“Have nothing in your house That you do not know to be useful, Or believe to be beautiful” ~ William Morris.
The Coronavirus pandemic and consequent lockdown have put all of us into a ‘new normal’ mode of life. During lockdown or home quarantine, even the most prodigal spendthrifts among us have begun to learn or at least show interest in the benefits of minimalism in order to keep safe and secure in an alarming atmosphere of disease, death, deprivation and utter helplessness. As venturing outdoors has become a risky option, we have had to abstain from certain daily activities like sweating it out in gyms, running after a moving bus in office hours, jostling with other passengers, indulging in adda sessions, visiting shopping malls and eating out at newly launched upmarket eateries.
All these things have become a thing of the past. Corona and lockdown have made us think of how life was centuries ago in a cave with a partner and not much more. Many of us have begun to feel that our “caveman” mentality is now dominating our consumerist selves and superfluities; unnecessary attachments and associations have taken a backseat. We have, maybe momentarily, bid farewell to gyms and work-out centres and are making do with freehand exercises or asanas, sitting on the modest mat at home. Instead of sumptuous lunches or dinners at expensive hotels or restaurants, we are now satisfied with minus-frills recipes at home that are, however, made more hygienically.
Post-Covid, many new normals will emerge both in our personal and domestic spheres as well as in public domains. All fields of life are witnessing sea changes, but the caveman inside us will begin to explore new meanings and benefits of isolationism and minimalism.
More and more people across the globe are reported to have veered towards the minimalistic path, consuming less as the world takes a giant pause as part of virus prevention measures. Hale Acun Aydin, founder of “The Turkish Way is Minimalism” movement says: “It doesn’t matter how many shoes we have now, we’re only using one pair to go to the supermarket.” She feels that home quarantine and lockdown measures have made people conscious of the necessity and benefits of minimalism. “During our time at home, we have started to notice more what items need to be repaired, or what things are missing or, more importantly, what we have more of than we really need.” Her words clearly highlight the minimalist motto: “Less is more.”
Joshua Becker, the author of the book, “The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own”, has, however, confessed that there has not been any marked increase in the USA in people’s awareness or interest about minimalistic living. Becker feels that once the heightened anxiety about a post-Covid future subsides, people will begin to think more earnestly about living life minimalistically. According to Becker, “minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.” Echoing Becker’s suggestions, Hale Aydin said that being a minimalist had brought her greater awareness about nature and climate. She went as far as to launch a campaign to reduce the use of paper cups at cafes. In the year since her crusade began with the hashtag, “#mycoffeeinathermos”, more than 200 coffee shops in Turkey started giving consumers discounts when they scrapped paper cups in favour of their own thermos flasks.
But the allure or pull of minimalistic living is not restricted to people of any age or any clime. If the American Joshua Becker has a website for promoting minimalist living, the passion for going for less has attracted many Indians. Take, for instance, the case of Nisha Bhimaiah. After drudging it out in the corporate world for a few years, she realized that this life was not meant for her. Having travelled far from her family farm in Kodagu, she settled for a covetable job in Bengaluru. Yet, over time, the wasteful ways of a urban lifestyle became all too apparent while the allure of a minimalist way of life pulled harder. “Everything was sustainable when I was growing up. Not even the sewage was waste. It was directed underground without treatment. The food waste went to farm animals or was converted to fertilizer. We followed a certain cycle of life. Only when I came to Bengaluru, I realised how much “waste” is wasted. That irked me,” said 46year-old Nisha to The Better India (TBI). Thus, a decade ago, she decided to leave her corporate job and made a switch that would give her the best of both worlds ~ the comforts of urban life and the sustainable, circular nature of rural life. She is today a lifestyle coach, counsellor and ecopreneur. Settled in Bengaluru, she conducts gardening, composting and other workshops for students, teens and adults, giving lessons about the essence of minimalism and zerowaste living. As Covid-19 lockdown has restricted our choices and movement, sustainable and minimalistic living has become handy for many people like Nisha who completed her 10-year journey of minimalism this April. But a minimalistic lifestyle is neither a post- Covid phenomenon nor a modern trend. The messages propagated by the best minimalistic blogs of 2020 like “Unfancy”, “Be More with Less”, ‘Slow Your Home”, ‘Exile Lifestyle”, and “Smart Living 365” echo the philosophy of ancient sages and saints, thinkers and religious preachers who advised people to reduce everything in their lives, especially possessions, to only the things they really love and need.
The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes (born in around 400 B.C.) famously lived inside a ceramic pot. He saw poverty as a virtue and chose a lifestyle as a way of criticising the values of a corrupt and confused society. Ever since the industrial revolution, the rise of the middle classes in developed countries has led to excess consumption. This has left many of us with too many belongings to manage ~ making life more complicated, tiring and stressful. This has also led to the huge amount of waste left for the planet to deal with.
American writer Henry David Thoreau (1812-1862) left his urban home to live the life of a recluse in the woods. He narrated his experience in the book Walden (1854). The first chapter of the book ~ with the apt title “Economy” ~ begins thus: “When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbour, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned the living by the labour of my hands only. I lived there for two years and two months…” Thoreau realised through observation and experience before moving to Walden Pond that fortune can be a burden. He pitied the young people who inherited lands, barns, cattle and tools. “Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf”, he wrote, “that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labour in”.
In the woods, Thoreau learned to walk in the dark at night, and bathed in the lake every morning ~ “a religious experience.” He wrote, read, baked bread, planted beans, talked to animals and marvelled at the majesty of the trees. Although Thoreau was criticised for many reasons, his influence upon today’s minimalist gurus and practitioners is immense and Walden, the story of Thoreau’s experiment, is the prototypical guide to the simple life, even if it is written by an imperfect man.
The Covid-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown have made a strong push for a simple lifestyle amid an atmosphere of alarming recession, foreclosures, joblessness, and underemployment. The value of a simple and decluttered life is gradually dawning upon many of us, a life devoid of wastage and superfluities just the way Thoreau experimented and influenced others like Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King to follow.
The hapless condition of migrant workers, the hardship and deprivation suffered by them in the wake of the Covid lockdown, the gigantic scale of suffering experienced by poor people in West Bengal after the Amphan fury ~ have all pricked our conscience and made us think of scaling down the wasteful mode of life many of us were used to. How successfully man can survive this crisis will depend upon a number of factors, not the least of which is his capacity to live a life reduced to bare essentials as was shown in the past by some wise souls.
The writer, a freelance contributor, teaches English at the Government-sponsored Sailendra Sircar Vidyalaya, Shyambazar, Kolkata