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.