A notable snobby bicycle blogger recently alerted me to the existence of celebrity minimalist blogger Everett Bogue and his blog Far Beyond The Stars. Everett is apparently a minimalist guru of sorts who quit his writing job in New York and moved to Oakland to take up a “location-independent” lifestyle with his girlfriend. He is the author of two best-selling e-books (a position that, like “employee of the month”, is a great way to be a winner and a loser at the same time) and proves eager to share about how he lives on the income of working only two hours a day. This ten-hour workweek is a bit more than Tim Ferriss’ four-hour workweek but Tim has a bit more stuff than Everett does, thus canceling out any perceived advantage. (Everett actually admits that no work can be 100% original these days, and is no doubt heavily influenced my Ferriss, Seth Godin, and other work-better-not-longer gurus.) Despite this two-hour workday, however, Mr Bogue has recently admitted that he needs a vacation and will go camping to get away from the electronic hive that makes his lifestyle feasible. It’s a tough life when you need to rearrange your schedule to fill two more hours of the day with recreation.
Snide remarks aside, after reading a few of Everett’s posts I realized he does have some things going for him. He is quite skilled in writing propaganda, motivating readers with such lines as
- “The idea is that we need to curb our consumerism in order to focus on the important. This is why I live with less, because I’ve decided to stop consuming and start living.”
- “You need to write down an unrealistic goal and start to live and breathe it every single day. This can be simple, or more complex. Make it crazy though! The sky is the limit, and trust me, people have been up there too.”
- “The time to start your own very small business is now, as there have never been more opportunities to reach out and find the tribe that will support your goals.”
Using words to stir emotions is a powerful skill; one I think should be taught in schools. In light of Lenin’s teaching that the line between education and propaganda is subjective and reflects educator’s confidence in the student’s ability to learn, Everett has no problem playing the role of shepherd to his flock of commenters, offering advice on everything from small business entrepreneurship to selecting social circles. He is an enthusiast of lists; indeed, his “e-book” is tantamount to a list of bullet points with short elaborative paragraphs. These lists are a handy way of organizing more information than a reader can handle on the first read, thus ensuring a sense of information overload that will cause the reader to keep the book close at virtual hand for quick reference should they find they don’t remember Point 34. Maybe they won’t even be looking for enlightening texts, as the book is also illustrated with “peaceful photographs from [Everett’s] travels.”
But let’s shluff this rather superficial criticism aside and actually analyze some of what Everett claims to be about - let’s see what walk he is walking.
He claims to be “location-independent”
This is really just a fancy way of saying that you have no roots. It may be hard for white-collar people to swallow, but being location-independent is actually a default human state rather than a progressive one- a state that ancient Mesopotamian people lived in for hundreds of years. The idea of people settling down together to foster the basics of a community - things like commercial trade, cultural growth, division of land, organized defense, etc - is actually a pretty civilized notion. Being “location-independent” just means you’re rejecting permanent community, and the English language has, in fact, several words for such people who have no home base: nomad, vagrant, drifter, fugitive, itinerant, and refugee come to mind. And living as a celebrity blogger certainly isn’t the only occupation that allows comfortable itinerancy - be a half-decent bartender or car salesman and you can get work anywhere.
He counts how many things he lives with
It used to be 100, then he cut it to 75, then 50, and now he’s up to 57. He originally intended to cut possessions down so that he could spend less time worrying about taking care of all the stuff he owned, but if he’s still doing regular inventory counts, chances are he’s still kind of worried about his stuff, albeit now out of different motives. I applaud his cuts - I think that living with less stuff is good - but I am wary about the quantification of the minimalist ethos. We humans love comparing ourselves to one another, and using numbers is a really easy way to do that. Is Everett with 57 things doing a “better job” than someone with 62? He lives in Oakland, with a mild climate. What about me in Minnesota, where I need at least two distinct seasons of clothing? Having to own winter boots, hats, mittens, snow pants, etc, just adds to my stuff count, putting me at a disadvantage. The numbers quickly become meaningless, so why bother with them at all?
He lives life with no direction
A direct quote from his blog:
“...I don’t really have a routine, I simply wake up every morning and do what I feel inspired to do from start to finish.”
This is worthless to anyone looking for concrete advice. Routinizing the mundane tasks of life allows you to turn your brain off and not worry about them, freeing it instead to focus on what you want to think about. If you want to work for only two hours a day, as he advocates, there must be some routine that you can follow in order to get anything done. Even something as basic as - wake up, breakfast, newspaper, read for 30 min, check email, work - can form a simple trellis around which you can weave your life. Spontaneity and daydreaming are important, but the entropy of the universe ensures that repetitive tasks are a part of daily life. We just have to organize those tasks so well that we don’t have to think about them. Everett abhors routine yet automates his blog as much as possible, so he at least gets the irony vote.
He wants to also be your financial guru
Everett is also the author of the e-book Minimalist Business, a (virtual) tome offering tips on how to get the most money out of your work time. Advice also includes how to quit your job successfully and follow your dreams, since, obviously, there is no way that your current job is part of your dream. Apparently downshifting your lifestyle, reducing expenses and eliminating possessions means earning less money as well. One wonders why you can’t keep making $40,000 a year and just buy less stuff. Sure you have extra money, but can’t you give that away to the homeless or to your church or some other charitable organization? Why can’t you use extra income to enable others rather than minimize your income and support only yourself?
You can check out the blog for yourself and make your own decisions but, to me, Mr. Bogue just sounds like another aspiring self-help writer. Everything is focused on you, the reader and consumer of his advice. You can follow your dreams. You can live the life that you always wanted to. You can be an outlier from society and make your life into a model for others. You can earn the respect of others by being semi-ascetic and respecting yourself first. Be centered and your life will fall into place around you! It really isn’t anything we haven’t heard before. Sure, try and live on less stuff. But don’t let how much stuff you live without define you anymore than how much stuff you live with. You’re not your job, or lack thereof. You’re not your 100 things, or 62, or 33. You’re not your location or state of permanence. You’re who God made you to be, doing what He wants you to do.