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Non-possession: seeking intense simplicity and the good life

Peter Lawrence has few possessions. He can fit nearly everything he owns in a suitcase.

He is nearly camping in his one bedroom condominium. Instead of a sofa, he has a lawn chair. Instead of a bed, he uses a sleeping bag. He has one pot and one pan (with a shared lid).

He has just one spoon and one fork. His clothes fill one tiny corner of his walk-in closet. His laptop is his tv set, cd player and photo album. He doesn’t own books and instead uses the library.

Seeking internal, not external, possessions

Lawrence is a self-described minimalist. He lives simply as a way to stay focused on what he finds important. “The pinnacle of minimalism”, for Peter, is the idea that “the most worthy possessions that we have are actually within us”.

“That’s why I don’t consider myself lacking any material stuff. And that’s why I’d rather devote the limited resources that I have, time being one of them, in developing traits and skills rather than material stuff”.

Time over money

After years of living simply while working as a manager for Hewlett Packard- saving much more than he spent-, he was able to retire soon after turning 40 and he now spends much of his time working on the internal stuff.

After a friend urged him to tell the story of “his unique lifestyle”, he wrote and self-published a book called “The Happy Minimalist” (originally he was going to write about lowering his cholesterol level without medication and instead dietary changes, but he feared no one would be interested).

Fulfillment vs happiness

Lawrence makes clear- not just with the book’s title- that for him, minimalism isn’t about deprivation or sacrifice, but a way of finding fulfillment. Though when asked if happiness was his goal, he says he is looking toward something even larger.

“I wouldn’t say that we should put happiness first. I think that the real challenge all of us have is trying to figure out what our role here on earth is and to perform that role.

Abraham Maslow I think summarized it very well when he said something like this, ‘a musician must make music, a painter must paint, and a poet must write, for a man to find peace with himself’. And I think that peace or what I call ‘the sense of fulfillment’ transcends everything including happiness.”

[Filming credit: Sushil Nedyavila and Peter Lawrence]