embracing minimalism

"We are happy in proportion to the things we can do without.”

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler."

– Henry David Thoreau


Not long ago, I was at a friend's house when the entire area lost all power. It was late and pretty close to the New Moon, which meant complete darkness throughout the house and neighborhood. We scavenged for candles and matches in the dark, which was challenging, especially for me, since I wasn't familiar in my surroundings.

It's good to have periodic reminders of how reliant we've become on electricity.  I re-watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid awhile back and found it interesting to imagine what it would have been like to be truly remote out in the wilderness, in the dark, during the period of time before we relied on electric light.  It's one thing to see it and imagine it in the movies, but it's so very rare to truly experience unaided darkness.  Even when I go camping, there are fires, propane lamps, and any number of non-natural light sources.  I took a walk with the kids up to an observatory above Henry Cowell State Park at night and turned off the flashlight while we were walking, to experience darkness by the light of the moon (they didn't like it, of course, and asked me to turn it back on!)

I still remember when I was a kid, on Boy Scout hikes up in the Desolation Wilderness near Tahoe, or even at slumber parties with friends, sleeping under the stars and looking up at the disk shape of the Milky Way. I can't see it at night anymore - at least not from my city.

Check out this photo of our globe at night, for a bit of perspective on this: GLOBE at Night.


There's something about our collective avoidance of quietness that tells us something about our culture. It's not okay to listen to nothing, is it? My teenage daughter has to have music on constantly, just as I did when I was her age. She's in a different place in her life than I am. I'll sometimes drive by one of those "cars that go boom!" and my initial reaction is "how does your brain work with all that racket going on?" But then I realize I have so much going on in my world, silence is calming and peaceful to me. You don't want to have a bunch of noise when your life is all about noise and obligations and constant sensory assaults. At her age, the music is moving, and emotional, and it helps you focus your feelings, and that becomes calming.

I don't think there are many people who want silence all the time, or even for that long of a period time. We just need to be OKAY with silence, with there being no auditory cacophony rattling our brains and interrupting our ability to get back in touch with who we are, what we feel and think.  And listen to the symphony we create within ourselves.


We've built an entire world of finance, business, commerce, etc. on the sandy foundation of computer technology. We create and save vast amounts of pivotally important data on electronic media. We back it up on highly-reliant technology, ensure there are backups in different forms of media in different geographic locations. And yet, ultimately, it's all reliant on electric energy. It's sort of a facade, when you think about it - reminds me of the "other" world the main character in the first Matrix movie uncovers. All is not what it seems.

I was reading an article recently that spoke of this false sense of security we've created for ourselves with all of our electronic storage of information. In previous generations, they kept paper documentation of the truly important issues, memories, etc. I've converted to digital photography, and have hundreds more pictures than I used to of all of our vacations - and yet, I'm triple backed-up because of the fear one of my electronic storage devices will suddenly implode and my cherished memories will vanish into the ether!

The term "minimalist" applies to anything which is spare or stripped to its bare essentials. You find the term usually applied to forms of art, music and design. I'm not advocating getting rid of our increasingly complex infrastructure; I'm on the computer typing this! We have the most accomplished, successful culture in the history of this planet, with the greatest opportunity for security, happiness, success and personal fulfillment ever. I have no desire to go the way of the Unibomber and live in some obscure, tiny, smelly, insect-infested cabin. Interestingly, I remember 95-year-old Norman Vincent Peale writing that he felt the greatest invention of the 20th century was air conditioning - I can hardly fathom, living in California, not having AC and having to instead layer my clothing to stifle the stench of body odor!

paying attention

I just think it makes sense to periodically touch bases with the fundamental sensory inputs that connect us to our world. Stick our toes in the sand. Listen to the swaying of trees in the early evening. Step outside in the crispness of early early morning and feel the 3:30am night air on our cheeks, and be able to feel at home and comfortable in the lonely knowledge of self, while everyone in our hemisphere is sound asleep.

