Minimalism

Correct!

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Minimalism 101

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This Thursday evening, at 7pm, I’ll be teaching a class in minimalism (or ‘living with less’) at Monastiraki in Montreal.

The event is part of Monastiraki’s “School PWYC” series in which people teach classes in whatever they’re enthusiastic about.

This class will explore the idea of living with very few material possessions. We’ll look at the reasons we might want to do this: to save money, to save the planet, to save our souls. We’ll discuss some hints and tips on how to live minimally, how to benefit from a minimalist hobby, and how to appreciate the bare necessities. We’ll celebrate some of the heroes of minimalism, from 19th-Century rebel printer William Morris to future-facing digital minimalists.

I also plan to sing The Galaxy Song and Bear Necessities with ukulele accompaniment. This is a first for me so come along and witness history being made.

Here’s the event page at Ye Olde Book of Faces.

I daresay I’ll have some copies of New Escapologist to sell, and I’ll be happy to hang out and chat after the event too. Come along if you’re in the area!

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Can’t get enough minimalism

A few people emailed us recently to declare a new-found enthusiasm for minimalism. Believe me when I say that if these particular individuals are excited about minimalism now, there’s hope for the whole world yet.

There often comes a point when a fringe activity becomes adopted by the mainstream; a point when a living practice is no longer seen as eccentric. Recycling is a good example. In the 80s, my family seemed fairly alone in separating our garbage into plastic, paper, glass, and organic waste. We weren’t exactly hippies, which suggests the tipping point was already on the horizon, but our activity was certainly seen as odd by our friends and neighbours. In the 90s, recycling became seen as a responsibility, but it was still fashionable to shirk it. Today, the infrastructure to support recycling is convenient and ubiquitous, and recycling has become a matter of civic pride. What do you mean you don’t recycle?

I think minimalism (or ‘Reduction’ if you remember the most rejected of ‘The Three Rs’) is in a similar place to where recycling was in the 90s: people are becoming aware of the advantages, to stop reacting so violently to the suggestion that they voluntarily curb their consumer privileges, and to appreciate the minimalist aesthetic. Tablet computing is already encouraging a post-materialist attitude in some areas of consumption, and cloud computing promotes a certain distance between you and your stuff.

I think we’re on the brink of a third wave in terms of our attitudes to stuff. The new cycle will concern itself with empty space and quietness as the new luxury goods. Why a third wave? Peak Oil: the idea that we’ve already reached the point in time when the global production of oil reached its maximum rate, after which total global production gradually declines. We have to get used to not being able to buy cheap, disposable, largely-plastic products. We have to get used to inaccessibility due to products not being so readily and cheaply shipped.

Technology will partway solve the problem. Oil can be replaced by renewable energy resources. But to really solve the problem, we have to adjust to a new relationship between humans and stuff. It’s not a greenie fantasy anymore, but a cold necessity. Out goes the cheap and disposable, in comes the expensive and durable. Out goes lots of pointless stuff, in comes maximum utility and beauty. Out goes the idea that high-tech will save everything, in comes the balance of Brave New and Brave Old Worlds.

Space and quiet will be the new luxury goods. You’ll see. Buy shares in the quiet industries.

Criticisms of minimalism

We often talk about minimalism at New Escapologist and our interest is three-fold:

– Environmental: by reducing your consumer habits, you have less impact on the natural environment.

– Financial: by consuming less, you don’t need to spend as much money. Consequentially you don’t need to work so hard at earning money.

– Aesthetic: by reducing physical possessions, you can have a cleaner, more manageable living or working space.

In our time talking about minimalism, we’ve encountered a few criticisms. Some of them are fair, some understandably verge on the hostile (understandable because minimalism asks people to curb their consumer freedom), and others are from people who’ve completely missed the point. In this post, I respond to some of the most common or most remarkable.

I have a guest post at a blog called Skool of Life. My piece responds to six real and fairly common criticisms of minimalism.

The post has also resulted in some reasonable comments, to which I am able to respond. In particular, a bloke called Andy worries that defining one’s self as a minimalist is as bad as defining yourself as a materialist. It gave me the opportunity to say this:

1. The desire to define yourself one way or another is a piece of psychological baggage a minimalist might want to jettison. Let’s not worry about defining ourselves. Self-expression is a nonsense championed by Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays. It is little more than a marketing device that minimalists should proof themselves against.

