Seth Barham Design
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Spartan Wanderer

Ramblings from the road, gear reviews, design trends, and whatever else happens to be on my mind.

Dogmatic vs. Practical Minimalism

I'm a minimalist. I feel kind of pretentious just saying it. That's not without cause. Today's minimalist movement really picked up speed right around the 2008 financial crisis, which isn't too surprising. Several great bloggers like Leo BabautaColin Wright and Joshua Becker emerged to give people what they so desired - a way to scale back their lives, simplify and consume less. Unfortunately, some real douche-nozzles also emerged on some ends of the minimalist movement's spectrum. I'm not in the business of outing people, but this entire post is dedicated to making their bullshit easier to identify.

What the hell is minimalism?

If you're late to the party, minimalism is basically a lifestyle philosophy that places experiences and well-being above material things. As a minimalist myself, I aim to simplify every aspect of my life, from my closet to how many obligations I decide to take on, and even how many relationships I maintain at a time. Streamline life, maintain a low impact on the world around you and improve yourself physically and mentally. Own only what you need to own, and make sure it is high-quality so you're not constantly spending money to replace cheap things (which also become refuse and pollute the earth). These are the tenets that I live by, and they have had a direct impact on making my mobile lifestyle more attainable. I usually write about all of this stuff, but China has been in the limelight more recently because...well, because China.

Dogmatic Minimalism

The thing about minimalism is that it can be an easy or dramatic lifestyle change depending on who you are. It's something that everyone needs to take on at their own pace. But not if you want to be as cool as the guys who maintain that you MUST have less than 100 things (or 50, I forget the arbitrary number they use) to possess any sort of minimalist "cred". I don't like this and it completely misses the mark of what minimalism is all about, nor is it realistic to expect everyone from all walks of life to arrive at the same point in their transition to a simple life.

Dogmatic minimalists love using rhetoric like "throw your TV out the window" and "burn all of your stuff" to establish some sort of ultimatum. If you don't meet it, then you are not as holy as they are. That's why I apply "dogmatic" to these guys. They've basically started their own religion. Some of them drink their own Kool-aid, but others are simply pushing books that exist as their Bible, something that must be followed to a T if you're serious at all about being a cybernetic yogi. If anyone gets that reference, you're awesome.

Guess what guys? It's cold as balls in places like Canada, Scandinavia and Daqing, China. My daily wardrobe for the winter months here that I spend 5 minutes putting on everyday to avoid frostbite probably occupies half of some stupid, vapid number that I need to stay under in order to be a "real" minimalist. Everyone's situation is different. Also, hobbies. Some people have them. Even owning one guitar requires some other accessories to maintain it and keep it sounding nice. Not to mention these people just look ridiculous proclaiming "I only own 56 things, but I don't count kitchen stuff and my socks and underwear count as one item." I don't care, and any serious individual doesn't either.

Practical Minimalism

For the rest of us mere mortals that don't have time to count our stuff, put a number on a pedestal and look down on people who own TVs, minimalism is a personal journey. We have just taken the idea as a practical means to a comfortable and fulfilling existence. World travel is my passion, so it makes sense for me to really downsize my stuff. It makes zipping around the world that much easier. A minimalist family has entirely different circumstances, obviously own more things than me, but that doesn't mean anything. They're not going to minimalist hell, because like any hell, it doesn't exist. Minimalism is a philosophy, not a religion.

That's kind of ironic, because the idea of minimalism can easily be traced back to early Buddhism, as well as a few other eastern religions. If you look at it that way, you could almost call it practical Buddhism with the spirituality mumbo-jumbo removed. I'd like to keep it that way. For me, minimalism is a tool. There's no need to bring the concept of enlightenment back into the mix, as if I'll be surrounded by a golden aura the moment I pour a bottle of baijiu onto a pile of my stuff, ignite it and cackle madly.

I would never suggest that anyone throw out all of their stuff immediately. If you're interested in living a simple lifestyle, wonderful. But take the fervor that surrounds the movement with a grain of salt, and make the transition at your own pace.


A practical minimalist lifestyle encompasses more than chucking your stuff, but it is a big part of it as it is one of the most tangible changes you can make, and the result will be both literally and figuratively, a massive weight lifted from your life. Declutter mindfully and slowly so the change is not so overwhelming. It's a catalyst for the rest of it.

Simplify your workload as earnestly as your material things. Think about each new obligation, if you have a choice in the matter, before you take it on. Dropping petty things that you don't care about from your to-do list will give you more time to pursue your passions, get fit and ultimately get the most out of the one life you have.

This is the more cutthroat part of the transition, but it was a positive change for me, personally. Your situation will vary. Remove the toxic, boring and otherwise un-nuanced relationships from your life. Surround yourself with people of substance that interest and challenge you. Go nuclear on your Facebook friends list. Spending time with people you enjoy will enrich your life.

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