking soda, 1 box washing soda, 2 boxes cascade powdered dish detergent, 1 tin powdered alum, 2 bottles ammonia, 12 bars Ivory soap, 2 bars sunlight soap, rags, kitchen clothes, flannels, old diapers). They often include a brush, but few other personal hygiene items. They don't include cooking utensils. They don't include food items. Basically, the you can be minimalist as long as your possessions are not in the form of books (you should use a Kindle!), CDs (keep them on your hard drive!), clothes (you can have some, but not more than about 50 pieces, so try to keep your activities limited to things you can wear sweatpants to), or cars (strictly verboten, and we should all live in NYC).
Mr. Bogue, an early adopter and chronic self-absorbed jerk who blogs at Beyond the Stars, sums up the movement he helped midwife thusly:
"Minimalism can be reduced to a simple sentence:
"When you throw out all of you stuff, you free yourself to do anything.""
What a fascinating idea! Let's see how that would work.
If I threw out all my stuff, my baby would have no diapers, and he would pee on the floor. And I would have no rag to wipe it up.
(brief break as I realise baby actually has removed said diaper. Okay, back now.)
Therein lies the heart of the matter. Because what prevents me from being able to do anything is not my stuff. What prevents me from doing anything are my obligations, which are not to stuff but rather to people. I have three small children and a husband. I have a disabled mother and an aging father-in-law, a widow and a widower. I have a brother. I have a synagogue full of people. It isn't my three identical cast iron skillets nor my stockpiled bottles of Dawn that are keeping me from running off to Indonesia today. It's the people I need to cook dinner for and the dishes that need to be cleaned that are.
What Mr. Bogue actually describes is an extreme form of selfishness. He needs nothing because he does nothing for anyone, except that which he wants to do. Hardly an innovative way of life for someone in his mid-twenties (as I am), but hardly something to emulate either.
Most strikingly, I would not want to empty it because to me, his life seems empty not only of things but of purpose. My obligations shape and give meaning to my life. The objects of my life make me happy (in a general sense -- not every minute) because I enjoy fulfilling most of my obligations, and I enjoy the tools I use to do it. They remind me of my purpose. This life, domestic in the broad sense and not unusual, is meaningful and purposeful and fulfilling for much of the world. That seems to be something beyond Mr. Bogue and his ilk's comprehension.