2. Even if you choose to define yourself by owning a small number of things, your doing so is certainly better than defining yourself as someone who owns a large number of things. Your reluctance to consume will help the environment and help your wallet. So, while I’d advise against defining yourself in this way, it is still outwardly and empirically better than defining yourself as a materialist.

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On resistance, minimalism, workplace tedium and cottage industry

The only real difference between an Escapologist and someone who simply hates their job is that the Escapologist has begun to take deliberate measures toward actually changing things. I think most people who hate their job don’t realise that escape is an option.

From an arrogant interview I did for Andrew Williams at his new blog, Rainy Day Wonder.

Reduce! Reduce! And Again I Say Reduce!

This article is a timely reminder that minimalism is the only answer to the climate crisis.

Telling people what they can throw out and recycle is important, but corporations and governments who are in the business of growth do not want to address the real problem: the vast and escalating quantity of plastic and other stuff that people buy, use a bit and then throw away. Along with celebrities, “influencers” and PR companies they seek to create needs for things we never knew we wanted, and then manipulate us to buy more of everything. Bombarded by advertisements, we are then persuaded that the more we binge-shop, the more fulfilling and satisfying our lives will be.

As I say in Escape Everything!, the materials required to create almost any physical item, ultimately, come out of the ground. Recycling and reuse are respectful of this fact, but they are no alternative to leaving the coal in the ground and the rainforest intact.

The way to avoid ecological disaster is to starve the beast of consumerism, by buying less and reusing more of everything. … we must change consumer habits and attitudes to consumption.

Minimalism is the change in consumer habits/attitude to consumption we’ve been looking for. For reasons that still elude me, minimalism is often considered a sign of affluence despite costing nothing (and in fact saving money). So why not pursue that sign of affluence instead of the costly plastic ones? This way, you can still enjoy a sort of social status-in-relation-to-consumerism while helping to save the planet in the only meaningful way. And if social/consumer status is not important to you, then follow minimalism anyway for all the other benefits.

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Should I Buy a Record Player?

Should I buy a record player? I’d genuinely like some advice on this, whether from vinyl enthusiasts or from get-a-grip friends. So leave a comment below or drop me an email.

Whenever I betray my anti-consumerist, minimalist ethics by joining in with some craze or other, I usually regret it. Joining Twitter for example was a mistake that has cost much fretting and fiddling that I could have done without.

Buying a record player would be the physically-biggest move I’ve made away from minimalism in years, currently owning absolutely no physical media. After a few months or years of buying records, it would likely be the most expensive too, and it would also represent a significant bump in energy usage here at Escape Towers.

On the other hand, it would be nice to correct a certain lack of music in our lives. Yes, we can currently play music from YouTube or Spotify (and I digitised my 300-strong CD collection before selling it a decade ago, so it still lives on in the cloud). But this involves a dependency on Silicon Valley and the infernal jab-screen, which is something I’d like do less of, and it’s not much fun to stab at an app when what you want from music is human connection.

Moreover, I’m sometimes a little (though not a lot) embarrassed to invite friends to Escape Towers when we offer little here but quiet retreat. A record player, would offer a bit more event to an invitation. “We’ll play some records,” I’ll say and “bring a couple of records over.” Selecting music would become a social activity and friends won’t have to watch me fumble with an app, playing autocratically-selected music, and trying to remember if I have a certain Stereolab album because I can’t see the whole collection and the search function isn’t working properly.

I like the idea of browsing the records in Monorail (fun local spot steeped in history) on a Saturday morning with Samara and of hanging out with Friend J who works in a second-hand vinyl shop with more reason to my being there than just to stare at his face. But is this not precisely the sort of positive lifestyle situation dreamed up by any product-hungry consumer?

Having set off my own vigilance-against-consumerism alarm, I at least think this could all be done fairly cheaply and with a non-rampant consumerist credo if we just buy our equipment and the bulk of our records second-hand and never from Amazon. Of course, this could just be a sort of internal green-washing on my part to justify what would actually be quite a silly purchase.

