I practice yoga regularly. On most days you’ll find me either on my mat at home, or at Yoga to the People — a donation-based yoga studio in Manhattan.
There is a place in Yoga that I call The Edge.
The Edge is a very special place, because it’s the balance between trying too hard in a pose, and not trying enough (checking out.) You’re challenging yourself to go deep enough into the position, but not striving so hard that you’ve gone too far.
You can hurt yourself if you go past The Edge before you’re ready.
If you hurt yourself, there’s a large possibility that you will undo all of the work that you’ve done so far.
The Edge is different for everyone. The Edge changes day to day. You’re constantly striving to find your Edge in any Yoga position.
I imagine The Edge exists in minimalism as well.
Before I practiced Yoga, I spent a number of years striving to be a professional dancer.
Dance is very different from Yoga. While they are both physical activities, the concept of watching The Edge isn’t quite as prevalent. In Yoga the aim is to do the work, it doesn’t matter if you can grab your foot and bend it back over your head. Some people can do this, some cannot, no one will hit you with a stick if you can’t touch your toes in Yoga.
Dance is the opposite. If you can’t bend your leg back over your head, you’re a failure.
The reason for this is quite simple: only the top 1% of dancers get paid. Dance is a performance-based medium, so your singular aim in life is to make it to the stage. If you don’t make it to the stage, you’re just an amateur.
In many cases, this means that dancers don’t watch The Edge as they move toward their end goal of being on the stage.
This leads to injuries, eating disorders, and a lot of pain and frustration.
A dancer wakes up every morning, looks into the mirror, and says themselves “damn, I’m getting older and fatter, and I’ll never be Baryshnikov.”
You have to watch your Edge, even as a dancer (and even if very few dance teachers are aware that The Edge exists.)
It’s easy to look at the fact that I’m living with 50-Things and assume that I just dropped everything all at once. This isn’t true at all.
I slowly worked towards The Edge of minimalist existence.
- In 2003 I moved in a Truck.
- In 2007 I moved in a Honda Civic.
- In 2009 I moved with three bags.
- In 2010 I will move with one bag.
I slowly reduced my possessions. I created boxes of stuff that I thought I didn’t need and put them in the corner for weeks until I was sure it was time for them to go.
I’ve structured my life so that my work is done in either the virtual realm, or I’m working with only my body.
My point is this: I’ve been pushing my minimalist Edge for my entire life. I’ve been working, and reworking the practice until I’m comfortable with living with less.
I’m sure some people have gone from McMansion to backpack in one day, but I certainly didn’t do that. I fear if a person changed their life that drastically, they’d be going past The Edge.
If you go past The Edge in minimalism, there’s a good chance you’ll hurt yourself.
That being said, you need to be conscious of the end goal.
Minimalism isn’t minimalism if you aren’t actually practicing. There’s such a thing as not reaching your Edge. If you don’t reach your Edge, you aren’t reaching your full potential.
Minimalism is such an abstract concept. It can really apply to any number of things. You can get lost activities such as clearing off you desk, or re-organizing your bookshelf, and then smiling to yourself and calling yourself a rockstar minimalist. You are a minimalist! But you’re missing the point.
There’s a point when you aren’t pushing the edge.
Sometimes you aren’t making the effort. You’re just settled down, and waiting for something to happen. This, in my opinion, is most of society.
These people are constantly consuming endless amounts of junk, putting it in their houses, wondering why they aren’t happy. It’s sad, really.
I know, I’ve been there. I spent an entire year completely checked out at my day job. I drank too much and gained twenty pounds of belly fat. I had days during that time where my minimalist ambitions included gathering up six-packs of empty beer bottles and multiple take-out packages from the floor of my room in Brooklyn.
We’ve all been down that road, but there’s a point where you have to take a look what you’re aiming for. To set a goal and push your Edge consciously until you actually reach it.
At some point you have to set goals for yourself.
One day I simply set a goal: I was going to move across the country and start working for myself, or I’d die trying.
To do that I knew that I needed to reduce my possessions to less than 100 things. I didn’t do this because I thought I’d one-up all of the other minimalists –I obviously didn’t anyway. I didn’t do this to make a statement about society –though apparently people have told me that I have.
I made the decision to have less than 100 things and fit everything in the bag, because it was the only possible way that I could see for me to succeed. I wouldn’t have been able to start my own business, and be an average American consumer at the same time. Maybe you can! Good.
Last year I had a difficult choice to make: life-time servitude to the system that wants me to be in debt and buy buy buy until I die, or minimalist freedom. I opted for freedom.
I couldn’t have done this without taking minimalism to the top 1%.
I’m not saying that to gloat, I’m not saying that because I have less stuff than you. Who cares how much stuff I have, I’m not trying to one-up any of you.
The thing is, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what I did, without going all the way to The Edge. I need to go to this place of less at this moment in time.
Yes, this means that:
I probably won’t live with 50-things forever. I probably won’t live and work from anywhere forever.
Sooner or later I might find a new challenge to pursue. (But it won’t be learning how to buy stupid stuff.)
[UPDATED: Actually, screw the people who criticize counting things.
We need to stand up for what we believe in: living with less is better.
There is nothing obsessive about having less (and making a point of showing people.) What is unhealthy: having tons of stuff. Stuff holds you down, it keeps you from being free and pursuing your dreams.
Living with 50 things and being location independent is pretty damn awesome. I wouldn’t be able to do this and have buckets of junk.
In response to Charley Forness’s thoughtful rant.]
I do enjoy living with less at the moment.
Part of me knows, that you can’t really know a thing until you’ve gone all the way with it.
- You haven’t known dance until you’ve pushed yourself to The Edge on a stage in front of a full house.
- You haven’t known Yoga until you’ve pushed yourself to The Edge through an entire sequence, collapsed into Savasana and passed out from blissfulness.
- You haven’t known minimalism until all of your possessions fit into a backpack (my Edge) and hopped on a plane to a place you’ve never been before.
Maybe your Edge right now is cleaning off your desk and donating a few books. Donate those books, but make sure you’re pushing your Edge when you do it. If the junk just comes back you’re not making progress.
The point is, The Edge is different for everyone.
Maybe your Edge will never get to the point where you’re hopping on planes. That’s okay! But you have to push yourself to The Edge (but not too far.) or you’ll never see progress.
I’d love for you to retweet this post if it helped you — this is the best way to help people find my writing. Thank you.
If you’re interested, I have a guest post over at The Art of Great Thingsabout pursing quality in life.
And Bud Hennekes wrote a reviewed The Art of Being Minimalist and interviewed me at PluginID.