It's strange, when you think about it, how seldom we are truly alone. Try this, if you haven't already: Go find a place to sit and have your lunch - other than your home - where you could sit and know no one else will pass by you for 30 minutes or more. Sounds easy, but unless you live in a very rural area, it's extremely hard. People are everywhere; it's hard to get lost!

There's a peace and a knowing comfort in keeping things simpler, or at least knowing who and where you are in relation to the (figurative) ground, so you can stop and feel the soil whenever you need to. I fear too many of us are starting to forget that.

And don't forget the matches.

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Comments 20 comments

SiddSingh profile image

SiddSingh 7 years ago

Hi Gerg,

Another fascinating hub from you! I guess you are right that we have become heavily dependent on technology. That technology is itself susceptible to occasional failure, often with disastrous consequences for us. For all the technology we have, nature often reminds us who is actually in control.

Yet, can we really move towards minimalism? The 'Matrix' scenario is truly daunting!

pgrundy 7 years ago

Great hub. I love silence. I find it energizing. Sometimes I think of the media as pollutants in that too much and I actually begin to feel unwell.

Gerg profile image

Gerg 7 years ago from California Author

Sidd - thank you so much. These are just streams of consciousness from me, and I usually use this as a way to sort through feelings I can't process without writing them down, so like with this one, I don't have a solution. I know I need to get better at letting go and by association, I assume many others do as well. I love my technology, and I think I'd be bored to tears living with the Ingalls at Little House on the Prairie, but I do think it bares reflection: what is really going on here? We can all feel it, and sense something's spinning out of control, right? That's why in the end I just come back to paying attention and working to find that peace within myself.

pgrundy - thank you also for your comment. Isn't that true? Sometimes I just feel off, and have to step back and figure out what's causing it. Silence is very often the culprit, and while I don't like to "blame" the media, I have to remember I get to chose whether to watch or read it!

Midtown Girl profile image

Midtown Girl 7 years ago from Right where I want to be!

Minimalism is truly a great concept.  So is taking a break from technology to reconnect ourselves with the universe, and learning to enjoy not only silence, but solitude.  We are over stimulated and over connected in our culture.  An occasional pause from it all keeps us centered.

A professional organizer I know has many thoughts which support the topics of which you write.  When she is finished with a job, she leaves helpful information with her clients to help them maintained their new space or system.  On one of the documents it reads:

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”         - William Morris

It would be difficult for any of us to completely eliminate all technology from our lives.  But in our homes we have more choices.  We can eliminate much of the clutter, noise and distractions, creating a safe haven in our personal space to rest, rejuvenate, and therefore, find peace. 

Then we are better able to return to our sensory overloaded world each day.  It’s called balance.

Gerg profile image

Gerg 7 years ago from California Author

Thanks Midtown Girl for your thoughts. I would certainly love to have the services of a professional organizer in my life! ;-) I think the notion of having a professional organizer is a wonderfully useful part of an overall life improvement plan - and its need in our culture speaks to this collective (pun intended) problem of overstimulation and overcommitments.

And, I think it's about time for me to start tackling that garage!

DoItForHer 5 years ago

If I didn't have my daughter's stuff, I could almost fit all of my stuff in the back of an 8 foot pickup bed. It's really nice not to have a lot of stuff. And I found out that I'm just as happy not having a ton of stuff that I never use.

In ways it is better. If someone breaks in my place, there is little of value to steal, so I leave my door unlocked most of the time. It's nice not to have to protect a bunch of valuable stuff at all times.

Gerg profile image

Gerg 5 years ago from California Author

Interesting DIFH. I find those tiny little space displays in IKEA to be fascinating. I also found some houses for one while doing some research a while back.

I admire someone who can truly find peace and sustenance in less. It's one thing to preach it,another to live it. Kudos!

DoItForHer 5 years ago

I've noticed that we want bigger and bigger, more and more. Look at the Toyota compact truck from the 80's and compare that to the 'compact' truck of today. It is nowhere near compact, but more midsize. Is a truly compact truck even made in the U.S.?