Any strong feelings? Would this thing (and that’s what it is: a thing) enhance life or would it just be another infernal regret and a loss of personal integrity?

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The print magazine has drawn to a close but there’s still plenty to say on subjects true to the magazine: work, leisure, minimalism, simplicity, money, culture, and the good life. It would also be nice to cover the operating costs of this very website and the free newsletter. The solution? Occasional, good-value, entertaining essays of substance written exclusively for willing subscribers. Subscribe to a tier that suits you at Patreon.

05 Aug 2019 Comments Off on Subscription Essays

An Escapologist’s Diary: Part 54. 2018 Review.

Wehey! I have escaped again. How’d you like that, my imaginary shareholders?

Admittedly, this particular escape involved running the clock down on something like a prison sentence more than the commitment to a clever escape plan. But an escape’s an escape and it feels good to be on the lam again, feeling the breeze around the old wosnames.

As some of you know, I put a peg on my nose and took a job when we came back to Scotland from Canada. It was to help my partner secure her visa to live here.

We won that visa in September (using the immense stack of paperwork pictured below) and we immediately set about getting our lives back on course. On my part this means a full-time return to the cheerful, frugal literary life. Much better.

Bagging the visa and escaping office life again were the key events of our 2018, though they do not feel particularly like achievements. It’s just a happy return to the status quo, to what we were doing until someone stopped us.

But hey! there was also the book deal. That was big news. The first half of the advance came in and I started writing. I’ve almost written a whole new book this year. I hope to have finished it by the end of January 2019.

At the start of the year, I set up a mailing list to try and guarantee a readership for my weekly diary. I kept up the diary itself until October (31 entries – medal please) and was rewarded with the highest numbers of visits ever to my website (even if those numbers are admittedly small potatoes). I plan to pick up the diary again in 2019, but not until the book is written, obvs.

There were seven new installments of my Idler column, bringing the total up to 17 (plus extra bits and bobs) and my longest-running gig outside New Escapologist, which hardly counts. I’ve enjoyed getting the occasional email (and Idler letters page response) about the column, none of them (yet) irate.

My stupid face appeared in an art installation (Sven Werner, City Art Centre, Edinburgh) and also in a more domestic setting by my clever wife. 

Tim Blanchard’s book about the novelist John Cowper Powys was published in November. I had some small editorial involvement before Tim found a publisher so I was very happy indeed to see the book come out.

For travel, we saw Paris, Malaga, Seville, Gibraltar, and Copenhagen (pictured below in a photograph by AJ).

In non-writerly action I spent the occasional Friday at a botanical library near to where I live. Here I have a freelance project to catalogue the collection.  I spend these days handling attractive books about trees and flowers and mushrooms and the likes. Why not?

I also had the pleasure of calling the fire brigade, joining Instagram, remembering the spice girls, finding run-up-to-the-visa solace in the best ever Lego set (and reselling it – minimalism!) and taking a reaction test.

*

As traditional, here is my year in books. A change on previous years is that I’ve stopped recording comic books in this list. There’s too many of them and, let’s face it, it’s a completely different aesthetic experience. (If you’re interested, I enjoyed Ms. Marvel this year and the first volume of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I was surprised not to enjoy the new Multiple Man series.)

I made an effort this year to read some new fiction instead of old everything. I also made my usual effort to read more women and non-white writers. 

Lest we forget, an asterisk* denotes an out-loud read while the dagger† denotes a re-read. Schwing!

