Interview: Michael & Masha, The Minimalist Vegan - “Identify what’s really important in life, and get rid of the rest”
Masha and Michael (M & M), a couple currently based in Canberra, Australia, are the creative force behind The Minimalist Vegan website. Masha, a certified health coach and professional photographer crafts tasty vegan recipes for the website and Michael, the technical minimalist of the team, creates inspiring articles on simple living. We spoke to Masha and Michael to find out why a simple vegan life is a beautiful life...
What is minimalism? Where did the movement really begin?
Michael: This is an interesting question. We wouldn’t know where the movement actually began. We don't know the origins of the movement but there are a lot of different interpretations of minimalism. A lot of people when they hear about it, they think of sitting in a room with white walls and a white chair in the middle.
Masha: That was my first interpretation.
Michael: Masha freaked out when I first mentioned the word minimalism to her.
Masha: When he first told me I went, “Are you crazy? This is what you want to do? It sounds so boring!"
Michael: But really the way we define minimalism is basically identifying what's actually really important to you in your life and getting rid of the rest. So it's not just material things, actual physical items, it's a lot of intangible things like what relationships you choose to pursue, what friendships you choose to have, what commitments you choose to take on and that's why we're pretty ambitious. We used to take on many different things and we used to spread ourselves too thin and now we literally just quit pretty much everything to the point where it's just a job and our blog and that's it. You get a lot of contentment from that. So that's a way you can use minimalism. In a nutshell, identify what's really, really important and get rid of the rest.
So is there anyone in particular that has inspired you to adopt the lifestyle?
Michael: Definitely. While we can't identify an origin, Zen Habits, a single author blog by Leo Babauta was instrumental, that's where I first heard about simplicity and his concept of minimalism. From there, I just went on a rampage researching. I came across another few blogs; Becoming Minimalist with Joshua Becker, TheMinimalist.com with the two guys over there and all the minimalist bloggers were really, really quite important to shift that mind-set and think a little bit differently about things.
So what came first for you guys? Was it the minimalism or the veganism?
Michael: Well we're rookie vegans. We've been vegans since September 2014 so we started our minimalism journey probably about six months prior to that. That's when we started decluttering the house and we really became serious about some of the things that we owned.
Masha: We're house sitting at the moment and we've left some things behind in our other place. I don't even know what's there. Obviously there are those things that we can use here like pots and pans and cutlery, we will still need them when we go back but for a lot of the other stuff I don't even remember what is there. What I have left behind I obviously haven’t needed to use in the last 2-3 months or have thought about so therefore it doesn't really need to be kept. So when we go back I might even do more of a declutter but I think we can pretty much get everything that we own, besides furniture, into one car.
So you both became vegan in September 2014. What was the catalyst for that?
Masha: It’s just one word, ‘Earthlings’.
Michael: Yes, definitely it was an ethical thing for us. It was interesting because I was hanging out on the internet and I just wanted to learn a little bit more about veganism. I think I'd read about doing a seven day vegan challenge and then one thing led to another and Ellen [DeGeneres] was doing an interview with another host about how she became vegan and they were talking about the documentary Food Inc. and Ellen was saying “Food Inc. is like a Disney movie compared to Earthlings”. So I went to earthlings.com and watched the trailer and felt quite nervous because I was eating a chicken kebab that day! And for a bit of context, Masha has been vegetarian most of her life…
Masha: My dad's been vegetarian since I was born but my mum's given us a bit of meat for the whole ‘you need iron’ thing but she's always cooked meat pretty terribly (sorry mum, but it’s true!) so I never enjoyed eating it anyway. And for me, I always had that connection - that's a dead animal on my plate and there are dead animals on your shelf in the supermarket fridge. Whereas a lot of people don't have that connection. They consume without making that conscious connection.
Michael: Yeah but that's what a powerful film does, it helps you to make the connection. So I sent the link to Masha and she initially replied with a text message saying "I can't watch that, there's no way I could watch that" and then she came home and said "Look, I've got to do it. Let's do it together". So we laboured through it.
