Book Review: The Happy Minimalist
Like frugality and simplicity, minimalism is both a means and an end. It's a way of living light on your wallet and light on the planet, and it enables certain choices (such as mobility) that are closed off to most people. The hows and whys of minimalism are the topic of Lawrence's book.
When Lawrence lays out his own path, the book is great. The story of how he came to minimalism and of how he lives his life is fascinating and compelling. He provides solid details on the specific choices he has made, in terms of what he finds he needs and how he gets by without many of the things that most people figure are needs.
I wish the book had more of that, because that's what Lawrence has to offer — his own experience told in his own words.
Unfortunately, that's only half of this rather short book. The other half is advocacy for minimalism, and that part reads as if Lawrence didn't trust the truth of his own words and his own experience. The advocacy part of the book is larded with quotes from Gandhi, Confucius, Socrates, Aesop's fables, the Bible, etc. There are literally pages of quotes. They're all fine statements of the value of living in accordance with your own values (rather than the values of society at large) and of minimalism as a pathway to doing so — but they're largely statements that everyone has seen before.
Nobody says it better than Thoreau, but rather than yet another repetition of "We are happy in proportion to the things we can do without," I'd have much preferred more of Lawrence's own insights:
I don't have a 42-inch flat panel high-definition TV. However, I take pride in my 120-inch high-definition view from my home of the mountain range. I get to see the sun rise every morning and moon rise every month.
Is there a danger of oversimplification or trying to minimize something that should not be minimized. Yes. Exercise is a good example.
We all live somewhere on the continuum from minimalism to maximalism, but where we are now is an artifact of our own history, social and family pressures, and mere happenstance. Unless we've lived a very thoughtful life, or been very lucky, we're probably not at the best possible point. Getting close to your own best point comes down to a thoughtful examination of your own values and a close look at how your life does or doesn't match them. Where a book like The Happy Minimalist can help is by illuminating one point along the continuum and saying, "Here's what it's like at this point! Here's what's good about it!" That knowledge can then inform us as we make the choices that move us one direction or another along the continuum. Despite its flaws, The Happy Minimalist does that.
Note: I received a free copy of the book for review. Links to the book are affiliate links.
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