The difference between minimalism and poverty

I am walking through the little settlement, which is situated at the steep slope between the green mountains. Everything here is a little smaller. The streets are so narrow, that no car and no motorbike will be able to drive here. Just children, chicken, goats and straying dogs jump up and down the steps. There is a little smell of burned plastic coming from the unofficial dump at the hillside. Welcome to my microcosm. I am living here for already two weeks and just left the hamlet for a few times, to go to the city. Up there, the car’s engines roar on the streets, the horns scream through every alley and people step on each other’s feet, just how it is common in India.

My micro-world is different. It is a lot calmer, less oversaturated, there are no billboards, just two shops for the most-necessary and most of all, no noise. I jump over the sewage that separates the community from others, climb up a few broken steps and enjoy the imperfection of this little settlement. The stairs, which lead the way down the hill are built in an uncomfortable size and cause me to make little steps in between. I cannot walk fluently. In Germany this would drive me crazy, but here I find it quite amusing. I turn into a small beaten track, which leads me along another house, deeper into the settlement. Two or three persons greet me on the way and I am invited for tea eventually. I forgot the name of the man, but he probably also forgot mine. Or we maybe did not even introduce ourselves. I enter his hut. It is 12m², includes a bed, a shelf and an TV. His son brings a plastic-chair for the foreign guest. I am asked to sit down and we talk about this and that. Then my host introduces me to his family. They are nine persons, who live in three rooms of this kind. Unimaginable in Germany. But the people here are happy. Almost no one complains, the life happens on the street and the houses are just for sleeping, eating and cooking. Or am I again just romanticising poverty?

Last week was Black Friday. The yearly festival of human dependence on consume. The Christmas of capitalism, Thanksgiving for the advertising industry. Until last year, I did not even know that this day existed. Now, I would like to vomit. Have we really come so far that we need a certain day of the year for shopping, to strengthen our belief in materialism? Because it is a religion. We live to buy goods. Goods that we use to demonstrate who we are. Status is our life-goal and we reach it through consumption. The GDP is its Bible, the advertising industry the prophet and the shopping malls and streets are the modern temples. And our planet is the sacrifice on the plastic altar.

That’s exaggerated? Okay, why do you work? You probably say you work, to enable your family and yourself a good life. But your family has a good life when you are home, when you are with them, when you play with your kids and support them. Your family is not fine, when they sit in front of the newest TV, instead of talking, when each of them had four iPhones in the last three years, but is now bored, because the games don’t thrill them anymore. And anyways, there is a new phone on the market, with one button less. Revolutionary. By the way, you might also feel better, with ten hours work a week less. Did our society really develop that far to still spend the major part of our time (awake) at work, or even worse, on the way to it? But we need the new phone.

I write this on a laptop, which I have bought this year. My old one still worked, but it was too slow. Next to me lies my mobile phone, which I use to share Instagram-pictures of my journey. I also count travelling as consumption. Even though I am on a journey for research. I also know why I post on Instagram, why I write this blog. I am also guilty! Still, I am stubborn and throw the first stone.  Why? Because I cannot get away from society. It is not enjoyable to have a bad status. I am part of the society and dependent on it. Yet, I do not see consume as my religion, but as the devil within. My belief is that we all should be good people and most of all that we should find out what that means. Without temple or book. Maybe for inspiration, but not to block creativity. Because books were written by humans. This is why I won’t stop throwing stones, even at myself. We have to realize the problem as a problem.

So called development or even consumption might help us to become better human beings. Through my research I discover new ideas, I realize what I really need to be happy (Laptop, Camera, Food). But in my community here, I do not have a bad status, if I wear my dirty, brown fleece-jacket, when I eat on the floor with my hands or if I did not have an own mobile phone. Of course, the children are curious, what I do. On my laptop or my mobile. But I can also delight them with a game of backgammon on a self-drawn board. I enjoy my status, because I am educated and seriously interested in the community. And because I am white, blah blah. One can also be white and have a bad reputation. Because seeing a white person gets boring after a while. You will get the normal hospitality, but real respect has to be earned. The most honoured person here is the father of my host-family. Why? Because everyday, a bunch of kids comes to his house to learn there. His daughters were the first females to go to school. He is inspiring others to make something out of their life. He is a good person. However, many people here do not know how that works. Being a good person. They lack inspiration and success-stories.

I am back in the hut and my host asks me, if I want to drink alcohol. By now, I have also realized his smell of booze. Alcohol is a big problem here. In every second house you will smell the alcoholic breath of the owner. Many of them have children in their arms. When they become older, they might also crave for the bottle. What else is there to do in such a small clay hut, without proper perspective? So in fact, I am romanticising. I enjoy my minimalism, because I have the freedom to shape it the way I want. With laptop, mobile phone and education. Minimalism is my creation. But if I was born into this minimalism, I did not have these possibilities. I’d be the creation of minimalism and could maybe take the bottle to create a better world in my head. Because also poverty is a devil.

After tea and selfies, I say goodbye and walk along the little colourful huts, which I like so much and from where I always notice friendly smiles. Kids are playing on the streets and greet me: „Hello Sir. How are you?” “I am fine, and you?“  „We are also fine, Sir.” I arrive at the sewage, the border of the settlement. It smells and is filled with trash. A lot of trash. And also many old liquor bottles. I jump across the brown water and leave it behind me. I have this freedom.

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Mariana C. Mechanist

Hola, I just checked your website and must say I’m very impressed. Really enjoyed reading this particular post, made me ponder about how materialistic we really are and how consumism is way of living particularly for things we don’t need. We think that status, physical beauty, power, material goods and wealth are enough to make you happy. This „ideal“ of how eveyone must be like is distorted and sick in my opinion. We don’t look beyond that because we are blind, we don’t see those in need or those that are happy with just the necessary because all that we… Read more »