An Interview with Chris Baskind on The Minimalist Century

This week I spoke with Chris Baskind. Chris is the director of web operations at Vida Verde Media and writes the blogs More Minimal and Lighter Footstep. We spoke about the advantages of going car free and the dawn of the new minimalist century.

On to the interview!

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Everett Bogue: You’ve been blogging about being minimal for a number of years now, how has your approach to being a minimalist changed over that time?

Chris Baskind: I started writing More Minimal back in 2006. To be honest, its take on minimalism was a little scattershot, but it lead me to building Lighter Footstep, a green website with a strong “use less, do-it-yourself” emphasis. If my approach has changed, it’s that minimalism — or simplicity, if you prefer the term — is now fundamental to how I look at everything. I still write about green and environmental topics, but these flow from my conviction that a more minimal lifestyle isn’t just necessary to restore balance to society: It’s a healthy and fulfilling way to live on its own merits.

Everett: Do you have any current minimalist goals?

Chris: I still set goals for the same reason I look for street signs: they help you know where you are, and which way to go next. But I agree with people such as Leo Babauta that they can be a trap, too. Minimalism is an ongoing process, not a series of achievements. That being said: I still have too much stuff, and plan to further reduce my personal clutter. I’ll be exploring minimalist cooking. Most of all, I want to spend more time talking to people who are also in the process of radical simplification. I learn more things from my readers than I have time to write down.

Everett: Do you have any areas of being minimalist that you struggle with, or wish you were better at?

Chris: Productivity. I think we all struggle with this to some degree. I’m a naturally curious person, and am happy to chase every rabbit that happens past. The richness of my online life isn’t always helpful in this area. Focus is crucial.

*Everett: *You’re a big advocate for a car free culture, but you live in Pensacola Florida. I imagine that Pensacola isn’t a huge biker town, like Portland or New York. What sort of challenges do you face getting around on a bike in Florida?

Chris: Let me start by saying every town can be a good cycling town. It’s just a matter of getting out there and riding. Not everyone has access to multimode transportation — I can’t ride my bike to a train station here in Pensacola — but the vast majority of things anyone needs is with a few miles of the front door. Perhaps you can’t commute to work, but you can run errands in the evening or on weekends. Here, I’ve had to learn which businesses are bike-friendly. It’s tougher to find suitable places to lock a bike in a small city. There are fewer bike lanes, and people still see my cargo bike and my riding gear as an oddity. At least these tend to start some interesting conversations.

Everett: Can you recommend one way that readers can begin to transition to a car-free lifestyle in car dominated cities?

Chris: The big mind-shift is the first few times you use the bike to do something that would normally be car errands. There’s a real satisfaction when you realize your bike isn’t just a toy: it can get work done. You can do this on pretty much any bike that rolls, but I’m a big believer in being properly geared. Your bike should be safe and comfortable in any weather. That means going out and buying rain gear, proper lights so you’re not chained to daylight, racks and panniers so you can carry groceries, and tools, so you feel confident relying on your equipment. None of this stuff is cheap, but a full cycling kit only costs the equivalent of a couple car payments. Make the investment, and you’re more likely to ride.

Everett: In a recent post on More Minimal you wrote that we are entering a minimalist century. Can you describe how you came to that realization?

Chris: Every century brings change. The 20th century was all about BIG, particularly in the consumption of energy. Practically everything we think of as “progress” is predicated on the ready availability of cheap energy, which has so far meant fossil fuels. Our demand for energy and raw materials is beginning to exceed a very finite supply, and things simply cannot continue as they have. Sustainability isn’t a goal: it’s the law of nature.

People say, “Well, we’ll invent new technologies before things run out.” Our technology is amazing, but it has its limits. We let the energy crisis of the 1970s pass without really changing much, and the tools we’ll need to sustain what we all consider an acceptable standard of living require huge lead times in development and testing. It’s too late to expect innovation to be the sole answer. We’ll have to learn to use less — period. This is the heart of minimalism. Whether we like it or not, we’ll all be minimalists in the 21st century.

Everett: What changes do you think the average person needs to make in their lives to bring themselves into this new minimal century?

Chris: The first and most important change is to decouple the consumerist tendency to equate “lots” with happiness, and “less’ with want. Minimalism isn’t mere austerity — it’s being open to new ways of thinking about things and letting go of the non-essential. This leaves us more time and resources to enjoy the rest. What makes sense will be different for each person or household. For me, part of the answer was getting out of my car. So now I have the resources I’d otherwise pump into insurance, car repairs, and gasoline left to save or apply to other things. I can buy better quality clothes and food. I can pay down debt. Find something that equates to meaningful change and do it now, while the choice is still optional.

Everett: Can you recommend one simple habit that our readers can adopt as a first step in moving into a minimalist century?

Chris: Learn to move under your own power. Walk or start riding a bicycle for something other than recreation, even if it’s just short-range errands. Equip yourself. Learn the safest routes. Remind your body of the beauty of human motion, and it will quickly become habit. We needn’t be slaves to our cars and all the trappings of an automobile-based society. You’ll be healthier for it, your life will become simpler, and you’ll be creating personal equity in the Minimalist Century.

Thanks Chris for the interview! Don’t forget to check out More Minimal and Lighter Footstep.

Written on December 9, 2009