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The Appeal of Minimalism

Hailee Barber (3L)

Make it simple, but significant –Don Draper, Mad Men

Over the holidays my mom told me that she’d recently watched a documentary on Netflix called Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. The concept was something I’d come across a few times on Pinterest, so I had a basic understanding that minimalism referred to a pared down lifestyle, where excess is discouraged and functionality is embraced. I’d been wanting to simplify my life, so I decided I’d check out this documentary for myself.  As I watched the film I realized that much like the central figures in the documentary, “The Minimalists” Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, I was seeking out minimalism in the midst of a difficult time in my life where I felt the need to take a hard look at the people and things around me and decide what made me happy, and start working to minimize the rest.

A definition of minimalism that I quite like comes from Joshua Becker on his blog “Becoming Minimalist” and says that “minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it”.  Since watching the documentary I’ve had a few conversations with friends in and out of law school who’ve shown me that I’m not alone in feeling compelled to adopt aspects of minimalism in my life.  I get the sense that this stems from a desire amongst people, particularly young future professionals, to seek out systems of checks and balances to make sure that our lives aren’t getting away from us.  Minimalism seems to be a means through which people are attempting to reclaim their time, space and lives in a world that often runs amuck with the hours in our day and the money in our bank accounts.

This can be particularly useful for law students because of 1) the threat of the golden handcuffs, when young people start making substantial amounts of money and feel the need to live an expensive lifestyle because of society’s expectations of them, and 2) the pressure and tendency within the legal profession to commit ourselves to our work, and let the non-work elements of our lives become a secondary consideration. The busy, often stressful lives many of us will soon be leading has led me, and I would venture many of you too, to find ways to streamline and simplify life so that there’s more time, more money, and more room in our homes and brains to enjoy the things that are most important to us.

Minimalism is not a natural approach for me.  I have a tendency to hold onto clothes I don’t need and binders full of notes I’ll never look at again.  Yet when I take the time to clean and organize my space it always calms my mind and makes me feel satisfied and accomplished. So, while not instinctual, I find the notion of minimalism attractive.  With this in mind I took some time before the semester began to go through my clothes and sort out things to donate and sell. I purged some of those notes I’ll never read through, and emptied out the woeful backlog that was my email inbox.  I cleaned off my desk and my shelves, re-organized my books (the one collection I have no desire to minimize), and placed necessary desk supplies in neat, white file folders and boxes. To an eye more inclined to sparseness than my own, my room might still look like a small rodent chose to build a colourful nest of books and hair supplies in this space. To me though, the difference is obvious and satisfying. The feeling of having a space clear of unnecessary items frees my mind, and allows me the luxury of sitting in my space and feeling that I have the time and the option to do the things I love. I can listen to music, read a book, watch some Netflix, or sit and write.  When my space is clear that translates to my mind being clear and free to focus on what’s most important to me—minimalism at work.

My foray into minimalism so far has been…minimal. As indicated by my use of a quote by the fictional godfather of consumerism Don Draper I’m not yet fully immersed in this “less is more” mentality.  However, minimalism is a concept that I’ll continue to insert into my life in 2017.  To be cliché, but honest, over the past year I’ve come to realize that whether it’s “friends” or possessions, the loss of things that do not make you happy or build you up is really no loss at all.

Minimalism Resources: