Minimalists in History: The Stoics


“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BCE. The name comes from the porch (stoa) where the school’s lectures were held. Well known Stoics include EpictetusMarcus Aurelius and Seneca the Younger (aka “Seneca”).

The Stoics taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge. Morality is rational action. The ethical life is a life lived in accordance with the rational order of things.

To live this way, we must recognize the things that are within our power and those that are not. The only thing over which we have control, the Stoics say, is the faculty of judgment (including our beliefs, desires and attitudes). Everything else is not within our control, and we should be indifferent to those things.

In other words, since we can’t control things like death or the actions of others, we shouldn’t worry about them. Contrary to the popular view of Stoics as cold-hearted, their goal isn’t a total lack of emotion.

Stoicism is about distinguishing what truly makes a difference to our happiness from what does not. It’s developing clear judgment and peace of mind through self-control. Instead of eliminating emotions, we should transform negative emotions into joy, caution and reasonable wishing.

“What difference does it make how much is laid away in a man’s safe or in his barns, how many head of stock he grazes or how much capital he puts out at interest, if he is always after what is another’s and only counts what he has yet to get, never what he has already? You ask what is the proper limit to a person’s wealth? First, having what is essential, and second, having what is enough.”

– Seneca

The Stoics claim that whatever is good must benefit its possessor under all circumstances. The only things that are good, according to the Stoics, are wisdom, justice, courage and moderation. These are the only things that can guarantee our happiness.

External things such as money, success, fame and the like can never bring us happiness. Although the Stoics believe these things do have value, they’re not always good. They are, rather, “indifferent.” They may be part of a good life, but we shouldn’t focus on them, because pursuing them may keep us from the truly good things.

Indifferents have three classes: the preferred, the dispreferred and the absolute. Absolute indifferents are things that don’t seem to matter one way or the other in any circumstance, like whether the number of hairs on your head is odd or even.

Dispreferred indifferents include death, disease, pain, ugliness, weakness, poverty, low repute, and ignoble birth. While it’s usually best to try to avoid these, it may sometimes be virtuous to select them.

Preferred indifferents include life, health, pleasure, beauty, strength, wealth, good reputation, and noble birth. We should, according to the Stoics, usually select these, though we must still use reason to decide whether selecting them might interfere with the truly good things, the virtues of wisdom, justice, courage and moderation.

Minimalism A to Z: G is for Gratitude


“It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”


Minimalism isn’t just about limiting how much stuff we have – it’s mostly about living more meaningful and fulfilling lives. That’s why regularly experiencing gratitude is an important part of the minimalist lifestyle.

Studies show grateful people are healthier, happier and kinder. They also get more sleep, have better relationships, are more resilient and make fewer impulsive financial decisions.

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

– G.K. Chesterton

If you’re not naturally bubbling with gratitude, never fear. There are many structured methods for learning to become a more thankful person.

If the first way you try doesn’t stick, don’t worry. You may need to test out a few options before you find which work best for your personality and lifestyle.

  • Keep an electronic gratitude journal. If you prefer gadgets to paper, type a journal on your computer, make a daily gratitude post to social media, or try one of the many gratitude journal apps, like Bliss or Gratitude Journal.
  • Say “thank you” when someone helps you out. If you feel inspired, thank things as well as people – though you might want to do that only silently or when you’re alone!
  • Whenever you catch yourself in a negative thought, think of something you’re grateful for.
  • Say grace before meals. If you’re not religious, focus on thanking the people who cooked and grew the food.
  • Talk to others about the good things in your life. For instance, you might mention how pretty the sunrise was this morning or how your child gave you a big hug.
  • Write thank-you cards to people who’ve made a difference in your life. Not just friends and family, but an author whose books have changed your life, or the second-grade teacher who encouraged you to continue painting pink trees.
  • Set aside a special time of day to think of a few things you’re thankful for. Many people choose first thing when they get up or as they lie down to go to sleep. Others prefer to have each member of the family list a few things they’re grateful for at dinner.
  • Express your gratitude by making a donation or volunteering some time to help someone else get some of the things you take for granted.