Mobile homes are getting bigger, too. I went to a mobile home place and the smallest one in stock was 14 feet wide and 80 feet long with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. They make them smaller, but they are a special order.

I'm probably a hypocrite, though. I live modestly partly out of practicality; would I be so different if I were rich?

Gerg profile image

Gerg 5 years ago from California Author

DIFH: Not sure if you saw it, but I write an article on the topic of Bigger: http://hubpages.com/politics/Bigger

Also, on the tiny house discussion: http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/ and http://www.tinyhousedesign.com/2009/02/06/one-man-...

How do those compare to yours?

DoItForHer 5 years ago

I recently broke up with the girlfriend and left her the house. I am now renting a one bedroom apartment. It is about 400 square feet and is fine. I wish the bedroom was smaller making the living room bigger. (I like to play around with the dog in the house.) Would prefer 700 feet or so. A small storage shed would be nice; it is a bit cluttered.

Most of the tiny houses are a bit too tiny for me; I'm not that dedicated. 2000 square feet would be way too big. 1000 would not be too big, though.

Gerg profile image

Gerg 5 years ago from California Author

I think the Tiny House concept would only work in a really nice weathered climate, and for someone who only wants to sleep there. Reminds me of a friend who lived on a boat in a marina for eight years. Apparently, all the boat owners would meet up and share meals together most nights - the smallness forces a sense of community.

DoItForHer 5 years ago

"The smallness forces a sense of community." Hmmm. That is interesting. If you did a Hub about that, I would love to read it.

klarawieck 4 years ago

This is one of my favorite themes ever, but as a response I'd rather share this video with you. This is American composer John Cage, talking about silence. Once you finish watching it, I recommend you watch a performance of his composition 4'33". Tell me what you think later. ;)

klarawieck 4 years ago

Oops... a "musical" lapse. Here's the link:


CriticalMessage profile image

CriticalMessage 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

Since I started living with a 'Minimalistic' approach almost 10yrs ago ? , I have benefited from getting so much more out of life with a whole lot less. And I can breath while doing it... ~smiles~

Gerg profile image

Gerg 4 years ago from California Author

Klara - interestingly, a book I ordered the same time as the Weiss book is "Listening Below the Noise", which has a feel similar to Gift from the Sea. Re: Cage, I think I may have heard this piece somewhere before... ;-)

CriticalMessage - that's outstanding. It can seem hard at first, before realizing we're struggling against nothing. Kudos to you.


klarawieck 4 years ago

Listening Below the Noise... hmmm... sounds interesting. Who's the author?

A fellow UM student performed 4'33" as part of her Master's piano recital. Being that we both studied under the same piano teacher (a very moody 80 yr old woman) and we tried to support each other, we all attended her concert. Our teacher was sitting in the front row with her husband, ten years her senior and hard of hearing. He had taken the video camera to film the performance, and when my friend came out BAREFOOT on the stage, sat her watch on the piano stand, and watched the clock without moving a single muscle, he began to yell, "What kind of nonsense is this?! What the heck is she doing?!" Meanwhile, his wife was screaming at him telling him to be quiet. The performer's cheeks were red at first, then turned purple as she was trying not to laugh, and all you could hear aside from the elderly couple arguing and complaining, were our giggles and strange muted bursts of laughter. We got together the day after the concert and watched the video - HILARIOUS!!!!

Gerg profile image

Gerg 4 years ago from California Author

That IS funny. The author is Anne LeClaire. She apparently devotes two days a month to absolute silence. Not sure I'm there yet, but its an interesting concept. I practice silence quite a lot, actually - I almost never have any noise on in the car while I drive; my kids get in and crank up the music, and as soon as they're out of the car, back to silence!

klarawieck 4 years ago

I knew a teacher who tried the two days a month of absolute silence. She got fired after taping her students' mouths. :D

Gerg profile image

Gerg 4 years ago from California Author

Nice! ;-)

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