Saturday, 2 December 2017

What does it mean to own less and live more?

The Origins of Minimalism

Why is less more to some people?  In art and design the concept refers to quality being more important than quantity and the skill involved in making something simple yet just as effective, beautiful or useful as something that is more complex.   Still, in many cases, whether or not simplicity is beautiful is just a matter of taste.

Less is more is a catchphrase or recurring idea found on popular minimalist lifestyle blogs and Youtube videos and in an increasing number of books.  The concept is simply that by living with less one lives more, enjoying life more fully and finding time and energy to do more of what you value and less of what you don't.  It's a concept that seems to have been around for centuries, expressed by artists and thinkers in various ways and developing as an idea in art ( painting, sculpture, music, architecture etc ) which eventually extended to decor and fashion.  It's a concept likely to be conceived of in a variety of contexts and it will always appeal to some but not others, periodically gaining popularity in mainstream culture before being overtaken by something else.  The Arts and Crafts movement, one version of the less is more concept, was a reaction to the excesses and the mass production of the Victorian era and the Industrial Revolution and there have been various versions of getting back to the land, simple living or aesthetic minimalism movements that arise and decline and are usually associated with counterculture groups.  In the artistic sense, less is more usually represents an aesthetic preference although it can certainly pertain to the general fact that quality and quantity are independent of each other.  Some people who practice lifestyle minimalism also embrace it aesethetically but it is not a requirement and principles of the minimalist movement  are easily utilised without adopting the aesthetic. 

De-clutter and Downsize

Movements are often reactionary and the current popularity in minimalism as a lifestyle is particularly strong with millenials who find they must live differently from how their parents lived, possibly more frugally, possibly with greater ability to pack up and relocate.  My generation is facing the often daunting task of clearing out the homes of their elderly parents, people from a generation that held on to everything because their own life experience taught them it was both frugal and practical.  The capitalist culture we live in, which has pros and cons I am not getting into here, by nature encourages spending and accumulating and an ever shifting need for new possessions.  Built in obsolescence or simply the desire for bigger, better, newer and shinier which most of us have experienced to some degree can keep us caught in the consumer cycle.  Increased awareness of items piling up in landfills or water systems and not breaking down or leaking toxins causing problems in our environment also contribute to a desire to purchase and live with less.  Although donating unwanted items doesn’t necessarily save the landfills but rather defers the inevitable or places the burden of disposal on someone else, unless some unwanted items can be recycled there is little option and the chance that someone else will use or love an item you no longer do is reason enough to pass it on.

Minimalism as a Lifestyle

This idea, extended to lifestyle, suggests that less clutter, less busyness, less worry make life more enjoyable.  I don’t think that is debatable, but what is debatable is whether or not owning more things causes clutter, busyness or worry in your life.  In most cases nobody is forcing minimalism on anyone, although it can potentially more challenging if the people you live with are not in agreement.  The point of the concept is to get rid of what doesn’t make you happy to make room for what does.  For some minimalists what makes them happy could be a hobby or collection that requires a quantity of supplies, so the choice to keep those is not debatable.  There is no point to sitting in an empty room twiddling your thumbs.  If what you love to do requires stuff then you keep that stuff and if you have surplus of things you do not need, want or love that is what you get rid of.  Lightening the load doesn’t mean you carry nothing.

In some ways minimalism is seen as radical and extreme although plenty of people could practice what I would call moderate minimalism without ever even calling it that and their family and friends would not really notice. Call it clearing out or purging and people rarely get upset.  The challenge is to prevent a need to purge and clear out again in the near future.  The point of minimalism is that after you get rid of what you do not need or love, you learn how to prevent accumulating such things again. This takes some practice and mistakes will happen as they do when we are learning and making changes.  Often clearing out a little bit of what you do not need leads to clearing out more and what seemed impossible to get rid of at one point is suddenly easy to donate or sell a few months or years later.  For this reason, most people exploring minimalism refer to it as a journey.


Just Do It Your Way

 People feel threatened when others make lifestyle choices that are different.  Obviously different choices force people to question their own or at least consider that someone else might view their choice as wrong or somehow lacking.  This can cause defensiveness and sometimes even hostility.  The people making lifestyle choices outside of the mainstream can often become zealous either with good intentions or in a very judgemental way and it’s not surprising they get others’ backs up.  I’ve made a few unconventional choices in my own life, losing friends and irritating family members.  It can help to reassure people that this isn’t about them but about you and that you respect their choices just as you hope they will respect yours, though if you deeply believe in the rightness of your own choice it may be difficult not to get preachy. 

You may or may not feel the need to declare yourself a minimalist to family and friends.  Perhaps it is simplest to say nothing but quietly do what you need to, while informing those closest to you that you would really appreciate consumable gifts or gift certificates, donations to charity or whatever you think might help reduce the problem of being given items you do not want or need but feel guilt about giving away.

My advice, if you are in danger of becoming preachy, is to start a blog. 


  1. Ha! Ha! I found you! So lovely to see your awesome self again.
    I dabble with minimalism in that I have the tendency to downsize and declutter, but also the tendency to accumulate new stuff, magpielike. My problem is that although my family enjoys my magpie pickings, they are not as on board with the letting go!
    If I want my minimalism to stick, I must stop accumulating. Hmmm....
    Can I say goodbye to my magpie eye because my family can't give things up?
    How committed to this am I?
    So I tend to minimalise my stuff and leave the rest of the house to them :-O
    Are you and Jim a match in this area?
    Xo Jazzy Jack

  2. Damn it I didn't hide myself well enough! We can only do what works for us and our families and not cling to the idea of something different or we will be miserable! Jim came with little since he came so far, and he doesn't really have much interest in stuff unless it is a gadget or something useful for fixing things-tools and electrical stuff mainly. So the majority of 'stuff' in our home is my junk and I am ready to let go of much of it. We need to be frugal so not accumulating more is one way of doing that. I really don't want to repeatedly be decluttering on a large scale, though regular re-evaluation or removal of what is broken, unused or unloved makes sense. The urge to feel light is still ongoing-colours, clothing, surroundings, but the definition of light or of how much is enough or too much is mine and Jim's. Thanks so much for visiting and leaving a comment. First comment on my newly revamped blog! Yay! xoxo

  3. I acquire "things" that are normally stored away until they are required, for example tools and electronic knick knacks. All very practical things that do not get left lying around. :-)

  4. How nice to be able to follow your new direction(s). :-) Wishing you all the best in your new blog home.

    1. Thank you, Pam! Thanks for visiting and commenting. It's nice to make a little contact with people-the best thing about the internet and blogging!


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