“Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you’re alive. If you do not claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned.”
The first time I heard of conscious consumerism was several years ago at a Mass in the Church of Campo Grande. On a night of Lent, I attended the baptism of someone I knew, who, as an adult, decided to receive this sacrament. Sitting on those cold, long benches, I watched the priest suddenly take the top of the women’s head. By divine inspiration or perhaps because he already knew the person in question, he uttered these words: “We must be more conscious of the purchases we make and consume less.” And in a quick gesture, he plunged her head into the baptismal font, just like a McNamara sinking into the waves of Nazareth, pressing down until he ensured that the message had been successfully received.
I was both curious and shocked at this exhibit. Who would have thought that on the eve of Easter, in the heart of Lisbon, a priest would express such a secular concern in a ceremony whose main purpose was the salvation of a soul? I never thought that through his mind could pass such concerns and that, before plunging that head into the sink, as if leaving behind the sins that should not be transferred to her new life as a Catholic, excessive consumerism was one of them.
This mystical experience was kept in my memory and has only recently resurfaced in my conscious mind, in a time when new concerns began to arise in my life. Truth be told, I did not find positive results after the ritual, hence my despondency. The person in question, now obliged to lead a more thoughtful life, continued to practice unbridled consumerism. More rings than fingers. Always biting more than she could chew. Years later she opened a clothing store, redirecting her impulses as the pyromaniac who once lit matches with the sole purpose of watching them burn and later became the fireman who puts down more fires than anyone else in his station.
The lack of joy with which many objects bought by impulse overwhelm our lives with, the unconcern with the quality of what is acquired and the lack of awareness at the time of purchase are behaviours inversely proportional to a minimalist lifestyle. All the processes that originate an object and lead it to us, attention to the impact it will have on the environment, on the human and labour relations that produced it, as well as on our own life, lead to the search for a simpler way of life. It leads to decluttering, organizing, simplifying and increasing productivity. We take what’s not needed, and we’re reduced to what really matters. However, this is only achieved when all that is in excess has been the object of an important reduction effort. Beginning with what is obvious, we soon reach what’s hidden. In other words, “the essential is invisible to the eyes” … until it becomes visible.
Now that I reflect on how much closer to a minimalist life philosophy the recent changes in my life place me, I realize that the movement in me has not been from the outside in but from the inside out. I have not begun to get rid of pants that I will never fit in, of books I will never have the patience to read or recipes I will never try to increase my minimalist footprint in the ecosystem.
I believe the greatest evil is the lack of time. This evil reverses our priorities. We work too hard to take so little advantage, often to have an excess of stuff that distances us from what is essential, or, in many cases, only to survive and restart the cycle when the bank balance runs out. We cannot always decide where to invest our scarce minutes, but a lot of times we do not know how to do it either. We are surrounded by objects, responsibilities and emotions that are not ours. We complain and we do nothing to change. We buy what we do not need to impress people we do not like, as Tyler Durden would say.
When I recovered my time, everything that was excessive disappeared naturally. Unnecessary worries, poorly attributed rages, unresolved grudges. When I was able to have time for myself, to be able to reflect outside the everyday folly, I restored the importance due to the things that robbed me of time that should always have been mine. Not only did I get rid of the clothes that did not bring me joy, or the excess of trinkets on the shelves. These are the ends, not the means. And I filled my life with what really matters to me – my husband, my recipes, my writing, my siblings and my cats – and I did not look twice again to where my heart would not linger. And then I discovered the name for my illness: I think I suffer from minimalism.
If you want to know a little more about this topic I recommend, in Portuguese, the blogs The busy woman and the stripy cat, The extra in the ordinary and Ana, go slowly. In English, The minimalists and the Netflix documentary Minimalism.
BONUS: Follow the features Going Minimalist and Mindfulness for more on this lifestyle.
This post was originally written in Portuguese. Click here for the Portuguese version.
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