≡ Menu

Some thoughts on minimalism

Deltas On a Steel String

A couple of people shared this article about minimalism and tidying on Facebook recently.

I was quite interested in the topic because I am feeling a mad impulse to throw stuff out just now. No cleaning urges for me, but I get irrationally annoyed at things in cupboards. We got the newborn clothes out of the storage the other day, we’d bought a new chest of drawers which fit exactly one of the four giant boxes we had stashed away. I wanted to give stuff away straight away, but Dave managed to persuade me that another few months isn’t going to make any difference. I know with my brain that this chucking things out thing is just a phase and actually thinking about it for writing this has persuaded me that I’m just going preggers crazy.

I’ve written about minimalism before, and when I think about it rationally my position is exactly the same. I’m fascinated by capsule wardrobes and people who live minimalist lives, and I’m not at all in favour of buying stuff all the time, or keeping so much crap that cleaning becomes impossible, but at the end of the day I love stuff because it says something about people. I think the ