I have a few items I can consider to be both minimalist and indulgences. Maybe minimalist isn’t even the word I want to use. But I have found that having the right tool for the job is only bested by the experience of having one right tool that performs many jobs. Pairing down our possessions to the fewest number of “right tools” without needing to use a wrong tool is the heart of what I’m getting at here. Normally, I post about software, but today I want to share some thoughts about things.
Perhaps the first on my list is my Smart Cabriolet. I have to really flog it and put in 87 octane petrol to get it to dip below 37 mpg. My Smart is safer than a bicycle, moped, scooter, or motorcycle. Yes, it gets worse gas mileage, but a check of fueleconomy.gov reveals that it gets the best fuel economy of any non-hybrid automatic transmission vehicle. Since studies have shown that one needs to spend $88,000 or more on a Mercedes hybrid to find a hybrid whose economy will pay for its higher-than-gasoline-equivalent model, I would have to say I have the most economical car on the road (at least until EV’s start wide distribution). Unlike electric vehicles, I can drive my Smart until I keel over from exhaustion or run out of continent. But it is an indulgence that wouldn’t have been needed had I opted to live closer to work or the transit center. Given that I live in a suburb and have a job, but only 24 hours in my day, a car is a necessity. (The Triangle Transit Trip Planner estimates just shy of 3.5 hours to commute by bus.)
The Smart marries up well with my Droid Incredible. Among smarthphone operating systems in current release, I believe Android to be the only acceptable operating system for a phone. With my speakers jacked into the Smart radio and the phone cradled in the upper cup holder, I have all the podcasts and tunes-to-commute-by that a guy could ever want. If you have, um, business to take care of in the rest room, it also sports a Kindle app to pass the time as you pass the, well, never mind.
Smartphones are not a necessity any more than a car. Indeed, I could go naked and gather nuts and berries. But when one considers that the smartphone has replaced the radio, the cd-player, the home phone, the car map, the encyclopedia, the atlas, the dictionary, the camera, the movie camera, the filing cabinet, the calculator, etc. It seems kind of minimalist, doesn’t it?
Is a Kindle minimalist? It is definitely environmentally friendly. Fewer pulp trees cut. No carbon fuels burned to ship books (which are quite dense and, therefore, heavy to ship). But it also allows for far fewer trips to the book store or library. One doesn’t need a big house to store one’s personal library which also saves energy costs. Reading glasses are unnecessary because the font size can be enlarged instead. Yes, the Kindle does rarely need to have its battery recharged, but I think that in balance we would have to say it is pretty green. Multi-tools are only acceptable by my criteria if each of the tools are actually good at what they do. I love the Kindle app on the Incredible and iPad, but nothing beats the experience of reading on a Kindle. I read more because of it. It is a single purpose tool that justifies its existence because the purpose is important enough to warrant a dedicated device. Since the Kindle replaces shelves filled with dead trees and the room needed for the shelves it is also minimalist for someone who has evolved to the point of reading.
With the iPad pointing to the future, I would argue that a tablet computer or netbook is an energy efficient and compact entertainment center and communication (email, messaging, social websites, and, hopefully soon, VOIP and video chat) device. Less mail means this is green, also. Portability is critical to nomadic but social folk. While I am less than secretly covetous of my wife’s iPad, I am holding out to see what Android tablets are released before Christmas.
A computer with a Ceton four tuner cablecard-ready PCI-express card, a Blu-Ray player and the Windows 7 Media Center replaces the DVR and DVD player as well as making the minimal allowance for work to be done. Not that I own this system, but I aspire to do so. I do have a Windows 7 HTPC that I consider to be better than any other system I’ve used in the past. The most fun of the electronics we own is also the most productive. Books can be written; movies produced; pictures edited; art generated; music composed and recorded. The new patron of the arts doesn’t play politics but democratically enables every aspiring creative artist with a means to make their vision a reality. Any technology, structure, or modern abode will be given birth through computer-generated drawing and project plans. Life sciences will be postulated, modeled, and reported. Medical research will be statistically scrutinized, experts will collaborate, and medical histories will be recorded. All of this from one little energy-sipping box. Human reason and imagination channeled through that box and leveraged by the internet community has changed and will continue to change the world.
A roof over our heads; a place to rest our heads; an environment controlled to allow for maximum productivity, creativity, and enriched living; a locale that is our own, our nest, our refuge, our home; a place to cook rather than eat processed meals; a garden; with art to feed our spirits. A house can be easily over-done and over-emphasized. In a world of need, a house is a luxury and a necessity. That others have less does not mean that they or we deserve less. A body needs shelter. A soul needs a home.
And in most climates, the sun, the rain, the heat, the cold, or some combination makes clothing a necessity. Like a house, clothing can also be easily over-done and over-emphasized. Like a house clothing both protects us and expresses us. Clothing is a necessity but a minimalist might wish to show restraint in going beyond necessity. But I’n not suggesting a drab wardrobe in place of creative and stylish expression. I just prefer elegance to ostentation.
Lastly, comes one’s baggage. My messenger bag has taken the place of the kerchief on a stick. It makes available the resources to get the most out of my equipment and my travels. Within that bag I carry a paradigm of all these multipurpose possessions, my Swiss Army Knife.
Do I have more than I need? Like most Americans, my answer is obvious. But occasionally I like to step back and think about what I have versus what I need and weigh whether I have lost the balance between need, desire, and stewardship.
What do you have? What do you need? What do you share? Will the mark we leave in passing be a divot from the turf or a tree beneath the sky?