There has, ironically, been a lot said about minimalism in books and online. But to live minimally really just requires adherence to two simple objectives:
1. Don’t buy or otherwise acquire anything inedible;
2. Rid yourself of anything not frequently useful or aesthetically pleasing to you.
That is the whole of the law!
In the United States, July is National Park and Recreation Month, and the US National Recreation and Park Association has challenged people to get outside as much as possible.
July is also National Ice Cream Month, National Blueberry Month, National Grilling Month, and National Hotdog Month. Nitrates aside, this surely makes July the best month of the year, don’t you think? Then again, the party has been somewhat dampened by an additional designation for July: “National Bioterrorism / Disaster Education Month”. Let’s just pretend we didn’t know about that one.
Instead, let’s focus on the positive: Parks and Recreation! Getting out there every day to enjoy public green space is a truly noble objective, whether you live in the US or elsewhere. I’m certainly doing my best to take up the challenge, and have filled my July calendar with cycling and hiking.
How about you? Have you been out in nature lately? Or have you been hunkered down in your office, gazing longingly (between clandestine games of advanced Minesweeper) at the greenery on the other side of the window? If so, please do yourself a huge favour by getting outside for some quality leisure this month. You’ll be better for it.
Out is In.
Professor John Ashton, a prominent NHS director of public health, has called for a four-day work week on the grounds that it will reduce the nation’s blood pressure, create more time for public service and time with friends, and lower unemployment. He says:
When you look at the way we lead our lives, the stress that people are under, the pressure on time and sickness absence, [work-related] mental health is clearly a major issue. We should be moving towards a four-day week because the problem we have in the world of work is you’ve got a proportion of the population who are working too hard and a proportion that haven’t got jobs. We’ve got a maldistribution of work. The lunch-hour has gone; people just have a sandwich at their desk and carry on working.
This is excellent news and a rare example of someone of such establishment renown speaking like this:
We need a four-day week so that people can enjoy their lives, have more time with their families, and maybe reduce high blood pressure because people might start exercising on that extra day [...] It would mean that people might smile more and be happier, and improve general health.
Would Brits stick to a four-day work week? Pleasingly, 89% of people who responded to the Guardian’s reader survey said they would welcome a four-day week. Perhaps the desire for maximum busyness is not as widespread as it might sometimes seem.
An attack on those who leave the workforce:
[Early retirement can] have a major impact on people’s mental health, leading to “boredom, loneliness and poverty” and create a huge dent in the British economy.
The findings are part of the research behind a new “action plan” to get older people back into work, launched by pensions minister Steve Webb. The report, Fuller Working Lives, concluded that the British economy missed out on £18bn last year because people left the workforce early.
The report focuses on those who have been forced to leave the workforce, largely through redundancy or ill health, rather than those who have chosen to retire in their 50s because they can afford to do so.
As if people aren’t knackered enough as it is, and as if the slave mentality weren’t already drummed into us almost from birth, but now the sick, the elderly, the redundant (lovely term, that, by the way), and those already physically damaged by work are being hassled into returning to work.
Again, the obsession with looking after the economy (ooh, the economy, everyone should roll up their sleeves to help the poor old ailing economy, will no one spare a thought for how the economy must be feeling?) leads to the reluctant enslavement of people who should be living their lives, should always have been living their lives, and have already given away the best years of their lives.
There are ways to address “boredom, loneliness and poverty“. Working in some demeaning job at the age of 50 is not one of them.
This lovely animated short, El Empleo or The Employment explores a reality in which unemployment is no longer a problem.
Something else to think about on these lines is Anarchist Bob Black’s assertion that “[some] favor full employment [while] I favor full unemployment”.
Friend Fraser provides this quotation from Pulitzer-winning poet Charles Simic:
I was five minutes late from lunch at the insurance company where I was working and my boss chewed me out for being irresponsible in front of twenty or thirty other drudges. I sat at my desk for a while, fuming, then I rose slowly, wrapped my scarf around my neck and put my gloves on in plain view of everybody, and walked out without looking back. I didn’t have an overcoat and on the street it was snowing, but I felt giddy, deliriously happy at being free.
More grist for our mill arrives in the form of this opinion piece in the New York Times:
The way we’re working isn’t working. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished, amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe that what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway. By the time you get home, you’re pretty much running on empty, and yet still answering emails until you fall asleep.
It comes complete with some handy statistics (Source: The Energy Project):
Friend Neil directs our attention to this great-looking forthcoming documentary, The Future of Work and Death.
I can hardly wait. Quick, someone throw some money at their kickstarter.
I love that work and death are placed together as discussion topics: the two great so-called inevitables.
This potential film is very much part of our Utopian conversation about what’ll happen when the machines more properly take over and the idea of the human as functionary is more widely accepted as an appalling waste.
Recall this Buckminster Fuller quote:
We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery.
I enjoyed this strange little offering from the BBC website: a flowchart for people asking whether they should quit their job or not.
Rather satisfyingly, most routes down the flowchart are in favour of quitting. While just two routes end at “You should stay!”, six lead to “You should go! Good luck!”
There’s also a little bubble statistic on the side of the chart suggesting that “only 37% have a high level of intent to stay in their current job.”
Actually, they’re already here. Millions of the little buggers. In fact, according to this article that nicely sums up the scariness of coffee pods, the number of “K-cups” sold by Keurig in 2013 would wrap around Earth 10.5 times.
Shall we laugh, cry, or do both?
Perhaps it’s a sign of things to come. Before long, our quest for convenience and our penchant for all things cheap and plastic will have rendered Earth uninhabitable. We’ll be living inside larger pods, aboard a giant space ship, and we’ll be sucking calorie-restricted, nutritionally-balanced, artificially-flavoured meals from tubes. Because it’s convenient. We should therefore be grateful for the early training opportunity provided by Nespresso.
I’m reluctant to heap scorn upon pod users themselves, though. Like you, I have close friends and family members who have succumbed to the ease of the pod, and yes, I have sipped the evil brew.
But at what cost convenience?
The author of the pod article raises some valid concerns: environmental impact, cost, and mediocre taste. But there is another aspect, a greater ill, that isn’t explicitly mentioned. And it’s an Escapologist’s nightmare. Pods are Exhibit Z in the slow, tortured death of true leisure. They are symptomatic of a society that’s increasingly willing to forego creativity, quality, and craftsmanship in favour of speed. All so that we can get back to our busy lives.
But there’s still hope! There’s an antidote available. In fact, it’s probably within your reach right at this very moment. To get it, all you need to do is walk down to your local coffee house, order a cup of direct-trade coffee, patiently watch as it’s prepared with care, and then sip the goodness. Be sure to enquire about the origin of the coffee, and to ask the barista how long they’ve been working to hone their craft.