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Intentionality > Minimalism

I think that minimalism is a good, yet incomplete, frame for consumer purchases. But I also don’t believe that less stuff is inherently better. At least not for the life I want to live.

Here’s one example to illustrate:

I live in Phoenix and enjoy kayaking the Lower Salt River on the edge of town, especially in the hot summer months when it’s harder to hit the local trails. It’s an excellent way to both cool off and recreate outdoors, and flowing water in the desert is a mighty special thing.

But getting ready for a paddling trip was a huge pain. It was tough to carry my 12′ kayak from the back patio around the house and down the narrow walkway to my vehicle by myself, then set up the kayak racks on the blisteringly-hot car roof, then hoist the kayak into position and tie it down, then collect all the things I need to bring from around the house and garage. After a long day, it can just be too much required effort—too much friction—so I’d only make the effort a handful of times a year, at most.

That was a problem. One I decided to solve with some—according to minimalism, at least—completely unnecessary and redundant purchases.

I bought a cheap 10′ kayak solely for use on these specific river trips. I then added several new shelving units for the garage, permanently vacating my car to the driveway. But that allowed me to store the boats there, along with keeping my outdoor gear much better organized. I also bought some dedicated gear that’s just used for kayaking the river, including a specific sun shirt, hat, cooler, headlamp, dry bag, sandals, etc.

In all, it was probably 20+ new items—all redundant purchases, all only used for kayaking the river. Which is exactly what you might call decidedly NOT minimalist.

But what felt daunting before is now incredibly simple, requiring just seconds. I pull a couple levers to put down the seats, then literally slide the boat from the shelf right into the back of my Subaru (it fits perfectly inside). I grab the kayaking gear bin and also toss in my river sandals (the paddle and pfd now live inside the boat).

Looks like it takes less than 37 seconds to load my kayak and gear.

Then I go inside, change into my kayaking clothes, and then fill up my river cooler with a couple beers, water, and snacks (yes, I even have river snacks ready to go). And BOOM! I’m ready to go. There’s not a single part of the process that’s not dead simple.

So after only four or five total minutes, I’m driving towards the put-in. I now paddle the river ~25 times each season, and even wrote the river’s only guidebook.

My life is decidedly better for those purchases, absolutely none of which I actually needed to paddle the river. I had already owned everything I needed. But figuring out how to reduce the friction I was encountering by making some new single-use purchases completely changed how often I got out to a place I love.

It’s easy to get caught up in buying too much stuff, of course. And in a hyper-consumerist society, minimalism feels like an obvious antidote for that.

But I think what many of us are actually striving for is just some more focused intentionality in our purchasing decisions.

Spending money to solve problems like my kayaking one, or on new experiences like travel, or even on things like a daily coffeeshop ritual isn’t inherently bad, as long as it fits your considered life strategy.

It’s defaulting to consumerism or other societal pressures without intentionality that perhaps we should avoid.