The Beauty Of Less: Minimalist Living
After this year's Christmas, I am committing to living a more minimalist life this year and going forward! While I love that time of the year, the excess in consumerism, packaging and over-indulgence leaves me feeling more than a little gross. Especially when I think of what it means in terms of the impact of the earth when it is multiplied by billions of us. Just imagine how much waste was created just from opening presents on Christmas day! Two wonderful examples of living this way consciously are Michael and Masha from the Minimalist Vegan. They share there ideas and practical tips as well as their beautiful plant-based recipes through their blog. I believe these concepts are not only interesting but a necessary change that needs to happen going into the future for sustainable living; for the planet but also for peace of mind! Michael and Masha are a down-to-earth couple who have a strong philosophy around the intersection of minimalism and veganism. They believe in conscious consuming in a world filled with obstacles and distractions. If you're interested in connecting, you can find more of their work over at The Minimalist Vegan and download a copy of their free cookbook.
You are recently vegan, what was the turning point for you?
We became vegan overnight in August 2014. We watched the documentary Earthlings and were vegan from that point on. In-fact, Michael had a chicken kebab earlier that day. It was a very powerful film written and directed by Shaun Monson, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, and music was done by Moby. The documentary talks about how animals are treated domestically, for food, clothes, science and entertainment. It was hard to un-see what we had witnessed and to not make a change.
What did you find the most difficult about giving up meat and dairy products?
Neither of us thought that the task of giving up the meat, dairy and eggs was difficult but just knowing what to substitute it with at the beginning was a little challenging as we used eggs quite a bit in our cooking. The taste wasn’t something that we missed at all as we had the connection to what it was and it never actually appealed to us again. However, we did find it hard to source healthy, tasty vegan food out that wasn’t from a fancy cafe and cost us $25 for a salad. There seems to be an abundance of quick-service restaurants that serve meat and dairy and it still hasn’t quite caught on with places offering mainly plant based options. We can only speak from our experience and where we live, but if it was more accessible to people, it would be much easier for others to make the switch to this lifestyle. We are lucky in the sense that we both became vegan at the same time. So it was easy for us to surround ourselves with vegan foods and motivate each other.
Your blog often speak about minimalist living. What is your thinking on social media and it’s impacts and how it relates to the concept of being a minimalist?
Well social media is what you make of it. You can be checking Facebook 30 times a day or once every few weeks. As a business or online blog it can be a bit trickier as frequency is what gets you noticed. We really try hard not to let platforms like Facebook and Instagram run our lives. We aren’t always thinking about taking photos of what we’re doing or eating, rather enjoying the moment. It’s important to switch off sometimes and do it like you would have 15 years ago when we didn’t have any of this.
At the end of the day, we define minimalism as doing what’s essential and eliminating the rest. So if social media is something that you deem as an essential part of your life, by all means, embrace it! Just make sure that you don’t end up letting it run your life. Switch it off when you go away, go to sleep or when you’re around friends and family. There’s nothing worse than someone you're with is browsing their Instagram feed!
I know there is a perception that to be fit and strong, especially as a male you need to eat meat. Michael, as a strong man, have you found it hard to keep your strength as a vegan? Any tips?
Yes, this is definitely a common misconception about being vegan. Surely you can’t be strong and not eat meat, right? For me personally, I haven’t noticed a dip in strength since giving up animal products. In fact, I’d say that I have more energy when playing sports. There are countless of case studies of strong men who solely eat plants. I get asked all the time where I get my protein from and I usually respond by saying that I eat lots of plant-based whole foods that contain all of the protein that I need. At home we eat lot’s of dark green veggies, legumes and quality grains. We also eat organic tofu and tempeh a few times a week. I recommend getting your hands on as many organic seasonal plants as you can and push yourself to learn how to cook simple meals with these ingredients. You'll learn the basics that will inspire you to stay healthy.
You recently just travelled, did you find it difficult eating plant based overseas and do you have tips for us?
Well yes and no. It really depended on where we were at the time. The Happycow App was a lifesaver! We used that 90% of the time and really enjoyed some of the places we found. Places like London and Ljubljana had many options for vegans, whereas Magdalena in the Italian countryside was impossible. Lucky we had our own kitchen where we were staying, so we cooked all the time. I think one thing that we learned was to find the nearest supermarket and at least have snacks like fruit and nuts for when we get stuck. We also had breakfast ingredients ready to go. Our staple was organic plain cornflakes with nut milk for most of the trip.
The wonderful side benefit of being vegan is that we didn’t overeat and come back 5-10 kilos heavier like we did 10 years ago. We walked a lot and ate a lot but you tend to not stop at every single pastry shop in Paris or gelato store in Florence.
Can you talk more about doing more with less.
We feel that doing less is an art in this day and age. Our brains, particularly in western societies, have been programmed to want and do more. The concern with this mentality is that we end up expecting to much of ourselves and risk falling into depression and anxiety as a result. So the challenge now is thinking about how we can do less when making decisions so you can do more of what is important to you.
A good place to start is with your calendar. Most of us overcommit our schedules, leaving no time for yourself. We all talk about how we would like to pursue an old hobby or exercise more, but we don’t have enough perspective to say no to commitments that will compromise the things that make us happy. The book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown was a pivotal resource to us when changing our mentality around what was important and what wasn’t. One of our favourite quotes from the book is
“Remember that if you don’t prioritise your life someone else will.”
Understand that every decision you make has an opportunity cost and your time is extremely valuable. Once we unlocked the power of less, we found it much easier to say no upfront and create more space for personal endeavours.
Check out their stunning and simple recipe below. Perfect for this summer weather!
Creamy Watermelon Ice Cream
Serves 3-4 Total time: Minimum 3 hrs and 40 minutes
Ingredients: 2 cups of watermelon ¼ cup of maple syrup 1 can of full fat coconut cream ¼ tspn vanilla extract
Instructions: Blend all ingredients in a blender and transfer to a baking dish - preferably lined as it is sometimes hard to get it back out again. Place it in the freezer for 3 hours or until it has gone hard. Snap the frozen mixture into chunks and place back in the blender. Make sure that you break them into smaller pieces so that it’s easier for your blender to catch onto them. Blend until a creamy consistency is reached. Make take a few stop starts to push the ingredients around. Place back in a container and into the freezer to firm up for about 30 minutes. If you leave it in for longer, it will firm up more so it may be a little bit harder to scoop out.