Peter Lawrence’s lifestyle is very different from that of the average American. He doesn’t own a bed… instead he sleeps on the floor in a sleeping bag. He doesn’t own a television, a sofa, a dining room table, or most of the other pieces of furniture usually found in a home. His computer desk is an old adjustable ironing board that was left behind by its previous owner. He says that if he had to move house quickly, he could pack all of his belongings into his 1999 Honda Civic and be on the road in about an hour.
Most people would find it difficult to imagine themselves living such an extreme lifestyle, but Lawrence insists he wouldn’t want to live any other way. He wrote The Happy Minimalist to tell about his life and to share his knowledge and beliefs… and to encourage others to join him by simplifying their own lives and applying the principles of minimalism for themselves.
The book includes many extras, such as a list of helpful resources, questions and mental exercises that are designed to make people realize how the principles of minimalism might improve their lives… plus charts of information ranging from the difference between a bank and a credit union to how much the natural world would be worth if we were forced to pay for it. Lawrence hopes the book will help people:
1. Realize that more is not necessarily better. Beyond a certain point, “more” becomes detrimental.
2. Understand that just because you can afford something does not necessarily mean that you should acquire it. There are social, environmental, and other considerations beyond the mere financial.
3. Become aware that there are alternatives to what is thought to be right or proper.
4. Ask yourself the right questions to help you arrive at what is really important and what really matters.
5. Recognize the possible excesses in your current lifestyle and be motivated to eliminate them.
6. Believe that seemingly insignificant actions on your part, over time and when repeated by other individuals, can have a phenomenal impact.
Lawrence’s definition of a minimalist is “a person who minimizes everything and anything to what is absolutely necessary” for health and happiness, but he is quick to point out that a “minimalist lifestyle does not mean no spending or limited spending.” Most people think that minimalism means deprivation, but Lawrence doesn’t agree: “A truly happy person judiciously uses his money to procure only what he needs to secure happiness. A fool spends his money on frivolous wants and suffers later.”
I share most of the conscious living values outlined in this book, but I particularly liked one point from Appendix G, Lawrence’s ethical will, under the section about how to treat yourself: “Always take some time to be alone to reflect things through. If possible, take a hike to the mountains or to a water source. If that is not possible, spend time quietly with nature.” This is an idea that Lawrence keeps coming back to… how important it is to regularly take time in a quiet, natural setting to get your mental and emotional bearings… a philosophy I completely agree with.
Lawrence’s lifestyle is more spartan than most people will choose, and some of his tips about using the Internet to save money and resources won’t work in areas without broadband access (like ours). Our cold New England winters make spending money for heat an absolute winter necessity instead of the option it seems to be at Lawrence’s California home, and I’m not personally ready to live quite as simplistically as Lawrence does… but I think there is a lot of value to be found in this well-written book. It’s an enjoyable read, and like all good books, encourages the reader to THINK… both while reading it and beyond.
Additional Notes from Peter Lawrence
Many people may see someone living like me as “deprivation.” However, you could also see how most people live as “dependence.” I wear glasses because I depend on them to see better. I would rather have good eyesight and be deprived of glasses. Similarly, some people depend on nicotine, others on alcohol and drugs. If we don’t consider someone who lives without cigarettes, alcohol and drugs as being deprived, why do we consider someone who can live without stuff as deprived?
Lower life forms adapt faster than we do. They have no choice! Ironically, science and technology has only acted to slow down our already slow adaptation process by shielding us. In many ways, it is also making us stupider and weaker. You see when the human mind, body and character is not challenged, there is atrophy. Researchers from the University of Oregon have already showed that the mosquito has changed genetically in response to recent, rapid climate change. What motivation is there for humans to adapt when we are shielded by the comforts of modernity? By shirking comforts in minute amounts, we can over time become not dependent on stuff. The human mind, body and spirit are amazing. If children can see clearly under water and blind men can climb Mt. Everest, imagine what else we are capable of, if we are challenged? Imagine having a mind, body and spirit that is not dependent on stuff!
–excerpted with permission from an e-mail message sent to me by the author