Bill Bryson – Neither Here nor There
Bill Bryson – The Road to Little Dribbling
Daphne du Maurier – Not After Midnight
Alastair Bonnett – Off the Map
Bill Bryson – African Diary
Joe Dunthorne – The Adulterants
George Orwell – Coming Up for Air
Shoukei Matsumoto – A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind
George Orwell – Keep the Aspidistra Flying †
Patrick Hamilton – Hangover Square
Muriel Spark – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Sam Selvon – The Lonely Londoners
Donald Westlake – The Hot Rock
Yanis Varoufakis – Talking to my Daughter about the Economy
George Perec – W, or the Memory of Childhood
T. H. White – The Once and Future King
Clive Bell – Old Friends
Darren McGarvey – Poverty Safari
Alex Masters – A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in a Skip
Muriel Spark – The Girls of Slender Means
Helen Russell – The Year of Living Danishly
Caitlin Doughty – From Here to Eternity
Fumio Sasaki – Goodbye Things
George Saunders – Pastoralia
Limmy – That’s Your Lot
Michael Booth – The Almost Nearly Perfect People
Nan Shepherd – The Living Mountain*
Matthew Crawford – The Case for Working With Your Hands
Haruki Murakami – Men Without Women
Matthew De Abaitua – Self and I
Helen Lamb – Three Kinds of Kissing
Kamin Mohammadi – Bella Figura
Tade Thompson – Rosewater
PD James – Sleep No More*
Evelyn Waugh – The Loved One
Jonathan Meades – An Encyclopaedia of Myself

Books read in substantial part but left unfinished:

Richard Sennett – Together: the rituals, pleasures and politics of cooperation
Mary Beard – SPQR
Richard Gordon – Nuts in May
Robert Skidelsky – John Maynard Keynes 1883-1946

I am currently reading After the Snooter by Eddie Campbell (a comic) and Proxies by Brian Blanchfield (essays).

*

I end 2018 happy with my personal lot at the age of 36, though I also feel irritated and under siege for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. I might have to stop drinking. Or ideally they’ll cancel Brexit.

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An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 51. 2017 Review.

Holy Smokes, is that the time? Ja! It’s the (eighth?) annual report to my imaginary shareholders.

Though the world’s terrifying problems continue, 2017 somehow felt like a nicer year than 2016 didn’t it? Maybe it was the encouraging resistance to evil we witnessed around the globe or perhaps it was the incompetence revealed in the devils themselves. Whatever the reason, I certainly feel happier today than I did at the end of 2016. I hope you feel similarly, dear reader.

This being said, much of my year was spent negotiating the aching bullshit of The Hostile Environment. This meant my partner and me working in day jobs again — she full-time, I part-time — and largely putting our frugal, creative lives on hold. But never mind! Things, to some extent, still happened:

In January I wrote a piece about Death and Minimalism for Caitlin Doughty’s blog. It’s only a little thing but CD (as the cool kids call her) and her blog are so phenomenally popular that I still get email about it a year later.

This loudcast also nudged some nice people into my Patreosphere, a funding system that led me to write and post some six new essays (and re-edit six old ones) this year. There will be another dollop of this in 2018, so please join in and encourage a bit more Escapological writing if you can.

In February, my silly face appeared (below) in an Alan Dimmick forty-year retrospective in Edinburgh. It felt good to be welcomed into the Hall of Fame (or Rogues Gallery) that is Alan’s collection of Glasgow hepcats. And look at the essence-capturing greatness of his work — witchcraft, I tell ye.

In May we visited Northern Ireland for the wedding of Escapologists Reggie and Aislinn. It took place in a lighthouse and we were lucky enough to spend a night in this remote (and suspiciously phallic) place.

In the summer, we flew to Montreal for another wedding. It was a beautiful outdoor event and it felt good to be back in Sin City (as nobody ever calls it). There, we lounged in the sunshine, saw Houdini’s handcuffs, and helped install an art show for Andy Curlowe. I say “helped,” but my contribution was largely to eat vegan hotdogs while watching the team hang the paintings. That’s useful, right?

On returning to the UK, we popped down to “That London” to record my online course in Escapology with the Idler gang. It was a great treat to drink beer with Tom on the side of the Thames and to pootle about in his Idler world.

In the Idler magazine itself, my column continued through 2017 with another 8 installments, making this my longest-running column.

In August, I crossed the river to see some TV producers in Govan about a possible Channel 4 documentary. I quickly got the sense that the doc wasn’t going to happen, but it was fun to travel to the meeting by boat. I might move to an island — that is, an island smaller than Montreal or, indeed, Britain — just to make this happen.

