To help formulate my thinking around a concept I call progressive minimalism, I wrote a punchy manifesto to explicitly describe what it is and what it’s not. I published it behind a paywall on Medium but it’s worth sharing here:
I’m taking out a page from Cal Newport’s blog and decided to write a simple manifesto that captures my evolving philosophy on minimalism (click here to read his post on what he dubbed as the “Career Craftsmen Manifesto”).
There’s been ample discussion on the importance of decluttering our mental, physical, and digital space, but two points that are noticeably absent from the conversation are the ecological and socioeconomic benefits of adopting a minimalist lifestyle. It is as if popular minimalist bloggers are afraid to tackle the more complex, macro-level solutions that minimalist living can solve.
I consider myself a progressive minimalist: someone who adheres to a minimalist lifestyle as a strategy to improve the quality of life of both myself and the larger community. From the various responses I receive from this blog, my former podcast, and the other sites that my writing lives on, I believe there are others that share my mindset.
Progressive minimalists focus on maximizing human well-being within our ecological means through sharing work, consuming less, and spending more time in nature, with our community, and pursuing experiences we find meaningful. Less is not simply more; less is ecologically and financially sustainable.
This philosophy is a work in progress but here are the main tenets so far:
The Progressive Minimalist Manifesto
A progressive minimalist understands that the rate of our consumption is ecologically unsustainable. They understand that in order to stay under the limits of what’s considered an acceptable rise of global warming (2C above pre-industrial levels), the most effective individual solution is to consume less.
A progressive minimalist understands that choosing to consume less physical goods actively signals that chasing ephemeral pleasures is not their priority and is counter-intuitive to a meaningful life.
A progressive minimalist understands that responsible consumption involves being selective when it comes to the products/services that they purchase and/or use. Part of being selective is considering the ethics of the companies and manufacturers that produce and sell these products/services.
A progressive minimalist calls for a redefinition of work. They acknowledge that non-financially compensated forms of work including child care, volunteering, and so forth, is just as valid and important as work that is rewarded by the private market.
A progressive minimalist refutes the notion that you have to “hustle” in order to achieve optimal productivity. Instead, productivity is measured by working efficiently and strategically on the few things that matter. How you work is just as important as what you work on.
A progressive minimalist believes that GDP is an ineffective measurement of human prosperity, quality of work, and quality of actual jobs. They encourage alternative calculations to be used including the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), which also takes into account human capital, social capital, and environmental capital.
A progressive minimalist recognizes that committing their labour towards improving the well-being of society is not only important to individual meaningfulness but to the sustainability of society. This doesn’t mean quit your day job to join an NGO, but rather incorporating pragmatic solutions into your existing life: participating in charity events, becoming a board member of a local charity, or as rudimentary as deciding to compost your food waste.
A progressive minimalist understands that the core of this philosophy can be watered down to five words: individual responsibility for sustainable prosperity.
Seeking Inspiration From Bea Johnson
This weekend, I picked up Zero Waste Home from the bookstore. It’s a fantastic book. There’s no lengthy background history (her story is summarized in eight short pages), judgment towards others, or complicated tools needed to replicate her lifestyle. This is how her family lives and here’s the step-by-step manual if you wish to do the same too.
My transition to sustainable living has been slow and, embarrassingly, somewhat hesitant. Reevaluating the hundreds of decisions I make every day is nothing less than a slow, tedious grind.
Creating clear rules help with that: Once you’ve already made a decision about something, there’s no need to expend more cognitive resources debating the same issues. These are some that my girlfriend and I follow:
Keep a reusable water bottle at the office;
Bring a coffee tumbler to work with either coffee made at home or an empty one so that I can buy one at work;
Bring my knapsack whenever I buy groceries;
Buy condiments in glass containers;
Purchase grains, snacks, peanut butter, and coffee and tea at Bulk Barn and bring reusable containers for them;
Eat at restaurants and minimize take-out;
Bring lunch to work as much as possible;
Refuse plastic bags at stores;
Skip the multi-purpose cleaners and make one ourselves using white vinegar (we still occasionally buy the harder stuff for serious cleaning, though);
Use reusable make-up remover pads with coconut oil and ditch make-up remover and single-use cotton pads;
Purchase products from local stores instead of online shopping;
Purchase soap, shampoo, dish soap and laundry detergent from a zero-packaging soap store (also if you live within certain boundaries they offer a free delivery service that drops off your purchases in reusable containers, which you can return or refill as part of their deposit program).
Though the list might look extreme, these rules were implemented gradually, one at a time, over the span of a year. Like a rock rolling down a hill, it gained momentum the longer I stuck with them.
But I won’t pretend that I haven’t slipped up. Sometimes I forget my tumbler when I meet a friend for coffee or I fail to pack lunch and purchase takeout that comes in a plastic container. These instances are unfortunate but inevitable. There’s no point to beat yourself up over it.
If you’re interested in reducing your footprint, just start. Somewhere. Anywhere. And don’t make a big deal about it.
The magic of compound interest applies to much more than our retirement accounts.
The other week I had the opportunity to write about the intersection of mindfulness and ethics for Ethical.net, a non-profit project that’s developing an open platform for discovering ethical alternatives to services and products we regularly consume. I also wrote a post on Medium about my minimalist home office, and shared some photos.
“Regenerative agriculture: World-saving idea or food marketing ploy?” — Nathanael Johnson (Grist)
“Can Minimalism & Ambition Co-Exist?” — Matt D’Avella’s interview with Gary Vaynerchuk (video)
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See you next Tuesday.