A Comment on Minimalism’s Misconceptions -Part 1

Post written by Monica Gaylor.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Leonardo da Vinci

I recently ran across an excellent article that has inspired me anew.  In Joshua Becker’s, Addressing Minimalism’s Misconceptions, he efficiently explores one of the reasons that I started my minimalist blog.  I wanted people to understand that there are all kinds of minimalism and there is not one correct way to be minimalist.  I want to inspire people who are not interested in minimalism to adopt one or a few minimalist practices.

My blogs sub title is:  Minimalism + Aesthetic.  I believe that in the search for less one must not ignore the concept of beauty.  It is my belief that most minimalists are really clearing away the excess in order to find this beauty, this authentic-ness – the sublime.  It is something different for everyone, but I believe all people search for it and must experience it in some form or another.

I wanted to take this opportunity to comment on some of the things Becker so wonderfully stated.  I have borrowed the layout of this article from him (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery), as I believe it was very well done.  The headings in bold are his, but the comments following are my take on minimalism – how I have enacted some of the concepts of lighter living in my life, the things I struggle with, and the things I have conquered.  Some are serious and some are very tongue-n-cheek.

“Minimalists come in all sizes, ages, genders, races, nationalities, social classes, and religions.”   Joshua Becker

1.  Minimalism is stark and barren. I have been a long time lover of interior design.  I used to teach classes in interior design.  It is important to remember that many design magazines have used very stark and barren pictures with a big title of “Minimalist Something” and I believe this is where this misconception began.  Often times these were pictures of big, expansive spaces that looked like the owner had not yet purchased enough stuff to give the room a “warm and cozy” feel.  Magazines often have ulterior motives – It is a good way to advertise beautiful furniture in the guise of an article and not surrounded by other competing items / furniture.  Or, the article might really be about peace and tranquility that a stark, barren place often epitomizes. If you took those same pieces of furniture and put them in a smaller more modest space it wouldn’t look so minimal or stark or barren.

My home is my sanctuary. It is extremely important to me that it is inviting, warm, cozy, efficient, highly functional, and BEAUTIFUL.  It is also very important that it have very bright colors, lots of artwork, books, television, tools, a studio, and positive chi.  I want my house to tell the story of “me” to my guests.

Although I have traveled the world extensively, I am a homebody.  I like to putter around my house and can do so for extremely long periods of time if allowed (like summer breaks).  Puttering recharges my batteries, promotes mental stability, and most importantly it let’s my inner artist come out to play.  I have found the last point to be the most poignant.  Too much stuff and clutter inhibits creativity, but then, so to does too little.  It would be hard to paint the Mona Lisa without brushes, paint, and a space to do so.  But on the other hand, the prolific nature of artists of the past is not rivaled today with our many conveniences, possessions, and distractions.  My own brand of minimalism seeks to find the most effective place where relaxation and productivity function at peak capacity.  It is currently a work in progress, but it is not stark or barren (in any sense of the definition).

2.  Minimalism is boring. Twenty years ago when I embarked on the path of “Simplicity,” (that’s what it was called then) it was so that I could travel the road less taken.  I wanted to see the world and experience what most people never did.  I did not see how this was possible with a lot of baggage in the way of big houses, cars, stuff, and kids.  And so I choose none of those things, instead I packed my backpack and traipsed around the world.  It wasn’t boring!

Now, I have changed.  I have a tiny house, a modest car, a little stuff, and still no kids.  I have no financial commitments to speak of and can thus do what I want when I want to do it – for the most part.  I admit that it is a balancing act, but one that affords me many choices.  And choices – are never boring.  My personal idea of boring (and hell) is getting up everyday to go to a job that pays for the oversized house and the cars and the overabundance of toys that distract from the stress of trying to pay for a lifestyle that is only achievable if one works 70 hours a week, but then doesn’t have the time to enjoy the lifestyle that they so actively pursue all week.  This doesn’t strike me as a balancing act but more an act of desperation.  If they got off the treadmill their house of cards would fall down.

3.  Minimalists don’t own nice things. I have trouble with this one because – what is a person’s definition of nice?  Do only designer brands count as nice?  Do only expensive things count as nice?  What about antiques or inherited items?  Sentimental items?  Does it have to be what’s in style today – or “cookie-cutter” to be nice?  Does it need to be purchased “new” or can “used” count as nice?  I think maybe people are confusing minimalists with cheapskates.  If you own less, the stuff you own could be nicer – if you prefer it that way.

The sub title of my blog is Minimalism + Aesthetic, so obviously beauty (or nice) is important to me.  My attitude, and many minimalists attitude is – only own something if it is useful and / or beautiful.  I think it should be both if possible.  And further more, I think beauty is a function in and of itself.

4.  Minimalists are lazy. Uummm.  No!  Having clear boundaries and goals in life should not be equated with lazy.  Getting enough sleep, having time to eat properly, recharge the batteries, engage in pleasurable hobbies, spend time with loved ones, and “sharpening the sword” are extremely important and incredibly effective – so much so, that when one does go to their job of choice they can be most effective and productive in the least amount of time.  This should not be considered lazy – but smart!  Why isn’t this the goal of every American?  Are we human “doings” or human “beings?”

5.  Minimalists are vegetarians / vegans. Yeah – not me.  I have a blog planned in a few weeks on this vary subject and my struggle with it.  I love to eat out with friends and for the convenience, but – when I do, I tend to make really poor choices.  I will save this one for a blog all its own.

6.  Minimalists are young and single. I am middle-aged and single.  If I got married – I would still be a minimalist.

7.  Minimalists don’t appreciate books / information. I am a voracious reader of books.  I check them out from the library – for the most part.  I also check out DVDs and CDs at an alarming rate and have done this for years.  Over a decade ago, I decided that the local library would be my own personal book, DVD, and CD collection – after all, I pay taxes.  It would be housed in a separate location from my house thus saving me money, space, insurance, and dusting.  I can access any item I may need at numerous locations during normal business hours any day of the week except holidays and via the internet 24 / 7.  It is better than a bookstore because I don’t feel obligated to buy a coffee because I stopped to read their books but not actually buy one.  The books are not for sale, so I never have to ponder with myself whether I should buy this book or not.  And, as I continue to de-clutter and get rid of my own books, DVDs, and CDs I can without worry or stress drop them off at my local branch and they redistribute them for me according to my (the publics) needs. I am extremely happy with my collection.

This is the first half of my comment on Minimalism’s Misconceptions.  Tune in next week for Part 2.

For me, minimalism is a philosophy on a way to conduct ones life.

  1. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  Jim Elliot
  2. “The truly brave man is the one who dares everything for the sake of his own liberation.”  Unknown author
  3. “Change….is when we give up who we are, to become what we could be.”  Unknown author

Somehow these quotes managed to make it into the little quote book that I have been recording things in for years.  When seen together like this, for me, it becomes a plan of action, or – a mission statement.  Minimalism is a journey toward my authentic self and an attempt to regain control of a life that had become so out of balance and turbulent.  Labels really mean nothing.  Its just a way to find others and information on subjects relevant to you.


6 thoughts on “A Comment on Minimalism’s Misconceptions -Part 1

  1. Jean April 5, 2011 / 5:06 pm

    Nicely written. I like what you wrote about libraries. You inspired me last year to use my library more often. I’ve saved lots if money since then and have read more!

    • Monica Gaylor April 6, 2011 / 9:52 am

      I love our library. (Is that weird?) It is so convenient. I order books, dvd’s, cd’s all the time and they deliver them right to my branch. It’s like getting a gift every week.

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