Back to Belfast in September, this time for cultural tourism. Perhaps the highlight for me was the Royal Ulster Academy Annual Exhibition where we saw this ace crab:

In October, I caught some kid’s helium balloon in my open umbrella. I also teamed up with friends for a Wicker Man ensemble at Halloween.

In November, I got a nice essay into Canadian Notes and Queries, a favourite literary journal. This was a proper bit of writing and I have no idea where I found the time and creative juice to do it. And yet, slightly flirting with Terry Fallis on Twitter was a highlight of my year.

In December, Landis and I released a second episode of The Boring Podcast, part of an objects-based collaboration that will, I think, continue next year.

At home, we celebrated Hanukkah in the traditional way — by slightly messing up the mathematically-complicated candle-lighting ceremony. On December 25th we fled the tinselworm and insulated ourselves to Christmas Radiation by walking for an hour to the nearest Odeon to see The Last Jedi.

Throughout the year, our guest room hosted friends from far and wide. There was Emily from New York, Sofia and Drew from British Columbia, Shanti from Montreal, my family from England, Landis from Chicago. When you don’t have the freedom to travel very much, why not bring others to you instead? We also cultivated some new friendships in Glasgow, perhaps especially in Louise, Graeme, and Sven (hi!).

Despite spending a year in the horror of employment, I end 2017 feeling positive and confident. I should be able to pack the day job away in February or March. I suspect I will let you know when that happens, such will be my need to rejoice.

I already know 2018 will be a big year and I’m looking forward to telling you about it as it happens. The escape plan is drafted. The lock picks are primed. Wheels are very much in motion. Bring it on.

*

As is traditional, here is my year in books. It’s a slightly shorter list than usual thanks in part to the aforementioned day job but also in part to a subscription to the eternally-great-but-famously-destructive-to-reading-capacity LRB. Lest we forget, an asterisk* denotes an out-loud read while the dagger† denotes a re-read. Parp!

Patricia Highsmith – The Boy Who Followed Ripley
Robert Sullivan – Rats: A Year with New York’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants
Rutger Bregman – Utopia for Realists
David Nobbs – The Death of Reginald Perrin
Ryan North/Erica Henderson – The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 3
Philip Roth – The Ghost Writer
Kakuzo Okakura – The Book of Tea
Simon Barnes – How to be a (bad) birdwatcher
Ann Laird – Hyndland: Edwardian Glasgow Tenement Suburb
Arthur Conan Doyle – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes*†
Nicholson Baker – How the World Works
Ben Aranovich – The Hanging Tree*
Ernest Hemingway – The Old Man and the Sea
Tom Baker – Who on Earth is Tom Baker?
Nigel Williams – 2 ½ Men in a Boat
Grant Morrison & Darrick Robertson – Happy
J. G. Ballard – Concrete Island
Walter Tevis – The Man Who Fell to Earth
Quentin Bell – Bloomsbury
Quentin Crisp – The Naked Civil Servant
Georges Perec – Species of Spaces and Other Pieces
Patricia Highsmith – Ripley Under Water
Stephen King – Doctor Sleep
Ronnie Scott – Death by Design: The True Story of the Glasgow Necropolis
Janice Galloway – Jellyfish
Roald Dahl – Someone Like You
Penelope Lively – The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories
William Golding – The Pyramid
Elaine Dundy – The Dud Avocado*
Amy Licence – Living in Squares, Loving in Triangles
Katherine Mansfield – Bliss and Other Stories
Miranda Sawyer – Out of Time
Dave Simpson – The Fallen
Simon Garfield – The Wrestling
Ben Aaronovitch – The Furthest Station
Piers Anthony – Heaven Cent*
T. E. Lawrence – The Mint

Books read in substantial part but ultimately abandoned (this year, on the unusual grounds of being, simply, shit):

Greg McKeown – Essentialism
Karen Russell – Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Paul Merton – Silent Comedy
Chris Packham – Fingers in the Sparkle Jar
Geoff Dyer – White Sands

As the year closes, I find myself reading Mary Beard’s so-so doorstep SPQR and Richard Sennett‘s soft and bulbous Together.

Being suspicious of sound waves, I never give you a year in music. To make up for this culture dearth, here’s my friend Ian, whose taste is beyond reproach.

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