First World Pains – Indulging in a bit of self-deprecating humor never hurt Americans’ humility.
“My house has too much expensive stuff in it, so I can’t throw a big party.”
“There’s too much food in my freezer for me to be able to chill my wine properly.”
“The green light was too short this morning and I was forced to feel guilty for not giving money to the homeless guy.”
“I want to eat chips while playing PS3, but the controller gets too greasy.”
“The lowest brightness setting on my iPad is still too bright to read in the dark.”
The American way: Invest in a great college education in order to get a great job. Eventually recover from paying off college debt. Find said great job in order to buy a great house. Hopefully recover from paying off a mortgage. Settle down. Start a family. Establish a comfortable lifestyle. Amass wonderful life experiences, social networks, and professional connections. Accumulate material possessions from exotic travel experiences, kids’ sports gear, and one too many trips to the local hardware store. Host useless garage sales. Enter into the world of first world pains. Work to undo the last twelve steps.
This is an unsustainable lifestyle. Heed Graham Hill’s life-editing suggestions to “make room for the good stuff.”
Somewhere between securing a college education and hosting useless garage sales, debt spending became a norm (along with purchasing storage units). If only there existed a twelve-step program to undo the sublimation of living in excess. Unfortunately, such a program does not exist. Hill’s life editing does offer a simple foundation with which to begin though. Adapted from the design precept “less is more,” life editing has its merits today, given how luxury has been normalized in the United States. Minimalism and its offshoots (i.e. life editing) then became the crux of how Americans do away with the unnecessary.
Hill’s Minimalist-lite home design ideas are a bit farfetched for the average American, however. His solution for simplifying life is catered towards a market with deep pockets, ready to drop a pretty penny to retrofit tiny apartments to be both ‘green’ and space-efficient. As a case in point, Hill downsizes his own life, selling his own home and buying a 420 sq. ft. apartment. He tears down the apartment and completely redesigns it, all under the auspices of the sustainability movement. Conceded, this new living space does leave a smaller carbon footprint and looks more aesthetically-pleasing to the eyes. However, this newly habitable space (with all its bells and whistles, fold-up beds and desks, and sliding walls and trapdoors) is far from cost-efficient. In addition to the remodeling, all the eco-friendly, space-saving furniture is not available in the mainstream market, so it comes at a heftier price. As a result, life-editing ends up being a sustainability-heavy, chalked up version of minimalism for city-dwelling hipsters who want to afford the smaller living space. Hill does a good job of making room for material stuff, but not the good stuff he was referring too.
Consider Colin Wright’s TEDxPhnom Penh talk. Graham Hill’s way of life is mild based on Wright’s Extreme Lifestyle Experiment scale. Wright, a young bohemian nomad and successful entrepreneur, actively embodies minimalism in a few ways: 1) limiting himself to fewer than 60 total possessions and 2) living life as a constant flight-risk (at least every four months). Though not exactly going on an odyssey in the Alaskan wilderness, Colin Wright’s approach to life would not put Chris McCandless of Into the Wild to shame. There is something to be said about undertaking an extreme lifestyle experiment every four months in a different country that echoes the transcendental sentiments of Emerson and Thoreau. But that’s a 800+ word blog post for another day.
In both cases, less becomes more. While I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around the Dutch’s De Stijl minimalist artistic movement, minimalists got something right. Simplify until you can no longer simplify without losing the most basic and crucial elements that give something meaning (in art, architecture, or design).
Jack London had a similar message in The Call of the Wild, as did Jon Krakauer in Into the Wild. Not surprisingly, the idea of simplifying manifests itself in more than just art, design, travel, and writing. In some shape or form, under some umbrella name or another, the philosophy can apply to everything and everyone as a means of betterment, Prozac-happy America included. Yes, that was an ambiguous statement. When we slough off our first world pains for a second, things become a little less convoluted.
Not everyone can abandon the urban lifestyle in exchange for a monastic one, but it’s an idea worth wondering about.
By: Dy Phi