February has mostly been about silence, quietude, classified thoughts and reclaiming personal time. I went back and forth into my shell, spoke less, read more and let life wash over me. It felt good to not push the trite moments away while embracing the pristine. And in between the two, I picked the empty ones to refine the roadmaps to a life I never want to stop being in love with. Personal goals, however, seem fragmented if they don’t cause at least a tiddly positive ripple that extends beyond self. As I went about setting intentions for the coming year, questions kept inadvertently popping up: “Do the benefits of a minimalistic life extend to society?” “How can I make a significant change?” “What kind of trail am I leaving behind?” Because regardless of who we are, each one of us has a wisdom that the world needs.
When I bid adieu to the corporate world, the first lesson to put into practice was to draw a line between needs and wants. When you make a decision to go from clutching at bits of life in between the frenzy, to enjoying a deliberate life, little changes become mandatory. In retrospect, that’s when the shift had subtly begun. My daughter was five at the time, and her first lesson in ‘Enoughism’ was to be mindful of what she picked up at the supermarket. We called it the ‘one dirham’ rule. If it’s one dirham or less, she could have it. When Barbie became a rage, she was encouraged to play with simpler, chubbier dolls. Without even realising it, the micro decisions were adding up. Now as a 22-year old, when I see her spend wisely or choose character over status while picking friends, it seems like we did something right. Raising a wholesome, thinking person does add value to society.
Minimalism is not about deprivation, you just need to know when to rein it in. And it’s only human to slip sometimes. But we have to understand the consequences of our actions. The undercurrents of consumerism run deep. Like termites that stay hidden from sight until the rafters come crashing down, it has eaten away at the very fabric that is supposed to hold us together. How did we morph into a perpetually stressed lot, always running around, always distracted and always in the quest to accumulate more? A bunch of robots so busy holding on to devices that we don’t even realise what we have let go of? The litter we are leaving behind is grim and worrisome. It’s overwhelming when you think about making amends, but we can start small and still make a difference.
The other day I asked my daughter what her dream home looked like. “A well-kept studio apartment”, she said matter-of-factly. It might sound strange but it’s mighty sensible. When we live in small uncluttered spaces, conserve energy and buy less, what happens is this: “We bring down the CO2 levels, caused due to the burning of all the fuel needed, to power the making of crap that we don’t really need”. So the simplest way to add value is to change the way we live. This is the easiest way to reduce our carbon footprints and the most precious gift we can leave behind for posterity. It’s how we can pay it forward.
Recently, I dined at a new restaurant in my neighbourhood. It turned out to be a beautiful experience. The music was lilting, the staff friendly, the menu handpicked and the food fresh. The server explained every dish to me right down to the sourcing of the ingredients. Their USP was ‘fresh, organic and simple’. That meal was poetry in motion and seemed like a perfect synecdoche for the life I was aiming at.
One of life’s simpler pleasures has always been dessert. When the tiramisu came, the proprietor, a young man in his 20s, threw me a challenge. “Identify the five spices in this dessert and you earn a parting drink for free”, he chimed. As I rolled a spoonful of the dessert on my tongue, the spices stood out enough for me to name them correctly. I got the free drink as promised. But the most valuable takeaway was this: Whether it’s food, possessions or life, when you eliminate the superfluity, what remains is the essence.