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  • Writer's pictureZebulon McCain

Minimalism/Essentialism

Minimalism might not immediately come to mind when exploring masculine self-development but bear with me as I make the case that a simpler life can be a more masculine life.

Since the advent of agriculture around eleven thousand years ago, resources have had some degree of difficulty in their acquisition.   Not having enough can be a real problem.  Our ancestors that did not think ahead and have some food and other items stashed probably suffered and some of them died. Those that survived learned the lesson that having some extra stuff can greatly improve odds of survival. Evolution (or God if you prefer) decided to make resource acquisition a pleasurable activity to buffer humans from intermittent scarcity.  

People today still derive pleasure from the acquisition of material goods; these old ways are still with us. If abundance is an ideal, what if materialism is a misguided version of abundance? Things get tricky here. Enough can quickly become too much; I argue that in our country today we tend toward the side of excess. Author and minimalist Garry Collins as a guest on the Art of Manliness podcast episode 699 agrees. He also mentions our consumerism fuels a “cycle of debt” and that we tend to “use things as a substitute for purpose”.

Our primal brain prompts us to acquire more and more stuff. Instinct connected to survival and overcoming potential scarcity are hijacked by marketing then factor into why we buy shit. The excitement and fun of seeking out and purchasing something is rewarding, if only for a short time. Industries capitalize on this and encourage us to be good consumers. Sadly, it warrants mentioning that much of the consumer goods in our country originates from a region that is our enemy both militarily and economically. The 2021 book entitled America’s #1 Adversary by three knowledgeable writers is enlightening on this topic. The ruling communist party of China has imperialist aspirations and certainly uses the funds we provide them to constantly increase their level of weaponization and espionage, much of which is pointed directly at our own country.

Meanwhile, in our own country, being lazy is not considered to be a good thing, so we view staying “busy” as a positive. Previous generations certainly valued hard work because usually it was productive. Today being “busy” supposedly imparts some intangible value to the individual (men in particular). Busy is not the same as being productive. Just as we live in a time where food contains more fat and sugar than our ancestors had, we now have access to more “busy work” and cheap imported stuff than they could have imagined. The consequences are nearly as disastrous to our overall health.

There is more at work than simply basic survival. Another level of resource possession would be exaggerated social status and its rewards. Male power, status, and resources are tools that can enable more mating with high sexual marketplace value females. More than just “gold-digging”, females would like the resources to complete their biological agenda too. They want to reproduce themselves and have those kids be as safe and well cared for as possible thus improving the likelihood the kids themselves will grow to reach reproductive age. Usually, the most direct route for females is still through men with resources (ideally through the social contract of marriage). Her genetics are more likely to live on through her children that are now protected from scarcity by their father or stepfather.

There is nothing wrong with this system, yet I advise men to prioritize themselves and not to lure women with resources. We have been conditioned from a young age that gifts from a man are an expression of love to a female. I see this as symbolic of his ability and intention to provision for said female. Ask yourself what does she offer in return? The “possibility of sex” of course, but that is one of the most expensive things a man can buy. Sure, women can “love” us, but their love can dry up just as quickly as our paycheck does, or sometimes even when it does not. Men: let us make investing in ourselves a priority rather than diving directly into servitude.

Physical items are just a part of the headaches. Since time is so scarce, we often rush around multitasking to tend to our overburdened schedules. Our brains are not sufficient to keep track, so we use planners, alarms, reminder notifications and other technology to help us keep up. We get online and overwhelm ourselves with news and other forms of exhausting drama while being surveilled and receiving targeted advertisements. It is simply too much to handle. The Organized Mind: Thinking straight in the age of information overload by David J. Levitin has excellent points. The author cites Nobel Prize winning economist and cognitive psychologist Herbert A. Simon, he mentions that “our attentional systems are overloaded.” and “multitasking is the enemy of a focused attention system”.

It is vital for us as men to get junk out of our life, reduce our media consumption drastically, and just simplify. This calms the mind, increases focus, and reduces stress. My wife is trained in professional organizing (yeah that is a real thing). As best I can gather, organizing and minimizing one’s life involves getting rid of physical things. However, it goes way beyond that, streamlining systems, organizing data, and basically a new lifestyle that is focused on simplicity. Turning off phone notifications and designating specific short times to check e-mail or other limited online activities can help calm the mind.

We may live in a “material world”, but we also live in the “information age”. Fifty-thousand years ago men were not having yard sales or suffering from information overload (and probably were less depressed). Thanks to materialism burdening us with stuff and unlimited media fragmenting our attention, today our quality of life can suck. As men we must get our life simplified as much as possible

The excellent 2014 book Essentialism by Greg McKeown is worth a read. I expected a manual about how to live with less stuff, however the content is far more profound than that. Rather than focus on material goods, the author promotes “criteria for what is essential” and a “process of prioritization”. He encourages placing a high value on one’s time and attention to help prevent getting drawn into overcommitting (as a former “nice guy” I can attest that overcommitting can be a problem). The author addresses how modern people think it is possible to “have it all”. People tend to take on more obligations than is healthy, and as a result we suffer chronic stress that reduces our cognitive function as well as physical health. We agree to pile on more commitments at school, work, and home because it is viewed as the good and hardworking thing to do.

Instead, we must use “Extreme Criteria'' when faced with this bullshit. Some type of “no'' is a good default for about 90% of cases, leaving the possibility of a “yes” for something that truly matters. This process is difficult, but well worth it. There will be some sad faces occasionally and sometimes a decent opportunity will be missed; casualties of claiming personal sovereignty I say. McKeown makes the point: “saying no often requires trading popularity for respect”. Our fear of disappointing others (by not taking on more burdens) can be a prison that prevents us from focusing on our true “essential intent” in life. Just to clarify, I am not encouraging becoming a lazy bastard; actually, rather a more unencumbered and more driven individual. Saying no to some projects (in business, home, or volunteering) can be a huge weight lifted, not only in terms of time, but also personal mental real estate. By engaging in the ongoing practice, I have found that more time (and focus) is available to write, travel, build my brand, and progress towards becoming financially independent.

A 2016 documentary film entitled Minimalism, makes the profound point that we are better off seeking an experience-based life rather than a material-based life. The theory that humans buy shit primarily to have a joyful experience relates to this premise. We are going about it all wrong; material stuff does not automatically create a satisfying experience. What if we minimize (and simplify), then only acquire a few quality items that we need or want? Preferably these quality items are made in our own country, thus reinvesting in our own domestic economy rather than into an enemy superpower. Let us build a genuine bad ass masculine lifestyle based on true self development rather than exploiting ourselves by going into unnecessary debt buying excessive junk that we hope will impress others.

Instead, we can retain more of our time and money then redirect both to build a more successful future. What if we say “No” more often to others so we have the time and resources to say “Yes” to our own high priority endeavors? As a rule, let us become more mercenary with our time. Time is an incredibly high value resource. Mental and physical health are at stake here, relationships too. As McKeown says: “I can do anything, but not everything.”

Russel Brand, author of the excellent Audible books: Recovery and Mentors pitches the idea that what we lack in the intangible (experiences, spiritual, or otherwise) we tend to compensate for with physical goods.  That makes absolute sense, let us seek quality relationships, experiences and possibly a spiritual connection instead of the consumerist life. 

This is my task on the path of gaining personal sovereignty, and yours too if you accept it.

Z.

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