Masha: We took two breaks. I cried. It's not easy, you get emotional and your heart hurts when you watch footage like that.
Michael: Yeah it's definitely not easy. It definitely is like a horror film but it's real and after we watched it we thought "we can't". I can understand what Ellen was saying. We couldn't participate in that anymore so we just went cold turkey and we've never looked back since.
Masha: After the film was over, he turned to me and he said "Well I'm going vegan" and I looked back at him and I said "I guess I am too!" So we literally went vegan that night. The more you learn about what is happening the more it cements for you that you’re on the right path. I want to inspire other people to have this knowledge because you can't see these things and understand them and not want to have this lifestyle. You almost feel incomplete unless you do. I don't know, I feel like I'm a better human being for myself and for everyone else.
So what is it about veganism and minimalism that marries so well?
Michael: Masha said something when we were discussing this earlier that really resonated with me. Being vegan triggers this whole conscious social living thing, you live consciously; conscious to know where your food comes from and that rolls over really well into minimalism. You live consciously, you're aware of what you buy, what you consume, who you hang out with, what commitments you make and that to me is the consistency between the two lifestyles - living intentionally, living consciously, living mindfully - insert whatever word you want but that's the really empowering thing about both lifestyles and I think that's what connects them together.
Masha: I think for me mentally, being a vegan normally transitions to being a minimalist or being a conscious consumer in today's society. You begin thinking, ‘Okay these products come from an animal’ and I guess because you're conscious and you're thinking about the environment, the animals, the ethics, fair trade, all that stuff you begin to ask yourself, ‘oh do I actually really need all the things that I have in my life?’ So mentally that's how I see the pattern of how they tend to merge together quite nicely and having those two lifestyles just tends to then open up opportunities for so many other things, especially with minimalism. You spend your money on experiences rather than buying more stuff to then have to deal with that stuff that's going to weigh you down… It's just time consuming in the end. Some things you buy, like if it's a piece of clothing, you wear a few times and then you move onto the next fast fashion item and you need to find space for it to maybe wear it one day again. It just ends up consuming so much of your time when you could be doing so many other more amazing things with that time, even just sitting down reading a book, just simple things like that. So I think that's how I mentally merge the two together. You literally feel lighter. You look around and it doesn't weigh you down.
What have been some of the biggest challenges for you with adopting this lifestyle?
Masha: I think clothes has probably been the biggest thing, like wool, silk, leather for me. I've grown up with the mind-set that if it's leather, it's good quality. I still own leather shoes but I'm the type of person that I'd rather honour the animal that I'm already wearing, I might as well wear it and respect it and not buy things from animal materials in the future. So we're still going through that phase of eliminating things. One of my best friends bought me a vegan wallet that looks like leather and people are starting to respect the choice that I’ve made and put in the effort. So I think for me the leather personally, especially now in winter, it's been the hardest thing because I'm starting to wear some things down. I want to find a vegan product that is going to go the distance, that's not just polyester or something that's damaging to the environment, and that's actually going to last you more than just one season. So from a fashionable point of view I guess that's the struggle that I'm having, the accessibility of high quality vegan products.
Michael: From a minimalism standpoint I don't think we struggle too much. We've been pretty ruthless and I think it's because our minds have been conditioned pretty well.
Masha: I've kept some things I absolutely love because I want my children to use them, but there's just literally half a box of that sort of thing. I'm not getting rid of it because I know I'm going to use it.
Michael: I've got this little shoe box of documents that I need like passports and all that kinda stuff; my laptop's really important, I have everything on there. There's a few key things that are really important but I don't know, once you see it this way it's quite simple to just keep the essentials.
What have been some of the surprising aspects of your journey so far? Things that you weren't necessarily expecting?
Masha: I think for me personally it's how much happier I am. I just feel better and I feel like I'm changing and shifting to be a better human being and that just makes you happy.
