Cara's Reviews > The Simple Guide To A Minimalist Life

The Simple Guide To A Minimalist Life by Leo Babauta
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Oct 07, 10

bookshelves: life, inspiration, minimalism
Read from October 06 to 07, 2010

Leo Babauta is one of my favorite minimalists. He's so practical and unassuming.

This book gets the basics of his message all down in one place. It covers how to simplify each area of your life, starting with why, and then giving what steps to take. It's very concrete and helpful.

I love the minimalist principles: realizing you have more than enough, eliminating the excess, being content with what you have, and refraining from acquiring more. I wouldn't say I live them enough to be a true minimalist; I guess I'm just a "lessist" or a "fit-ist"--I still have more than the bare minimum of necessary things, but I've eliminated things to a level that works for me. Everything fits and looks tidy in my house. It's easy to maintain and restful to look at. I think that's little enough.

In the chapters on decluttering your house, I discovered that Leo takes basically the same approach I do: start with something you can do pretty easily and keep spreading your efforts throughout the house as the momentum builds. That pleased me.

He also had some very good ideas for a more peaceful setup on the computer: eliminating all icons from the desktop, hiding the dock most of the time, and using a program called Quicksilver to open applications using hotkeys. He also recommends a word processor called WriteRoom that takes up the full screen and doesn't do anything but allow you to enter text, green on black, old school style. I can see where these things could be helpful if you're easily distracted, but the dock and the toolbars in a regular word processor really disappear into the background for me. I should probably try these suggestions anyway, though--I always thought people were being silly suggesting that blog posts be composed in a word processor instead of a post window on the blogging site, and they've turned out to be right about that.

He also recommends ditching paper altogether and storing nearly everything online. He doesn't even keep his archives sorted, just uses search when he wants to find something. I don't like these ideas, but obviously they work for him. It just seems like he gets a little carried away. Get absolutely everything off your desk! No drawers! No inboxes! No knick-knacks! No pens! I'm glad that works for him, but I need to be able to jot a note to myself, and it's a lot quicker if I can grab a pen in reach, write it down, and go back to what I'm doing. And no, doing it in some sticky note program on the computer is not just as good.

He goes on to give the usual suggestions about travel (pack less stuff, duh) and appearance (keep fewer clothes that all go together and put less gunk on your hair and face). Same with eating: eat less. Stop eating when you're 80% full, which is probably good advice. Cook at home, clearly good advice. Eat less processed foods... although he gives examples including soup based on vegetable bullion, because that's soooo natural. I have never understood people who go to the trouble of making their own soup yet base it on a bunch of factory-made artificial flavors from New Jersey. Then, he goes on to preach veganism, ending with this patronizing conclusion: "Being a vegan is actually just as liberating as being a minimalist, because you realize that before becoming vegan, you were tied to meat and other animal products almost involuntarily, because of advertising and a culture of excess." Sorry, Leo, you just lost me. I have refrained from eating any animal products for periods of time in the past, and it was neither liberating nor healthy for me. I don't eat meat because I'm brainwashed and ignorant, I eat meat because I feel like shit when I don't. And although you could argue that it's not completely necessary, I could survive without it, so I should cut it out, I think that is completely stupid. Yes, people in the third world do without, but that's only because they don't have any choice! To have the opportunity to enjoy better conditions and pass it up just because it's not the absolute worst you could survive seems wasteful and wrong-headed to me.

Then he goes into the usual obvious advice about exercising and finances: get moving, even if it's just a 20 minute walk a few times a week; don't buy stuff; pay off your debt; set up an emergency fund; etc. Not new, but good advice.

Overall, this is a good basic book on minimalism. I guess the point at which Leo and I diverge is that I'm not convinced that the best way is to get rid of everything that's not necessary. Yes, I could live with only one or two pairs of underwear (or none), but then I'd have to do laundry much more often. Yes, I could eliminate everything in my kitchen but one pot, one spatula, and one knife and eat everything with my fingers and have to do the dishes every time I want to make another meal, but if I can own three cutting boards, five spatulas, a whole bunch of plates and silverware, and a dishwasher, and spend more of my life doing stuff other than washing the same three things over and over, the choice seems obvious to me. I agree 100% that it's way better to have a streamlined collection of stuff than to have a bunch of clutter. I just think there's a point between getting rid of everything that's not necessary, and having heaps of junk and clutter everywhere. It's the point where everything looks good and fits nicely with a little room to spare. To me, that is the ideal point, not the absolute minimum. But, to each his own.
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