I started pursuing and writing about minimalism 12 years ago, in 2008, right in the middle of the global recession.
Back then, as you might expect, many were discovering minimalism out of necessity.
I can remember some of the email messages I received back then. One of them stands out as particularly significant. A lady wrote to me:
I was searching for ways to live on less because my husband just lost his job and I found your website. I want to thank you for what you are doing. I am beginning to see that living with less doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
For the next 12 years, the economy grew. Until today, where every indication is that we are going to experience a fall in GDP for two successive quarters—the definition of recession. This recession will be global in nature.
I sat down this weekend to reflect on that fact. And how the coronavirus recession will impact minimalism going forward—not from a health standpoint, but a financial one.
First, let’s be clear, I want as many people as possible to live a minimalist lifestyle. The benefits are incredible: more time, more money, more energy, more focus, more opportunity to pursue those things in life that bring real happiness—however we choose to define it.
Minimalism is a lifestyle that should be adopted by everybody.
But I don’t want anybody to be forced into it.
It is never an ideal circumstance for someone to lose their job or be forced into a situation of having to live on less through a recession or no fault of their own. I don’t want anybody, anywhere to be forced into minimalism.
I want people to choose it on their own.
For two reasons:
1. When people are forced into minimalism, it is less likely to have a long-lasting effect. It might, but that is a rare case. Instead, when someone is forced into minimalism, they begin to see it as a sacrifice, a trial, or a setback. And as soon as life can financially return to the way it was before, people will return to their previous lifestyle.
2. Being forced into minimalism causes many people to adopt a disaster-focused mentality. Think of the generation that emerged from the Great Depression and their learned behavior to keep everything just in case they would need it someday.
And it doesn’t require a 10-year Depression for this scarcity-mindset thinking to emerge. Sometimes just a natural disaster—a hurricane, fire, or earthquake—can cause people to respond with a desire to hoard items for the uncertainty of the future.
People being forced into minimalism is never an ideal circumstance. We prefer people to choose living with less on their own.
Of course, there are positive aspects that will emerge from this worldwide crisis that could spark voluntary simplicity:
1. There are a lot of people who are being forced to spend more time at home than before. When we are forced to spend time at home, we are also forced to confront our stuff and our possessions. We begin to see how much we’ve accumulated over the years—and how much is unnecessary.
Being at home means we can take the time to figure out how our home functions and what we want it to look like going forward. As Michelle Obama recently said about the quarantine, “It’s a good exercise in reminding us that we just don’t need a lot of the stuff that we have.” This could be a response that many will have going forward.
2. The nature of work is going to change. Working from home is going to become commonplace in businesses all around the world—not just in the short-term, but in the long-term as businesses recognize the overhead that can be saved and more and more employees demand it. The change in how we work holds great potential in motivating people to declutter their spaces and environments at home.
3. Many people are going to reassess their finances and budgets. They will ask questions like: “Why weren’t we able to get ahead when finances were good? Where was all our money going? How much were we spending? And how much can we cut back both now and in the future?”
People may arrive at these questions because they are forced into them or simply from a desire to be more financially stable and prepared for the next crisis. Either way, many are going to stand face-to-face with their spending and start asking deep questions about whether their pursuit of physical possessions was really the best use of their limited resources.
4. Whenever we face legitimate concerns about life and death, we begin to ask deeper questions: “What is important in life? Where should I be focusing my time and my energy? Am I giving my family and friends as much focus as I should? Am I living my greatest life of significance and meaning?”
As we ask these questions about values and purpose, we run into minimalist principles. Minimalism is, after all, about removing distractions so we can focus on those things that matter most. Life’s deepest questions often lead us there.
5. People will become intentional about re-entry into what they used to define as “normal.” Our lives, just a few weeks back, were busy, stressed, hurried, and rushed. As life begins to take on a new normal, many of us are going to become intentional and reassess what we desire to bring back into our lives. What commitments do we want back? What hobbies do we want to continue? And what purchases do I want to continue making going forward?
Remember this: You can’t control the people around you. You cannot control how the entire world is going to respond to this pandemic and subsequent recession.
We can invite people to minimalism. We can make the case for it. We can argue for why it’s a better way of life than accumulating more and more.
When it gets right down to it, we can invite others—but we can only control ourselves. We can only take control of how we are going to personally handle our lives going forward.
If you have found this blog post because you’ve recently been forced into owning less, I am sorry for your circumstances. But let me encourage you, you do not need to view owning less as a sacrifice. Owning less means you can find a more intentional life, focused on those pursuits that bring meaning, fulfillment, and joy to your life.
If you’ve been pursuing minimalism for quite some time, I encourage you to be intentional about re-entry into the world when this crisis ends—which it will. Stay focused on those things that add value to your life, that bring lasting joy into your life, that help you pursue your values—and not those that distract you from it.
There is no doubt in my mind that this current crisis is going to affect the world in countless ways. Minimalism, as a lifestyle, will be positively and negatively affected—both individually and as a society.
Let’s make sure we learn from it as best we can.