A Little More of Less
“Peace cannot be created—it is already there beneath the chaos.”
Inside Minimalism, Vol. 1
Based on our exclusive subscription series, Inside Minimalism Vol.1 is a collection of 50 short and relatable essays on simple living by a small team of writers from different backgrounds, but who all share a deep appreciation for minimalism as a way of life. Enjoy a curated collection of beautiful writing with a single one-off purchase and support independent creators.
Words by Felix Strohbach
Independence and self-determination have always been important to me. At age sixteen, I bought a scooter to be independent from my parents. At age eighteen, I bought a car because the scooter was too slow for me. The last few years, I’ve owned only a bike, and that is my first real declaration of independence.
Back to the beginning. When I turned 14 I started handing out advertising flyers, saved my pocket money, and scraped together two years' worth of birthday and Christmas money to get my scooter driver's license. Two years later I bought a red scooter. I’d never have to ride the regional train again, never have to depend on my parents again. For the first time in my life, I felt independent and grown up.
Scooter Instead of Train
I could sleep longer on school days and commute between my parents’ house and friends’ on weekends without looking at a train schedule. It was a pleasant feeling. It was as if, with my hand on the throttle of my scooter, I was also in control of my life. I felt a tingle in my stomach when I accelerated. I felt alive. In the summer, I enjoyed the warm breeze on my face, and in the winter, I tried to ignore the icy wind. Friends complimented me on my scooter and my parents praised me for being independent.
Despite all the positive effects, I was not satisfied. With my scooter, I was by far the slowest on the road. It was limited to 45 kilometers an hour, and cars passed me dangerously close. After two years, it was clear to me: I need a car, too. And for that I need money, again.
Car Instead of Scooter
At eighteen, I finished school, got my driver's license, and started working in a plastics factory for ten euros an hour. After months of night shifts and holiday bonuses, I bought a red 1997 Mazda MX-3.
It tingled from my fingertips down my arms to all corners of my body as I turned the key to the side in my first car. The ignition hissed and the engine began to rumble. Now I could drive in any weather, in any direction, until the tank was empty.
After 600 kilometers, I had to refuel with almost 40 liters of Super 95 and half a liter of engine oil. After nine months, all the brakes were worn out. After one year the wheel bearings were worn out, and after eighteen months, the exhaust had rusted through. While my job just about covered the cost of fuel and repairs, insurance and car tax ate up my savings. I decided to give the car away.
Train Instead of Car
There I sit again on the faded seat covers of the train, looking at the timetable. While the landscape passed by the window, I take a deep breath. I felt liberated. No more gas and repair costs. Instead of working for a car, today I sit on the train and look out the window. I can make better use of my time there and fret less about traffic jams and worry less about scratches in the paint. For shorter distances I ride my bike and occasionally I borrow an electric car.
Words by Sekulaer
When I was 13, I was what you might consider “difficult.” This time, I struck a nerve.
“Why do we have to go?” I tested for the zillionth time.
“Why can’t you be more grateful?” my parents snapped back.
The typical Saturday morning exchange between my teenage self and my parents never yielded answers. Why should I spend my Saturday morning listening to a shaggy man drone on in a strange language? It was bad enough when my teachers would do it in English. Never mind this happening on my day off.
The chasm between my beliefs and my parents’ widened as I prepared for my Bat Mitzvah. Committed to my role as “difficult teenager,” I tested again:
“How does singing a Torah portion make me a woman?”
According to their plans, I would be the star performer in a show intended to impress friends, family, and congregation members. I would sing in Hebrew for an hour and make my family proud. Then, after grazing on stuffed mushrooms during the cocktail hour, we would dance in a soda-fueled frenzy, bumping the hottest tracks of the mid-2000s. It would be spectacular, but unwanted. After more arguments (and lots of crying), I became a woman on May 28th, 2005.
We seldom control how we spend our time when we’re children. In the winter, we sit on Santa’s lap or spin dreidels on the floor. In the spring, we hunt for easter eggs or the afikomen. These traditions might represent memories of love and family. Scarcely, however, do we acknowledge the stranglehold these traditions have on us into adulthood and their broader implications. Are religious traditions simply regifting the genuine human experiences we most cherish—meaningful experiences with and for those we love?
Minimalism, for me, was about getting back to the basics. I glanced back at the rickety structure that previously housed my dreams, values, and beliefs and disassembled it. It was alarmingly liberating, removing layer upon layer until even the foundation itself was stripped. But this reckoning didn’t come without its challenges. When the first storm struck, hard and without warning, I realized just how vulnerable I was without a roof overhead. Thus began the difficult, hasty task of re-engineering my essential scaffolding.
Surrounded by all the deconstructed materials I could ever want or need, I rebuilt with a focus on strengthening my foundation and using the least number of studs to frame maximal life fulfilment. Instead of walls, the openness of the structure allowed new sources of light to grace my evolving philosophy. If minimalism was the pursuit, clarity was the outcome. But I learned that clarity can be uncomfortable. Especially when applied to spirituality.
In the years after my Bat Mitzvah, I was indifferent to discussions of faith. I never prayed, but I also never questioned. As I journeyed into minimalism, I found myself deconstructing my religious programming. My own powers of observation led me to draw conclusions to questions concerning my morality, identity, and purpose on this planet. I found that minimizing helped me gain the clarity and strength I needed to abandon religion. They say that atheism is a side effect of critical thinking, but maybe it’s the result of hitting the “reset” button.
If you find that your religious traditions and obligations still give your life meaning— groovy! It’s always satisfying, after deep reflection, to be confident in your actions. But if you’re like me and have lugged religion through life the same way one boxes and unboxes unused items after every move, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate.
Anything that challenges normalcy is scary at first. Many of my closest friends still don’t know. I wish to remain anonymous, but I created an Instagram account to reconcile my fears of venturing into the unknown with the sheer freedom its enabled. That has me helped immensely.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned so far as an atheist and a minimalist is that it pays to be adaptable. For instance, it’s never too late to start over and create new traditions. My husband and I discovered new ways of approaching the holiday season to better reflect our values. Instead of wasteful decorations and gift-giving, we cook ourselves a traditional meal from a new country every year— preferably a country we’d like to someday travel to. The joy of researching recipes and savoring striking flavors brings us focus and fulfilment. We eat together, grateful for the food on our table and the love that nourishes us.
My family is finally selling their home of 34 years. Boxes of my childhood belongings started appearing on my front porch this summer. Being the experienced minimalist I am, I sorted through each of them, methodically culling the collection to 6 or 7 items worth keeping. Among the boxes was a carefully wrapped picture frame. Inside the frame was a certificate acknowledging my Bat Mitzvah. In deceivingly flowery text it warns “Do not forsake my Torah.” I knew exactly what to do.
A Little More of Less
A few other articles we think you might enjoy…
→ The Burden of Attachment by Joshua Fields Millburn
→ Expand Your Don’t Want List by Joshua Becker
→ The Tragedy & Liberation of Death by Leo Babauta
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