Lost Wages is probably the least likely city to be nominated for a minimalist vacation. Counting every individual sequin, feather, rhinestone, and lightbulb would be a task only a genie could complete. It’s a city of excessively excessive excess. Minimalism is just as possible there, though, as it is anywhere else.
The first thing to keep in mind is that minimalism is about focusing only on what is essential. This is not perfectly correlated with number of material objects. Bleakness and austerity are not absolute requirements. The idea is to get maximum use and value out of things. An argument can be made that even the most wildly extravagant, rococo stages and costumes are quite economical when seen and appreciated by many thousands of spectators.
There is also something to be said for a periodic binge, as a reminder that temperance is generally more comfortable and sustainable. Walk a few miles in heels and remember why they are saved for special occasions. Overeat and remember that not everything is as good as it looks. Stay up too late and remember why 3 AM is not a good bedtime for work nights. It is so easy to come away sunburned, broke, and hung over*, or to see others who have done so. It is also easy to find ridiculously over-the-top things that are better suited to a casino than a private residence: Statues of Liberty made of chocolate or licorice or jelly beans come to mind. Look and laugh. Looking without craving is a cornerstone of minimalism.
Las Vegas is great for minimalism for several reasons. Packing light is not a problem, because almost anything can be had for the asking on the Strip. (The exceptions seem to be books, clocks, and chairs). The whole trip could be done in a swimsuit and flip-flops, and nobody would bat an eye. Living in a hotel room, even temporarily, is like a graduate seminar on minimalism. Stepping away from one’s personal possessions for a few days can bring a new perspective, after realizing how little is needed aside from a bed, a desk, a few drawers, and a few changes of clothes.
Our fascination with Vegas is with the high concentration of world-class performers. It’s a city where a talented person can start with nothing and build a following and a fortune. Not every city has career opportunities for acrobats, magicians, sand painters, costumers, musicians, and all the rest. Research shows that people are happier after spending money on experiences, rather than things, and that seems to be true. It would be easy to spend more than the price of a Cirque du Soleil ticket in the associated gift shop, but we’ve never felt tempted. There just aren’t any products as capable of spellbinding as a live theater performance.
More cities should be like Las Vegas in many ways. Downtown is very walkable, and there are several reliable mass transit options. It feels safe day and night; in fact, we refer to it as “Adult Disneyland.” The majority of people are friendly and in a cheerful mood. Arts jobs are far more available than in any other city I’ve visited. If they can find a way to house the homeless, which seems eminently doable considering all the money flowing through the streets, it could really be something.
I believe in the power of art. With imagination, I think it’s perfectly capable of defeating the darker forces of gambling addiction, substance abuse, and the scary, depressing side of sex work. Art gives people something more interesting to do. Las Vegas has come a long way from the old mafia days. It still has its problems – impressive ones – but it does set a good example of what can be achieved when people take magic seriously. Create things out of thin air where nothing but sand was before. It worked for Los Angeles. Imagine a better world and then hire tens of thousands of people to bring it into reality.
* Never fear. We don't drink and neither of us got sunburned or lost money gambling. Our only damage was one blister.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.