What I Think Some Filipinos Can Learn From Minimalism

What I Think Some Filipinos Can Learn From Minimalism

I still recall a deeply hurtful conversation I had with a Filipino woman. She asked me what my current job title was and when I told her that I was working as a junior manager for a luxury fashion brand, she scoffed at me in disgust and told me how incredibly disappointing it is to be working in retail at my age (I just graduated from university). I thought that I was actually doing pretty well considering how bad the job market was at that time. I was just grateful to have a management role in one of the most iconic shopping centres of the world but apparently for this woman, retail workers don’t have real jobs.

I couldn’t help but feel insulted by what she said and her views especially because at some point, I was able to give them some financial assistance when their family struggled for money.  Some of my ‘retail’ sales work salary, (from the job she thinks is not good enough), went to support her and her family.

I love the Philippines. I really do. Most of all, I love being Filipino but to be honest, that wasn’t the first time I found myself judged by some Filipinos who think that if you’re not a certificated professional then you must be some type of loser. In actual fact, I think that some of them think that unless you’re a millionaire then you’re a loser. That’s pretty much how some Filipinos and some people make me feel sometimes. In the past, a part of me used to feel like they may be right because our society makes us all believe that money makes the world go round but now, I can’t help but feel sorry for the people who think that money and success define us.

Define what success looks like and many of you will find that success is defined by each and everyone of us by our own terms and values. Some people won’t feel successful until they finish their PhD’s while some people just want to achieve their high school diploma. Some may aim towards owning a mansion while some people are happy just to have a small shack they can call their own. I say ‘To each their own’ when it comes to success and happiness so who are we to judge?

There’s this core belief that some people have that goes something like this:

‘The more you have, the happier you will become.’ 

I can attest to the fact that this isn’t true because I went through this experience myself. The more stuff I accumulated, the less happy I felt. Why did I buy so much in the first place? Because I thought that it meant success. I was wrong. Success is about feeling happy and content. Happiness is all about knowing that you have enough. I realised that I want what I have and that’s all that matters. Constantly chasing for more is a futile pursuit. I know this because I’ve experienced this never ending chase myself.

These are some of the things I think Filipinos can learn from Minimalism…

You are not your money. You are not your job.

As I mentioned above, many Filipinos define themselves and others by how much money they make and their job titles. I believe that Filipinos should be proud of their job and profession regardless of what it is. It is important to remember that working is better than being unemployed and as long as you have a decent job and aren’t hurting anyone, then there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s this Filipino word I dislike sometimes and it’s the word ‘lang’ which when translated to English means ‘just’ and many Filipinos who do menial jobs (they’re ashamed of) say things like,

‘Basurero lang ako.’ 

(I’m just a bin man.)

‘Katulong lang ako’

(I’m just a maid.)

‘Tindero lang ako’

(I’m just a store clerk.)

‘Driver lang ako.’

(I’m just a driver.)

and so on…

But I believe that it’s better to take out the word ‘lang’ when we tell people what we do for a living. Why do we need to put down what we do when the jobs we are doing are incredibly important in our society. Just imagine a world with no bin men…honestly…can you imagine yourself making your own way to the landfills and discarding your own trash every week? Can you imagine cleaning your own streets or living a life with no domestic help from your housekeepers? Every job role is important so be proud of what you do.

A simple job and a simple life can actually offer you more happiness and security compared to living a highly successful life working as a politician, celebrity or CEO. The stress that can come with such high positions can sometimes be enough to destroy a person and the lives of the people around them. Celebrities need special security personnel with them at all times and the same goes for politicians and CEO’s. The more money you have, the less secure in other terms you will feel. Imagine the people who will be after your money? Think about the danger that comes with all these so called successful positions. There are always downsides to everything- no matter how great they may seem.

Material things won’t make you happy

I still remember wishing that I had the same amount of toys as Cassandra (not her real name), a super rich friend of mine when I was little. She had the latest Nokia phones when back then, only adults owned them. Her room was covered with expensive Hello Kitty wall paper and her room had cabinets full of Barbie dolls too many for me to count. These dolls weren’t even the basic Barbie dolls, these were special limited edition collections which made her room look like a Barbie museum. It seemed that she had everything and her parents really spoiled her. I often wondered why she was always moody and upset even though her parents gave her everything she wanted and needed. She had bad temper tantrums and was always irritable. She always pushed her toys away, threw her Barbie dolls out of the window or ruined their hair or face. When we had sleepovers, she kept punching me in the face and stomach. I was told by her parents that she was just a violent sleeper and moved around a lot while sleeping but back then, I could have sworn that they were deliberate attacks due to how painful her hits were. I would just get up and sleep on the sofa when she started becoming violent.

Unfortunately, the sad fact is that no amount of money or material possessions will make anyone happy. It’s much easier to live a more simple life because when we strip ourselves of the things we hide behind, that’s when our true identity can resurface. When this happens, you will truly know that there is more to us than the material things we own.