Michael: For me it's been finally actually being present. It's been one of those buzz words that's been going around for so many years, "oh, you've got to be present" or "get back to basics" or "you've got to meditate" and people just throw out these phrases and it used to frustrate me because of course we want to be more present but how do I actually do it? Why isn't it happening? Along this journey we’ve had some spiritual stuff which has landed on our laps. I think the contentment and knowing that life is not this race to accumulate assets and houses and cars…
Masha: Because that's how we used to think…
Michael: That's how we used to measure success - you measure success through how many things you owned. But now I'm racing to the bottom, I don’t want to own anything. So it's hard not to be happy when that's your goal. I chuckle to myself when a friend is trying to show me a fancy car, I think ‘this means nothing to me, it means absolutely nothing’. People are trying to fulfil that internal need with things and so it doesn’t bring peace or confidence because everything's external - if I buy this it will make me feel better temporarily about myself? I think we're both becoming a lot better at analysing where we're at and how we're feeling and what needs to be changed. So that's really cool and we're just grateful that at twenty seven we've discovered this. We've got many years to explore this further…
Masha: And also be able to bring kids into this world with this knowledge and be able to raise them as minimalists/vegans. That's what a lot of people that I've spoken with or that we've been in contact with have said - they wish that they knew a lot of this stuff before they had kids because it's hard even with small children or teenagers to start shifting that but if you get them from the beginning, they will more likely understand it better.
How have these changes impacted your relationship as a couple?
Masha: It's been really great. I don't think we would be where we are if we didn't have the same views on life anymore and even before, I struggled a little bit with the whole meat eating. I was on and off because we've lived together for five years together now and I was the one that was mainly cooking so I'd buy the meat and make it for the both of us because I'm not the kind of person to make two separate meals. So it's been really nice to have him there on the exact same page. There's nothing that we've disagreed on, we're like a mirror of each other in many ways and it's definitely helped our relationship and made it a much stronger bond. We know we're going to stay together because there's just something there.
Michael: Our values are such a big chunk of life. We haven't even talked about the struggle of actually transitioning to plant-based living because it hasn't been a struggle for us as much because we've had each other. If we were doing it by ourselves I think it would be a completely different ball game altogether. I think we would have dropped off a bit or we would have needed a strong support network but when you've got somebody so close to you, in it with you, it makes things a lot easier. When you're on the same page you can be so much more effective, so we are very grateful.
Masha: In terms of our blog, we'd talked about starting businesses together in the past but it's never quite clicked and we never really knew why. I had my photography business, he was in real estate, we just didn’t quite know how it was actually going to come together. As a couple there were many vulnerable situations where we were at almost breaking point because we weren't quite on the same path but I kept repeating in my head "but I know that there's something in us that we can do together and we can make a lot of impact and we can make a big difference in this world". What kept me going forward and saying ‘no we need to persist’ is because I knew that we had something bigger and greater that we could do together and The Minimalist Vegan is definitely it.
Top tip: Decluttering...
Is there anything else that I haven't asked that you think is important for readers to know about?
Michael: If there's one thing I'd love readers to take away it would be to question things and to learn how to say ‘no’.
Masha: Definitely, go out there and do your own research and do what you feel is the right thing to do. I think this is what led us to this path because I believe everything happens for a reason and we've stuck around each other for this reason, to be doing what we're doing and I said yes to watching Earthlings that night. Everything has happened in a way for us to be living the life that we are and you have got to invite that. You’ve got to invite curiosity and being open to things because that's the only way that you're going to grow as a person and to inspire other people to do the same. What's the point of sitting there in front of a television being miserable and just consuming, consuming, consuming and being a robot? That’s not a life in my opinion.
Michael: But just be open. Masha definitely questions things a lot. When you begin doing that you're finally thinking on your own, independently of what other people think and you start not to care, you just really stop caring and follow your own path and listen to yourself. I think that's a huge sign of personal growth.
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