(Archive) Things Won't Make You Happy


So I'm big on minimalism— I know it's kind of a meme on the internet. I think there's a lot more to it than black clothing and Instagram photos of empty rooms. Minimalism is the radical response to the rampant consumerism encouraged by corporations, and a rejection of the idea that the set of objects you have is in bijection with how happy you are. To be a minimalist is to embrace boredom and shun consumption.

For most people, minimalism starts with humble beginnings, thoughts like "My desk is too messy!", "Why is my closet always full? I never wear 80% of these clothes", and "I would follow my dream and move to X city, but I have so much stuff and moving it all is going to be a huge pain." (I never struggle with these things: it takes about 30 minutes to load everything I own into a car, with plenty of room to spare). The reason why is simple, every object you own takes up mental space in your brain, like a tenant that doesn't pay rent but nags at you all the time. Every time you walk through a cluttered house, each unused object is reminding you of the fact that you paid money for it to sit there and do nothing. This mental fatigue adds up over the hundreds and thousands of times you notice a useless thing[1].

Another example of what brings someone to minimalism is social media. Companies like Facebook and Google are employing tons and tons of techniques to ensure that all you care about is the next hit of dopamine. For example, for the average city dweller, the last time they immediately started the day by checking their notifications for 10 minutes (or hours) and spent the last hour before sleeping in bed on their phone was probably not too long ago. In a sense, sleep is the intermediary for the phone, always looking for the next "thing" or the "things" they missed (of course, in reality they are never missing out on anything that will significantly impact their life positively, on the contrary, they are missing out by using their phones). This is not their fault. Once again, this is not their fault. Billions of dollars have been invested to have engineers make this outcome inevitable, to turn our society into mindless zombies waiting for the next "thing" to happen, whether it be a like on their posts, a new message from somebody, or simply just new content to be consumed in an infinite scrolling feed [2].

Finally, the American Dream. This is the epitome of destructive consumerism: that the ultimate goal in life is to buy cool stuff, a fancy car, a nice house. Then you'll finally be happy and free. After the idea of always wanting more stuff was ingrained by our society, after you get this one thing you'll finally be satisfied, I swear. Why are the jobs we deem successful (CEO's, Businessmen, Financial Analysts, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, etc) all based off stepping on others to increase their ranking in the well-ordering of the set of human beings by net worth? These people who manage corporations propagate and shove consumerism down our throats, for example, brand loyalty. Why would anyone identify themselves with Large Corporation No. 7 because they make cooler stuff than Large Corporation No. 16? (Eg: Apple phones, Branded clothing, Cars). It's because these people have normalized it, for the purpose of also owning more things (money).

These examples gives to a radical reaction that embodies itself in the movement known as minimalism. What's the solution to always being bombarded by notifications and group chats messages? Delete social media. What about my old books that I will never read again but like having on my shelf to show people I'm cultured? Recycle them or donate them (I like giving out old books I've read to friends). The answer to always being told that things are important and life is all about things is to reject things altogether.

How to do this is by radically reducing the amount of "things" you own down to the bare essentials, as a form of rebellion. But honestly, the inconvenience this causes is minimal. For example, not having a browser on my phone has only caused me trouble when I wanted to nagivate somewhere. Throwing away people's well intended presents has strained no relationships. Sentimental items only weigh in on the mental fatigue (as seen in the second paragraph), and only owning 4 T-shirts just means I have to do the laundry twice a week. This shows that minimalists aren't just insane ascetics who hate pleasure, it's just about being intentional about where it comes from. However you will be bored: this is normal, boredom is a sign of mental growth. Without boredom and solitude, there is no outlet for the brain to produce meaningful work (what if Dali spent all day scrolling through Instagram instead of heading the Surrealist movement?) Don't worry about missing out, because to be honest, the next new thing quite frankly is useless and won't make you happy.

References/Further Reading:
1: To read more, check out Fumio Sasaki's Goodbye, Things.
2: Also check out Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism.