Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Less Is Never Enough

Have you heard about the Minimalist lifestyle movement? It's a radical form of living simply and frugally that goes beyond mere decluttering. The goal is to reduce your possessions to the fewest possible, with the idea that it will simplify your life and make you happier. Many of its proponents live in tiny spaces, often less than 400 square feet, and raise families in them. And many have pared down their personal possessions to a round number, like 100. There's a web site devoted to the "100 Thing Challenge." Go here for their FAQs.

There was a New York Times story last month about Minimalists that got me thinking about all this....

People have sold homes and cars, winnowed down wardrobes to what fits in a carry-on bag, and gotten rid of all but a handful of their books, for example. One essential qualifier in the "100 Thing Challenge" — a personal possession is defined as something that is not shared. So you don't need to count a table or a bed — unless you live alone, I guess. You only count things like clothing, jewelry, books, personal knick-knacks, and toiletries. I guess silverware would count as "shared," too. (That's good; I have a lot.)

Actually, given that rule, I'd be willing to share everything I own with Peter and the cats. If it means that I don't have to eliminate 95 percent of my sock drawer, I'm all for sharing. Help yourselves!

But I've always been intrigued by the idea of living with less, recognizing that it's a virtuous backlash from our spendy, competitive consumer culture — it's at the other end of the ownership scale from hoarding, which affects a surprising percentage of the population (as many as 5% of the population, says expert Randy Frost). It's the opposite of compulsive shopping addiction (up to 8% of the population, according to some studies).

The idea behind owning less is that you'll end up wanting and needing less, and therefore you can earn less because you'll be spending less. Working less frees up your time so you can spend it more creatively and enjoyably. You also spend less time cleaning and dealing with all of your stuff.

All very admirable and salutary, I admit. Minimalists make even us relatively frugal folk feel like gluttons. I've been self-employed (read "unemployed") for several years and it's made me more careful about spending — and I was always a thrifty shopper, having had Depression-era parents. I don't need or want loads of stuff and I don't buy a lot of anything, except for cat food. I'm a periodic declutterer, too.

On the other hand, there's no way I'm heading too much further down that Minimalist path. I admire Henry Thoreau, but I'm not building myself a cabin in the woods. (I also admire George Clooney, but I'm not buying a chunk of Lake Como waterfront, either. But guess which alternative I'd choose if I could?)

Here's the thing. I seem to need a normal amount of stuff. For example, I can't accessorize. I was born without that gene, and the hairstyling gene. I can put on a necklace and part my hair down the middle, but that's about as much as I can handle without hurting myself.

So I can't be one of those "Uniform Project" women who wears the same dress every day for a year. I can't deal with all the required belts, scarves, wraps, tights, vests, jewelry, make-up, hairdos, hats, layered socks, and shoes those women acquire so they don't get stir-crazy wearing that one stupid old dress forever. I can't be bothered. I'd rather have a closet and a couple of drawers full of different clothes. If I wanted to wear the same darn thing every day, I'd be a nun.

There are other women who have pared their wardrobes down to six or 10 items, which they wear for at least a month. Here's the New York Times story about that.

I actually come close to doing that, out of sheer laziness. I live in the same two dresses and two pairs of shorts in the summer and three pairs of cords and jeans all winter. I probably get by with a half-dozen tops in each season, too. But if that were all I had to chose from, it would drive me nuts. I am happy to weed through lots of neglected skirts, pants, sweaters, and shirts to get to those same-old jeans and shorts. It seems that I need to be able to do that. There's a certain comfort in having those choices even if I constantly reject them.

I also wear only two pairs of earrings about 362 days a year. It does make life a little simpler. I do it because I love those earrings. But I still own dozens of other earrings. I like owning them; they don't take up a lot of space, and they aren't causing anyone any trouble. If I didn't own all those earrings, being compelled to choose between only two pairs would probably make me somewhat miserable.

Call me perverse. Perhaps I'm a quasi-Minimalist who lives simply while surrounded by plenty of stuff. Not insane amounts, but enough to make me feel blessed with the abundance this country offers us if we have bank accounts and credit cards. I love having books, boots, antiques, fish forks, and pictures. I don't need or want much more, and everything's paid for. I weed things out occasionally so our closets and cabinets don't explode. But don't expect me to be having a massive tag sale or an exciting freecycle listing anytime soon.

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog. I want to take the 100 Thing Challenge and I live alone. I guess I will have to count everything except the birdcage and a few toys that belong to my pet songbird.
    I'm working on becoming minimalist--I guess you could call me an aspiring minimalist. ;)

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