an introduction to minimalism.

1 jan 2023

A recent huge life change has caused me to re-examine how I approach the world. It would be a lie to say 're-examine', in fact, it is more that I have learned to listen to my inner desire for minimalist simplicity. But that is an entire topic that needs to be parsed out for my own sake, so here in this article, I will parse it out for myself and for whomever wants to read it.

what is minimalism?

Minimalism is the act, or state of being, in which only that which is necessary is implemented in a given setting.

Take this website, for instance.

When I set out to write this website, I spent countless minutes and hours looking through Hugo themes and Pelican themes and Wordpress themes to find something that was distraction-free and minimal. I didn't want anything busy or distracting. The more I looked, the more discouraged I became. That is, until I realized that I was over-thinking the whole matter.

I have been using suckless software for years now. Part of that project's site includes software that the project says 'Rocks'. One of those projects is THTTPD. It is a super minimal web server, though it does have support for CGI and some other cool web technologies. The use of THTTPD made me realize that I don't need some fancy website generator with all the complex SASS and CSS fanciness. Instead, I am hand-typing this site with a singular principle in mind, simplicity. This is different from what you maybe have heard called Brutalism because I am not trying to serve purely raw content exactly, I still want it to be beautiful in its own way. Then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder I suppose.

This website is not the principle display of minimalism in my own mind's eye, however. Minimalism extends to life as well. What it means to live a minimalist lifestyle is that you reduce the amount of unnecessary things that you have. These things may be distractions or just clutter around your living space. I now live in a small apartment and the amount of junk that migrated with me to this apartment is staggering. I have so many books that I am not sure what to do with them. I have milk cartons of electronics and art supplies and random pads of paper and odds and ends that just take up space; these are things I haven't looked at or touched in years; these are things that are unnecessary and should be relegated to the discard/donate pile. That, in the simplest terms that I can conjure up, is what minimalism is; live in simplicity and reject the consumerist ethic.

consumerism as a form of immorality.

The greatest enemy to minimalism is the cult of the consumer.

In 2001, after the attack on the World Trade Centers in New York City, President Bush came out with a statement, telling the American people to "go shopping". This, as a response to an attack on what many viewed to be two massive pillars to Capitalism. It seems like a silly response, but if we're being honest with ourselves, it was the best response that he could have given. He was afraid of the economy collapsing and so too all the systems that rely on the consumer to continue to churn their dollars in the mighty pit of consumption. This was a key indicator to me at the time, as a young person, that there was something inherently wrong with how things seemed to work. To earn dollars in the world, only to throw them out again in exchange for things that we don't need seemed wrong, but at the time I wasn't sure how it was wrong. I lived my life for over two decades after that and for the majority of that I spent my life contributing to that constant churn of money and the grind of work. Eventually I began to see the pattern in the pool of shit that was the consumerist ideal. Consumption was entirely pointless to the regular person, except as a way to get a small hit of Dopamine. It, therefore, becomes an addiction and eventually leads one to the end of their life with a house/apartment full of junk that they haven't touched in years.

There are many cults in the world, some with twenty members and some with thousands, but there is no cult quite like the Consumerist Cult. Over the past few months, I have come to realize this fully, as I move from an established home into a small apartment at the edge of a city fully dedicate to the ideals of consumerism and the promise of happiness through the exploitation of a person's will to live. I still have those milk crates that I mentioned. They are fully of things that I will never touch or use. Today I will be sorting them so that I can minimize the impact of useless, meaningless things on my life. But the title of this section includes a word, immorality. Why would I put that in this section? Well, that is because I have come to realize that to consume to the extreme hurts not only yourself, but it hurts those around you. To endlessly buy things in order to get that Dopamine rush, small though it is, and then tell youself that you need those things for a purpose, that is a form of immorality in my mind. That is not to say that you can't have nice things! No, I desire nice things. I desire to have a nice sofa, on which I can sit and talk to friends and family. I desire to have a nice desk, at which I can do good work and feel comfortable in my work. I desire to have a video game system, through which I can distract myself for an hour or two per week. But there is a difference between having a video game system and letting video games consume your existence; there is a difference between having a nice piece of furniture and allowing the consumption of home decor to consume your whole life.

beauty in the minimal.

There is a beauty to be found when you happen across a scene with clean lines and minimal decoration; maybe it is a house or a garden or a website or really anything. When there is not only a lack of clutter to the scenery, but also a lack of swooping and curling design preferences and it is stark and simple, there is something to be said for it. It is something that the human mind can grasp easily; it is not distracting with chaotic lines and curves. Such a scene could be easily called beautiful in its simplicity and this is what I am refering to as 'beauty in the minimal'.

This extends to the collection of possessions. Many religions have preached the abandonment of earthly possessions in preparation for some after life wherein the devotee would not need any possessions. There has always been an untone of resentment toward amassing possessions in the modern mindset. Even in medieval literature we see the detestation of amassing wealth and riches in the image of the dragon who hoards wealth and things, he is the ultimate image of the consumer. The image of minimalism is to have what you need, you are the anti-dragon. As the anti-dragon, you strive for a solid foundation, but realizing that buying new decorations every year or shopping endlessly for something new is a pointless and useless grind. Always looking for more; always seeking something new, it is anathema to life and existence.

Maybe this is an odd connection to make, but it is similar with software. People in the software development community will look at a tool that is built by a few developers and see that it hasn't had an update for over a year and immediately name the project as dead. They scoff at the idea of a project being finished, though I would personally think that the endgoal to any software project is to have a product that is complete and bug-free. Perhaps this is the section that will get me into trouble, but software like that which can be found at the suckless.org project is just such software. Sure, there are still some updates, but DWM, dmenu, st, and etc are all so infrequently updated that it is conceivable that they are finished, or nearly so. That is an objective that I see in minimalism; that a structure or software or a part of one's life is complete. It is beautiful in that way. It is beautiful because that segment of life is necessarily going to be simple, minimal, and therefore one can rely on that part of life to be stable and steady.

goals of minimalism.

The goal of the minimalist lifestyle, therefore, is to simplify life. If you go down the path of minimalism and find that you are working much too hard to achieve it, then you will know that you are, in fact, becoming the dragon rather than the anti-dragon. Much like my struggle, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, to find a clean, minimalist theme for a static site generator. I realized that by seeking the minimal in the way I sought it, I was becoming that hoarding dragon that was complexifying even the simplest processes. Minimalism is not for everyone. Some people love the chaos of the complex, I understand that, but as for myself and mine, I prefer the stable and minimal because it is beautiful and because it ensures that I personally can live with fewer distractions from what is truly important in life. In short, the minimalist seeks to shift focus away from obsession with things and toward simply living life.