Want what you have and use it

I still remember some of my high school classmates talking about the latest gadgets, sneakers, clothes and DVD players in the market. A lot of the super rich ones of course talked about those items as if they’re the most important things on earth. I on the other hand preferred to use the things I already owned and didn’t care if they were old or no longer trendy.

Unfortunately, there was a time when I evolved into this person who also owned the latest trends but a few years later, I was able to revert back to my old mindset of wanting what I have and being content with what I possessed. There is something so stupid about discarding something just because you want to replace it with something that’s newer even though they serve the same purpose. What a waste of money and time. It’s better to be content and want what you have because when you do, you will be all the more grateful for the little things in your life.

Impress yourself- not others

I’ve been invited to many Filipino parties and I found that sadly, some of the ones I’ve been to, as lovely and fun as they were, also served as a place for Filipinos to judge and impress others. I’ve heard of many stories where so many people have fallen out and had arguments over the silliest things during fiestas and parties.

I will always remember this one time when a new Filipino friend of mine invited me to a party because she wanted me to sing for her on her birthday. I was reluctant at first because I already had a feeling that Filipinos tend to judge others without getting to know them first. I’ve had my fair share of horrible experiences where people have said negative things about me behind my back even though they only met me for a few seconds. What’s even worse is that they don’t even say much about my character- it’s all about my appearance. I’ve overheard comments said about me such as ‘Who does she think she is?’ ‘Who is this glamorous wanna be pop star?’ ‘She’s got a flat nose.’ ‘Her skin is so dark.’ 

I agreed to sing for my new friend because she had cancer. I didn’t want to let her down so although I had my reservations, I agreed and dedicated a few songs (as she requested) for her. I sang for her as a gift and she told me she was so grateful and happy.

A few months passed and about 7 Filipino women in their late 30’s, 40’s and 50’s all judged me and said horrible things about me on social media. We even took pictures together during the party and no one ever made me feel horrible that night so it all came as a complete shock. I actually ended up giving another Filipino a free ride home after the party at 12.00 AM which of course was an inconvenience to me because they lived around 25 miles away from where I lived at that time. I was even used as a free taxi service and to avoid any drama, I agreed to do them this favour. I did so many favours for other people that evening and months later, all I received were criticisms about how I only wanted to show off how good I was at singing and that I didn’t really want to sing for my friend because all I want to do is show off.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I wasn’t there to impress others. I was only there to give my friend a gift and I sang for her as she requested. I blamed myself for a while and thought that I should have listened to my gut instinct of avoiding any attention on me to prevent any drama but I know, despite everything that has happened that our friend had a great time and was happy that I did it for her.

I didn’t care about what they said because I knew what I did came from my heart and I know the purpose of my performance. I understood that there isn’t a point in impressing others. I can only impress myself. There is no need to show off to other people. It really is so pointless to do certain things to impress people who really don’t care about you as much as you think they do. People are too busy impressing others to even worry about what you’re doing so quit doing things for other people and do things for you.

Don’t forget to share

Sharing is one of the most loving things you can do and if more people shared more, the better the world would become. Greed is absolutely heartbreaking and soul crushing. There really isn’t a lack of anything on this earth and to have a mind set of ‘There’s plenty more where that came from.’ is a great thing to remember to encourage you to share more with others. I’m not saying you need to financially cripple yourself in the process by giving and sacrificing everything you have for others but always remember that helping others and sharing your blessings are good things and can fill our souls with so much love. Why not donate some of your unwanted and unused belongings? What is the point in keeping those fine china that you’re not using? Why not use your finest cutlery and dishes and donate the ones you’re not really so fond of to other families who may need them more?

Why do you need so much food or gifts for Christmas? Why not just have enough and share the rest with the less fortunate who are struggling to put food on their tables?

It’s important for us to remember that we don’t need an over accumulation of material things just to show everyone that we have made it. It’s always great to share with other people.

Life is a not a competition

Always remember that life is not a competition. It’s not about who makes it by the age of 30 or who has a luxury car by the age of 40. There is more to life than material things. There is more to life than looking at someone else’s life to see how you compare. Life is not meant to be lived as a competition. Life is meant to be lived as a beautiful dream where we can choose to be happy at any given moment. I feel that sometimes when I’m in the Philippines or surrounded by some Filipinos, all they are interested in are superficial things such as my job, what school I went to, where I live, what my parents do for a living, what car I drive, how much taxes I pay… honestly… it’s time to stop asking those questions. It’s time to ask about passions, values and the things that fulfill our soul. It’s time to live our lives free from all the expectations of others. Live according to what you expect from you.



  1. Sam
    December 7, 2018 / 5:44 pm

    Great post!

  2. Elise
    March 23, 2019 / 4:53 pm

    So true. Only in the Philippines…
    ‘Magkano sahod mo?’

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