Updated on September 4, 2016
Updated on September 4, 2016
“Zenmanship” is my zen penmanship.
I am going to occasionally add to a collection I’m calling “Zenmanship” where I will experiment with writing about the angles of this lifestyle that interest me more than miles & points. Minimalism, mindfulness, the human experience, etc.
For other Zenmanship articles, follow this link.
We just got to Budapest a day or so ago and I spent a shameful lot of my time people-watching with the sole purpose of comparing their haircuts to mine. See, I just got a haircut in Ukraine and I don’t love it. And everyone is just so darn trendy in bigger cities that I find myself treating these cities like a giant Pinterest board full of styles that I want for myself.
But even in the smaller cities throughout Bosnia and Croatia I found myself getting distracted by people’s backpacks. The other week Drew and I went to a thrift store (we do all of our shopping very intentionally at thrift stores) and got a little backpack that we can use to take our computer gear into a coffee shop for a day of work if we want. It was the perfect little backpack but the straps are so thin that by the third day of hauling around heavy computers they started to tear. So now the backpack we bought for computer transport can only be used for grocery transport. Thus, I found myself backpack-watching.
The thing I hate to admit but the thing that is true unfortunately often, is that I am a bit of a covetous minimalist. I really really don’t like that about myself.
I would say I was pretty minimalistic before Drew came around. But I tended to buy the things I wanted- they just never were very opulent things. My material interests were conveniently simple and cheap. I have never in my life gotten a manicure for instance, and couldn’t tell you most of the popular name brands in fashion if my life depended on it. But, if I wanted those tall boots everyone was wearing that one winter, I would swing by the local thrift store and get a used pair for $3. And I just never found myself wanting anything much fancier than that.
I spent my early twenties sharing a room and not having my own closet. Minimalist, right?
But I didn’t often practice not having the material things I wanted, even if those things were small and cheap. I didn’t need to practice that until Drew and I started traveling.
And that was a crash course in actual, disciplinary minimalism.
Remember, we have this funny little discipline where we buy everything used, (unless used wouldn’t make sense for hygiene and health reasons). So our first time traveling throughout Asia was a serious crash course in practicing the discipline of minimalism even when it wasn’t convenient- something I had never really done.
Two things about travel really increased the level of intentionality and discipline required to live minimally.
1. We didn’t have much space in our backpacks.
We were traveling lighter than light, with school backpacks while everyone around us had those giant backpacking backpacks.
2. Asia does not really have thrift stores for the most part. You can find them in the wealthier places like Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, or you can find them rather spontaneously in the sidewalk markets in Bangkok, but they are by no means the kind of store you can count on finding as you backpack your way through SouthEast Asia.
In SriLanka my sandal broke. So I rather begrudgingly fastened it to my foot with a hair-tie. I used my sandals that way for at least a week or two until we met up with a friend who was able to bring me a pair of old sandals she wasn’t using anymore.
Like I said, it was a crash course in being minimalist even when it wasn’t convenient.
Minimalism is truly important to us, but honestly so is contentment. That’s the part I’m always failing at and that’s basically the part that differentiates between covetous minimalism and non-covetous minimalism.
It’s a challenge for me. But it’s also really important to me so I’ve figured out a few things that make it easier.
1. This is almost like cheating, but if I pack at least one or two articles of clothing that make me feel really confident, like things I would wear on a date, then I find myself people-watching less jealously.
I say that’s cheating because that’s like saying the key to contentment is to have what you want. But I guess in this case what I mean is, the key to contentment can be packing only 90% practically, and letting yourself be impractical with the last 10%.
2. Nature and culture are strong interests of mine. It’s part of why I travel. So if I focus on those elements around me, it’s easier to be content. Getting out of the capital city can be a really great way to forget about anything material. Bali is a place, for instance, where the local culture is so fascinating that I rarely find myself struggling with a covetous or discontent attitude.
3. Make something.
Many recreations are consumption recreations. When you shop for souvenirs or check out the local cuisine, you are being a consumer and your participation depends on your ability to provide funds and highlights your desire for something you don’t already have. Not a bad thing. But since we’re talking about practicing contentment, there are other recreations that are more supportive of the practice of contentment AND more empowering in that they are free. Those are the recreations I like to seek out. Hiking and site-seeing are great examples of non-consuming recreations. Even simply having my camera with me and focusing on photographing the city around me can be a really effective way to take my attention off of a desire to consume and invest it instead in a desire to create.
While there may be factors limiting what or how I can recreationally consume, there’s nothing stopping me from photography, writing, or sketching. Those recreations are empowering in a way that consumption recreations are not.
4. The travel we did for my sister’s adoption was so powerful that if I even think about it, it seems to ground me. It reminds me how unimportant stuff is compared to the things that really matter. And honestly, being with family is always at the top of my interest pyramid, so that joy and interest will trump any other distraction.
Even when I’m traveling and can’t be with my family, remembering anecdotes from my time with them can be helpful.
For instance yesterday when I found myself doing that covetous version of people-watching I do, I redirected my thoughts to my nephew. I started thinking about what I’d say in my next postcard to him.
Living simply is the first step of this discipline. That’s the part that, for a variety of reasons, came pretty easily to me.
The next step of the discipline was to live simply even when it wasn’t convenient. After 3 years of nomadic life, I feel I’ve learned to do that pretty well too.
But this last, most important step is a challenge. Practicing an attitude of contentment for the times you choose simplicity over convenience.
Because being a covetous minimalist is nothing to be proud of.
Now I’m curious. Are there disciplines that you try to keep throughout your everyday life? And does travel assist or complicate those disciplines? And are there others out there experimenting with minimalism?