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The Lives and Ties of Transcendentalism and Modern-Day Minimalism

The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus.

The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus.

Minimalism is the belief that one should reduce the amount of possessions and worries in their life for the sake of simplicity, often valuing the needs of oneself in relation to their health and nature over the wants of general society. This mirrors the beliefs of Transcendentalism, commonly represented by the works and lives of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The Transcendentalists found simplicity to be important in their lives because of the innate connection to nature it provided them, in addition to the focus they were able to put on the aspects of their lives they considered to be truly important, which mirrors modern-day minimalism.

Earth is what provides and sustains life to everything on it: trees, animals, humans, etc. Without nature, we wouldn’t be alive, or even human. To strip down a human to the bare bones is to discover the innate connection to nature that we’ve had since the beginning of time. We are all made out of the same thing: chemicals. The basic principle of Transcendentalism is to reconnect oneself to nature through the elimination of the unnecessary. When one is connected to nature, they find benefit from the feeling of the rough grass scratching legs and feet, the sound of frogs croaking in the late evening over supper, the smell of smoke from a morning fire, the sight of clouds moving across the sky in the dead of night. According to Emerson, “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit” (374). The attitude nature can have towards humans mirrors their true intention when surrounded by the sights and smells of earth.

When one fills their life and schedule with people, events, work, and school, they are blocked from truly anything they do because their mind is constantly preoccupied with what is coming next in their life. But when, according to Thoreau in his writing Walden, one has “hardly need to count more than his ten fingers” (382), they are given the mental and physical capacity to allow themselves to be closer to nature: the base of all human development.

Transcendentalism is the foundation for all simplistic lifestyles today, such as modern-day minimalism. Minimalists believe in the eradication of the unnecessary to make room for the necessary, which mirrors Transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. In addition to just physical simplification, Emerson and Thoreau believed in the concern for oneself over the views of a stranger. “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think” (Emerson, 372). They reduced the stress of pleasing others by simply not caring, in stark contrast to Minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn: “Love people, use things. The opposite doesn’t work.” They instead believe in the centering of people in their lives. But one similarity in this is to not clutter up one’s life with unnecessary physical objects and fleeting worldly pleasures, but instead to fill up one’s life with the irreplaceable personal experiences that can only be provided by a life close to flourishing nature.

Overall, Transcendentalism and Minimalism are two social movements that have the same end goal: to simplify one’s life and find what is truly important, usually with comfort found in nature. As Emerson wisely put it in his essay Self-Reliance, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself” (46). All one should truly concern oneself with is whatever shall make them happy, safe, and content in their own lives: being self-reliant, surrounded by nature.

© 2021 Melanie Wynne

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