The New Smugness: Keeping it to a Minimum

As you're probably tired of hearing by now, this evening at 6:30 I will be visiting the Rapha Cycle Club in the Bowery, which is a once-gritty and now "douchey" area in Manhattan. Once there, I will display images loosely connected to the theme of "epic." I will also give away a few t-shirts and other random items I have in my home (who wants the toilet plunger?), probably by "curating" a game of "Rapha Price Is Right" in which people must guess how outrageously priced certain Rapha garments are. There will also be copies of my Pulitzer Prize-winning book available. I'll also add that, if you're considering attending but are unsure, there is some rain in the forecast for this evening, and that means your ride to the Rapha Cycle Club will automatically be "epic:"

Also, if you want to make your ride even more "epic," I recommend following these directions:

If you leave now you should arrive by the end of the month.

Speaking of "epic," in researching the theme I discovered an exciting and new (at least to me) form of smugness. Apparently, there is a movement of people who advocate and brag about living a "minimalist lifestyle," and this minimalism is supposedly the key to making your life "more epic:"

At first glance, I thought that perhaps these minimalists might be on to something. I certainly believe that, for the most part, we have way too much stuff, and I also don't think it's a stretch to say that "we've been duped into buying things by an advertisement-dominated society for the last 50 years." However, as I continued to read I grew increasingly suspicious. As you can see from the title of the above post, the author only has 57 things. Here is the list of those things:

Here’s my list of 57 things:

MacBook Pro
Macbook cleaning cloth
iPhone 4
iPhone earbuds
Black Yoga Mat
Moleskin notebook
Pen to write in moleskin notebook
Surly Steamroller Fixie
Bike lock
Frye Boots
Gray Converse Allstars
Tom’s Shoes
REI two-person backpacking tent
Sleeping bag
Gray hoodie
Wind breaker
Army jacket
Tweed jacket
Black heavier jacket
Gray backpack
Black Diamond Gray Backpacking bag
Cutoff old jeans
Purple tank
Purple tank
Gray tank
Gray long-sleeve sweatshirt
Gray long-sleeve T
Coffee tank
Gray v-neck
Gray v-neck
Black v-neck
Blue v-neck
Purple T
Gray T
Gray T
Black T
Swim Trunks
Keys to apartment + bike lock
Minimalist “wallet” (really just a paper clamp that I keep my cards and cash in)
Gray sweatpants
Brown sweatpants
Brown button cowboy shirt
Gray button-down
Socks (about 10 pairs)
Underwear (about 10 pairs)
Sewing repair kit for clothes
Travel towel
Knit hat that Alix made me
1 TB harddrive
500 Gb harddrive (looking into cloud backup options)

My first thought after reading this was, "Wow, minimalist or not, that's a lot of crap!" Indeed, I immediately spotted a number of items that could be pruned from this bloated list. For example, do you really need a MacBook Pro and a MacBook cleaning cloth? I mean, there's nothing wrong with taking care of an expensive computer, but if you're going to be a minimalist couldn't you just wipe it off with your shirt or something? And speaking of shirts, the author has two purple tank tops. I would argue that simply owning one single purple tank top is grossly excessive, let alone having a second one to wear while the first one is in the wash. Just lose the cloth and the extra tank top and you're already down to 55 things. Plus, honestly, does a minimalist really need deodorant? The only reason to wear deodorant is for other people, and I can't imagine many people are trying to get too close a guy who walks around in sweatpants, Frye boots, and a purple tank top. Where I live, when you see that you cross the street.

Also, why does he count keys as a separate item (arguably the key is part of the bike lock just as much as the keys are a part of the computer) yet counts his ten pairs of underpants as a single item? Why does a minimalist even need underpants? If Iggy Pop can live as long as he has without wearing underpants, then so can a minimalist. As far as I can tell, this whole "minimalist" thing is really about rationalization. Consider this "disclaimer:"

It would appear from this that he lives with someone called Alix, and between them they share the usual kitchen and furniture items as well as "a blender/food processor which is decidedly un-minimalist," but which he rationalizes by saying it facilitates minimalist breakfasts. Now, if you live with someone who has a bunch of stuff, and you use that stuff, at best that makes you the same as everyone else in this country who has a bunch of stuff, or at worst it makes you a freeloader. It does not make you a minimalist. That's like saying you're a vegetarian even though you're always taking bites of your boyfriend or girlfriend's hamburger.

In fact, most people in a relationship would probably agree that, if in addition to all the items you share with your spouse, life partner, or significant other you also have 57 things that are entirely your own, then you've got what professional organizers call "a lot of shit."

Of course, true minimalism has nothing to do with keeping low inventory--it has to do with your attitude towards the stuff you have. While I might have more than 57 things (I never bothered to count), I have a pretty simple view of all of it. Here's a list of all the stuff I own and share as I see it:

--Shit I Need
--Shit I Play With

The only way I could make my life any simpler would be to get rid of the shit I play with, but in a lot of cases I also play with the shit I need (computers, bikes, and "pants yabbies" come to mind), so in a way it would be impossible, and in any case things are so simple already there would really be no point.

It's hardly surprising though that minimalism would become the latest form of conspicuous consumption, living as we do in the age of the overpriced fixed-gear and the designer ax(e). Plus, there are a whole lot of people in the world living with a lot less than 57 things because, well, that's just how it is. At the very least, if you're going to be a minimalist, then go all the way. I realize this guy is a blogger and "needs" a computer, but if his only possession was a Snuggie and he preached his minimalist doctrine on a little hill someplace Jesus style then I might be impressed. Really, even the Snuggie would technically be more than he needs, since a true minimalist would have nothing. Until then, he's just a tech geek with a Costanza-esque wardrobe.

And what about that Steamroller he owns? I notice he doesn't list a pump, or a patch kit, or chain lube, all of which I'd argue are necessary if you own a bicycle. I guess you can go to the gas station or the bike shop when you need air, and I guess you can "borrow" things like patches and lube from people when you need them, but at what point is the effort involved ultimately less simple than simply having the stuff? This bike is "minimalist" at the expense of practicality:

Whereas this behemoth, while arguably bloated, might also arguably make your life simpler:

Either way, between fixed-gears and futuristic "concept bikes" the Forces of Minimalism are compelled towards cycling like the the moth to the coconut. (Moths love coconuts even more than they love flames.) Consider this minimalist frame design that was forwarded to me by a reader:

Not only is it minimalist, but it's also "green" because it uses fewer welds (Earth, thou art saved)--though that's still more than it would require if it were never made at all, which it probably shouldn't be considering the fact that you can't even adjust the seatpost:

Anyway, everybody knows the real "green" frame material of choice is bamboo--ask the New York Times:

But don't ask an actual rider of a bamboo bicycle. This one seemed annoyed when I asked about his awhile back:

I can't really blame him though. I am pretty annoying.

But regardless of what smug manufacturing process is currently in vogue, the minimalist lifestyle seems to be gaining traction--though it's not because of their shoes. In fact, a reader in Philadelphia recently spotted this person cycling without them:

("Cycle Chic" goes barefoot.)

I guess shoeless is the new clipless.

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