Do you have a gratitude practice? How has it changed your life?

Retreat, Relaxation and Reflection: The Importance of Solitude


“That perfect tranquillity of life, which is nowhere to be found but in retreat, a faithful friend and a good library.”

– Aphra Behn

Last week, I took a one-night private retreat at the Guest House of the Mount Angel Abbey.

My family and I have visited the Abbey several times when we’re in that area. It’s a beautiful space on top of a hill, allowing for gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside and Mount Hood.

There’s also a small museum with everything from artwork to the world’s largest porcine hairball. The library, designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, is a tourist attraction of its own.

On one of our visits, I learned that the Abbey offers private retreats and scheduled a one-night retreat for myself.

“Going on a retreat naturally removes you from thoughts of what you should be doing and allows you to just be.”

– Lisa Firestone

I’m not Catholic, but monastery guest houses typically accept people of all faiths for retreat. In fact, of the six of us who ate meals together, only one was Catholic, but we all had an interest in taking some time away from our normal lives to relax and reflect.

Retreatants are free to spend their time as they like, on or off Abbey grounds. The majority of my 24-hours at the Abbey were spent quietly and alone.

I read and reflected in the private garden, which has several always-busy bird feeders and a lovely view. I also spent quite a bit of time in the library, as well as walking the grounds (necessary for burning the calories from the amazing meals we had).

Having a full day without work, chores or family obligations was incredible. I hope to make this an annual event.

“To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.”

– Jane Austen

There are many types of retreat centers, some with religious affiliations and some that are totally secular. Some allow private retreats while others only host group retreats.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a good resource for any type of retreat center in any area, so, if you’re interested in taking a retreat, I suggest you do an Internet search for retreat centers near you. RetreatFinder and Benedictine Retreat Centers are sites that may be helpful.

Have you ever gone on a retreat? If so, did you enjoy it? If you haven’t gone on a retreat, are you interested in doing so?


Minimalism A to Z: F Is for Freedom


“Own less stuff. Enjoy more freedom. It really is that simple.”

– Joshua Becker

You may have noticed that friends and family who have way more money than you do seem to believe certain things – things you don’t have – are true necessities. You might think these people are a bit ridiculous. After all, you’re living just fine without that stuff.

The funny thing is, if you talk to people who have less than you, you’re likely to find that they think a lot of what you consider “needs” are really just “wants.”

The inescapable fact is people tend to become accustomed to what they have. Things that once seemed like luxuries begin to feel like necessities. Worse, as-yet unaffordable items and experiences often feel like needs, too.

“Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Most of us think having a lot of money would make us happy. Well, maybe it wouldn’t buy us freedom from worrying about our kids, love or immortality, but surely it would at least free us from worries about money.


Several years ago, a survey of very wealthy people disclosed that most of them did not consider themselves financially secure. That might not sound too odd, until you learn that the survey respondents’ average net worth was $78 million.

Let me repeat that: Becoming a multimillionaire is unlikely to be enough for you to feel financially secure.

One of the researchers said it seems that the “only people in this country who worry more about money than the poor are very wealthy. They worry about losing it, they worry about how it is invested, they worry about the effect it is going to have. And as the zeroes increase, the dilemmas get bigger.”

“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.”

– Chuck Palahniuk, via Tyler Durden in Fight Club

This Tyler Durden quote is reminiscent of the famous line in Janis Joplin’s song, Me and Bobby McGee: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”

Few of us want that much freedom, but it’s true that the more stuff we have, the more we worry about it.

We worry about losing it or having it stolen. We worry about dents and scratches. We worry about upkeep and downtime.

Plus, possessions can keep us from doing activities we enjoy. After all, stuff costs time, as well as money.

“Living with less provides tremendous freedom.”

