100 Personal Items: Minimalism & Environmentalism

My slightly lopsided pottery

I’ve read a lot of minimalist articles lately. One of the most recent to come to my attention was a 100 personal items challenge. Pretty simple: get yourself down to under 100 personal belongings. (Easier said than done, of course.) Then I read a far more upsetting article: how to get rid of your books.

And I thought immediately, Over my cold, dead body.

I guess I’m not sufficiently evolved in my thinking to embrace minimalism. It’s not hard to see the connection between minimalism and environmentalism; I’ve been arguing all along that we need to be buying much less and centering our lives around things more satisfying than shopping. At the same time — and I speak as an unabashed sensory junkie — I really like stuff.  I think it can play a positive role in our lives. And I don’t think we necessarily need to be minimalists to lead environmentally conscious and sustainable lives. What we do need is a new attitude towards stuff.

I keep coming back to this one quote by William Morris: “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Whenever I’m out shopping, which is increasingly rare, I’m amazed at the types of things people buy. I can’t think of any way you could justify plastic inflatable Santas as either useful or beautiful. Half the time, I think we buy things just because we think we’re getting a good deal. The other half of the time, I don’t think we actually think about what we’re buying at all. We definitely don’t spend enough time thinking about the true cost of our addiction to consumerism, and I admire minimalism because it does — and rejects it.

At the same time, I’m no minimalist. Come into my house, and the first thing you’ll see is a dainty Art Nouveau style console table, with two antique barley twist candlesticks and a hand turned wooden bowl perched on top of it. Sensory junkie-ness continues throughout the house. I love the glow of oiled antique maple, the smooth coldness of burnished pottery, the smell of an Arthur Rackham book published in 1908, the dense pile of a plush peacock-blue throw. I love drinking tea out of mugs specifically chosen for the way they feel in my hands. From a sensory and aesthetic perspective, I love stuff. I love making it. I love supporting artists who make beautiful things. But I’m very picky and quite poor, and between the two of those, I don’t end up getting very much, and most of it isn’t new. 

Minimalism is one, perhaps the ideal, way to be conscious about stuff. I’m arguing that thoughtful appreciation is another. It’s about only buying things that genuinely bring beauty into my life, and it’s about buying less. It’s also about appreciating what I already have, and realizing that I don’t always need to own something to appreciate its beauty. Like everything else, it’s ultimately about consciousness.

That said, I’m also willing to admit that I’m not a perfect adherent to my own principles (who is?) and could probably do more appreciating with less stuff. I’m not ready to get down to 100 items, but getting rid of 100 items? That sounds like something I could do.

5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Emily on 08/12/2010 at 16:12

    I generally hate owning stuff ,especially non-useful stuff, but the things that I do own require maintenance and new parts/accessories. For example my road bike: I like to think of it as one item, but since it sees a lot of use, I often have to shell out money to order to keep riding it… new tires, new tubes, more lubrication, new bike gloves, new shoe clips, new spokes, etc, etc. I buy high-quality parts and gear, but it all breaks down in time. Collectively, my bike is a lot of stuff.

    I’m no perfect minimalist, but I justify my bike purchases by the fact that my partner and I share one car and I commute with my road bike, so my carbon footprint is relatively low.


    • Posted by ailanna on 08/13/2010 at 10:29

      I don’t think your bike gear cancels out your minimalism. 🙂 I’m definitely less good about only acquiring things that are useful — while I prefer things that are both aesthetically pleasing and useful, if it’s really gorgeous, I’m willing to overlook the useful part. Maybe I’ll outgrow my sensory junkie-hood eventually…


  2. Posted by magnoliachica on 08/13/2010 at 11:15

    I read the same blog about the books, and I had a similar thought. Books are one of my favorite home decorations (it just feels bare without them), and my husband and I have a lot of books. I also love the quote by William Morris and I think your idea of “thoughtful appreciation” is spot-on. I think it’s very human to love beautiful things – art, fashion, architecture, flower gardens…. Obviously what I consider beautiful may not be beautiful to someone else, so I might like more “stuff” than a minimalist. I also think minimalism and decluttering are useful tools toward a goal: simplifying our lives to be more appreciative of what we have and to reduce the dependency we have on materials things. But minimalism is not a goal within itself. It’s like dieting just for the sake of saying “I can survive on so little!” If you’re not enjoying it, then it’s not worth it.


  3. […] as many going out as coming in. That’s all beginning to change. I’ve said before that I’m no minimalist, and it’s still true. I don’t feel the need to strip my belongings to just the bare […]


  4. […] What is your attitude about stuff? I’m an unapologetic sensory junkie, and as a potter, I make stuff that I hope can be both beautiful and useful. I don’t feel the need to possess everything I find beautiful, but I want texture, aesthetics, and sensory appeal to be a part of my life. I want to have room for at least a few items that are lovely without requiring them to also be truly useful: a turned burl bowl with a waving natural edge, a handful of whimsical cat figurines from my travels. I doubt I will ever be a minimalist. […]


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