Better Off is a book by Eric Brende, a super-scholar who takes his wife on a year-long part-adventure, part-experiment to live in a Minimite community. Minimites are people who live a life much simpler than that of the Amish. As the name implies, Minimites use as minimal of an amount of technology as possible.
The Minimite definition of “technology” doesn’t just include contemporary things like computers and phones, but also refers to any kind of tool or machine that runs on anything besides organic labor (humans, animals, water).
It took the better part of a year and a half for me to finish the book. If you are a person who enjoys introspection and measuring the value of life not by how fat the wallet is, but perhaps by richness of mind and body, you’ll probably nibble on this book the same way.
Brende’s scholarly personality appears in his writing style. It can be heavy at times to read. However, his honesty, breadth of evidence, and attention to detail make his story a persuasive case that life can be quite fulfilling and fantastic living the Minimite way.
Food for thought (parts I love).
The struggle of maintaining the machine.
Brende’s experience as a Minimite-in-training leads to the realization that people often become slaves to the machines that should make lives easier. Automobiles cut travel time significantly, and take us to work to make money. But, how much do we give up just to maintain these vehicles?
His message isn’t to give up all your machinery. I read it as an encouragement to consider how your machinery can better fit your lifestyle. In the book, he states,
"...(some machinery) subjected people to outlandish inconveniences and indignities as they struggled to meet the needs of pieces of equipment."
For example, do you really need a car in the city if you’re hardly using it?
I asked myself this when I changed jobs and moved last summer. My commute was gone. All that was left was a way to leave the city if I didn’t want to take public transit. Otherwise, it was an insurance payment and auto loan installments that kept me from enjoying other things in life with the same resources.
My answer? I sold the car, got rid of the loan, and bought a bike. My wallet and my health love me for it. Any emergency need for a vehicle is now relegated to the girlfriend’s speedy four-door.
Labor and the time it eats up as social assets.
I enjoyed the way Brende turns labor on its head. Removing machines meant labor was once again time-consuming and required physical work. To the Minimites, this was a time to bond and, in some cases, find romance.
Work stories with other Minimites became ways for people to get to know other people, and for Brende, a way to enrich himself with Minimite culture while forging strong bonds with his peers and mentors.
How much closer could we be with our most inner circle of friends and family if we bonded over handiwork and labor, rather than TV, video games, and other similar things?
The value of reflection.
One of Brende’s simpler lessons on Minimite living is to “meditate before you act.” This sounds contradictory in a world of pocket devices with access to the Internet and troves of data across the world. Why take time to act when we can act more and as much as ever?
Introspection can be therapeutic and has many benefits, both personally and professionally. Following introspection, taking a moment to think before acting is not just a way to live like a Minimite, but to act wholeheartedly. Think, convict, act. I believe those are foundations of most people’s “hustle.”
I wont be giving up my laptop or phone anytime soon (heck, writing this via iPad), but Better Off is convincing in that learning to appreciate hard work can lead to a fulfilling and autonomous life. We don’t have to give up technology, but should perhaps consider trimming the technological fat. This way, we reduce complication and increase ways we can truly enjoy life.