“Essentialism,” Whatever It Is

images-1Over lunch today, glazing the eyes of my wife, I went on at length, as I am usually wont to do, this time on the subject of Shredded Wheat and my tendencies toward what I’ve come to call “Essentialism.”  That’s not to be confused with Puritanism or self-denial. Essentialism to me is an internal paradigm, a mode of moving towards something like a backpacker’s vision of life, which is to say, never carrying anything you don’t really need, but also not doing without the things you feel are essential to living life on your own terms. 

Why then Shredded Wheat? Shredded Wheat because it would seem to me that our current world of half-mile-long breakfast cereal aisles has come to define inessentiality. Who needs to wander among endless boxes of overpriced, over-processed things like Chocolate-Covered Sugar Bombs trying to decide what to eat for a Tuesday morning breakfast? It can also mean choosing $32 Converse sneakers instead of entering the universe of Nike or Foot Locker stores to ponder hundreds of models of what are essentially, sneakers. A durable pair of Levi’s will outlast any of the nearly indistinguishable “designer jeans.” I mean, the damned things started out as work pants for farmers. And maybe add $8 J.C. Penny T-shirts to the list. 

All of the above is probably a result staying up too late or having heard Delbert McClinton’s “Too Much Stuff,” or more likely it’s a reflection of the idea that decadence is not about orgies and corruptions, but about having too many choices in matters of trivial concern. It’s the trivialization of  allowing yourself to agonize  over  the marginal variations in jeans or shoes, or the anxieties of confronting an infinity of rug patterns or kitchen cabinets. Does any of this stuff ever do anything to genuinely enhance anybody’s life? 

I would like to keep moving toward that state of mind where I can free myself, as much as possible, from the mindlessness of the consumerism that’s become the end-all/be-all of our culture. That ideal of course is predicated on keeping my 120g iPod, and having access to NHL games on cable. Then again, my efforts toward a life of “Essentialism” as I call it, may prove entirely irrelevant, given the good work already done by those altruistic financial geniuses responsible for the ongoing collapse of the American economy. There’s a high possibility we may be heading into a future where for too many of us, frivolous spending choices may be but distant memories, and a life of “Essentialism” no longer a matter of choice.


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