– Courtney Carver

It may seem counter-intuitive, but when you talk to minimalists (or read what they’ve written), you hear over and over that minimalism leads to freedom.

By learning to focus more on experiences and relationships and to focus less on your possessions, you free yourself up to live with less money.

Maybe you can work part-time or retire earlier. Maybe you can start your own business or take the job you’ve always wanted but didn’t feel you could afford because of the required pay cut.

Living in a smaller home with less stuff and decluttering our calendars gives us more free time to do what we love. Hang out with friends and family. Hike. Knit. Ski. Cook. Read. Draw. Kayak. Write. Whatever your passions are.

Minimalism leads to less stress and more inner peace.

Less rushing and more relaxing.

Fewer obligations and more freedom.

Have you found simplifying has brought more freedom to your life?

Minimalists Today: Twin Oaks Intentional Community

Twin Oaks

harmony residence, twin oaks © mele avery, used under Creative Commons license

“Just outside of Richmond, Virginia, down a long and winding road shaded by dense greenery exists a world entirely different than the one that you and I inhabit. The world of Twin Oaks.”

– fp Julie, Egalitarianism And Tofu At Twin Oaks Intentional Community

Twin Oaks is an intentional community on about 450 acres in rural central Virginia. The community, which began in 1967, was originally based on the utopia described in Walden Two, the 1948 novel by behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner. Since then, other influences have shaped the community’s character as well.

The Twin Oaks community is self-supporting economically, isn’t centered around a particular religion or guru, and describes itself as a resource-sharing eco-village.

Each member receives housing, food, healthcare, and personal spending money, which costs the community about $5,000 per member per year. In exchange, each member works 42 hours a week in the community’s business and domestic areas.

Less than half of the work of Twin Oaks members goes into business ventures, including making hammocks and tofu for sale, indexing books and growing seeds. Other work hours involve domestic activities, like milking cows, gardening, cooking, and childcare.

“Arriving at the Twin Oaks compound inspires instant calm.”

– Beth Greenfield

As a community, Twin Oaks values cooperation, sharing, nonviolence, equality, and ecology. Twin Oaks is a member of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, which is an organization made up of communities that share those values.

Its Planner-Manager system of self-government comes from Walden Two. Three rotating “planners” are responsible for deciding issues that affect the community as a whole through a lengthy consultation process.

They review Twin Oak’s bylaws and policies and ask for community input by posting papers for comment, holding community meetings, putting out surveys, and talking with members. Members can overturn their decisions by a majority vote.

“Managers” head up specific aspects of community functioning. For example, the garden manager makes decisions like when to start harvesting tomatoes, and the holiday manager chooses treats to serve at celebratory dinners.

The community has seven residences. Each member has a private bedroom. Most other spaces are communal, like the large dining hall, outdoor sauna, woodworking shop and music room.

Members receive a small allowance for discretionary purchases like chocolate, cigarettes and alcohol.

Interested in Joining Twin Oaks?

Around 90 adults and 15 children live at Twin Oaks, and this fills the community to capacity. There’s a wait list for new members.

Potential members must visit for three weeks before being considered for provisional membership, during which time, you must live as much like a member as possible, including meeting the work quota. Then, you must spend a minimum of one month away from Twin Oaks while the community decides whether to accept you and you decide whether you want to join.

If you join Twin Oaks, you can keep your pre-existing assets, but, with few exceptions, you can’t use, spend, sell, exchange, or earn income on pre-existing assets while you’re a member of the community. One of the exceptions is for use of stuff that fits in your room, like clothes, bedding and books.

TVs aren’t allowed at Twin Oaks, but most members choose to stay connected to the “outside world.” Personal computers are okay (several are available for shared use). The community shares a T1 Internet connection as well.

Just interested in a quick tour? Twin Oaks offers three-hour tours almost every Saturday afternoon from March through October and most alternating Saturdays from November through February.