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Monday, June 21, 2010

Asceticism- Not a Worthwhile Goal

I've been reading up lately about different minimalists and ascetics, people out to simplify their life to the extreme by getting rid of "stuff", or to deny themselves all physical enjoyment as they shun materialism, consumerism, and the pursuit of pleasure.
People reading my blog, especially my Needs vs Wants series might wrongfully assume that I'd feel in good company with "like minded" ascetics and minimalists.

Asceticism- Not a Worthwhile Goal

I'm not an ascetic, not a minimalist, and I enjoy good physical "stuff" just as much as anyone else. I like fine linens and sleep on a bed fit for a king, I've got both fancy and casual good quality clothes. I serve delicious and delectable meals to my family. I want to live a rich and fulfilling life so that on my deathbed I'm not filled with regret over all the things on which I missed out.

Life is filled with so many great things; denying oneself of moral, permitted worldly pleasures "just because" smacks of a lack of appreciation for the one that created the world with all its goodness, whether you believe that to be God, Mother Nature, Allah, or the Stinky Cheese man.

 Asceticism and Minimalism

I read an article about a man who tries to "free himself from the addiction of money", as he believes money to be the cause of most evil and suffering in the world. This man, Daniel Suelo, lives in a tiny cave in the mountains, dumpster dives for all his needs (including food) and doesn't own a penny- purposely. Suelo is single, unsurprisingly.
While this man is inspirational in the sense that he shows us just how much in our life we take for granted, I do not plan on picking up and moving to a cave any time soon, nor do I intend to pick through the trash for food unless my survival depended on it. I think Suelo is a bit of a nut- inspiring, yet still mad. He has the right goal in mind- to not be so money dependent, but instead of being money dependent he's just become garbage dependent, living on the casts-offs of civilization.

I've also been reading up on the minimalism movement, and a prime competition among members of this movement is who can own the fewest possessions. An interesting blog, FarBeyondTheStars.com wrote about how he purposely owned only 50 things! In many senses, I identify more with the minimalism movement than I do with the "money free" movement, as I agree that having fewer things simplifies your life. But to live your life owning only 50 total things- that's a bit too extreme, in my opinion.

Non Sustainable Goals

The reason why I don't aspire to be money free nor a complete minimalist is because I think such things are not possible long term, especially not from generation to generation.
Sure, you can live in a cave and live off of people's garbage, but no one is going to want to marry you because rare is the person who'd be willing to take on that type of lifestyle. A life like that is bound to be lonely and cannot possibly be maintainable.
If the whole world went money free (and barter free too like Suelo lives), there would be no dumpsters to dive in, no cast offs to use. In order for there to be bottom dwellers (meant in a positive way, like a cleaner fish who eats whatever food sinks to the bottom of the water), there have to be surface dwellers as well. One can't become a leech of society if society all decides to also become leeches.
Additionally, the life Mr Suelo lives is one devoid of physical pleasures, a lack of appreciation for the good of the physical world, as I mentioned before.

Minimalism is also all well and good until your lack of things makes your life more complicated. If you're living with so few things, you cannot possibly have all of what you need and then become reliant on others.
A mother can't be a minimalist. We moms need to give the best we can to our children, help them feel blessed by goodness, that they're never lacking a thing. You may feel better with fewer things, but if you tell your child that he cannot own any toys because he already has 50 things, and he needs to get rid of some of his clothes if he wants to have toys... well, then you're forcing an extreme on a child, an extreme that will probably hurt your child and make him be resentful to you in the long run.

Clutter Free and Cutting Back- the Middle Road

I'm a reformed hoarder. When we moved to our teeny tiny apartment, we had to get rid of a ton of things. I see now how much simpler and more enjoyable my life is by being relatively clutter free.
I agree with minimalists that clutter free is the ideal way to live. I don't agree with the extent of some people's minimalism.
When decluttering, I think these rules should be used:
Keep only things that actually get used. Get rid of things that detract from your quality of life; only store things that make you happy. Toss duplicates.
Pare down to 50 items per person? Totally extraneous and probably also detrimental.

I use cloth toilet paper. I ditched my food processor and grate things by hand. I keep lights off in my house and take minimalistic showers. How am I not an ascetic?
I do what I do for two reasons- either because it improves the quality of my life or because it allows me to allocate money for things that are important to me. I truly believe that manual labor enriches my life in a multitude of ways. I also save money by what I do, and when there isn't much money going around, I need to save as much money as I can so I have what to spend on true necessities.

If I'm a semi-minimalist, it's because I think it is ideal. If my life is too austere for your liking, its because my financial circumstances dictate it.

I don't believe asceticism is a worthwhile goal. I do not consider myself an ascetic at all. I cut back because of need, not idealism.
Over-indulgence isn't either a beneficial.

If  I were rich, I'd live in a moderately sized home,  but still do most things myself.
Scratch that. If I were rich, I'd get a full time, live in housekeeper.
But aside for that, I'd still be my same frugal, conserving self. To an extent.

Do you think asceticism should be admired? What about minimalism? Do I seem to you to be an ascetic or a minimalist? Are you?

1 comment:

  1. How did I miss this? What a great post! (Pretty sure I was reading PP back then.)

    The problem with modern asceticism and sometimes minimalism is that one can become enslaved by the rules. Only fifty items? Only spending the bare minimum? Okay...but is there flexibility built in for when life changes abruptly?

    I guess I'm thinking that the rule itself can be in charge, not the spirit behind the rule. Does that make sense?

    I'm frugal, but when my parents got sick I left my job, spent down a lot of savings flying back and forth, spending months at a time with them, caring for them. For seven years. It was the right decision. And guess what? Four years after they passed, and we have earned back our savings.

    I think you're making the right call. Your frugality allows you to have a large family without the insanity of a FT job outside the home. Your frugality allows you to have what's important.

    (Mine now allows me to have time to study and read through piles of books, making up for the grad school I never got to attend. "It's cheaper this way!" I told my husband.)

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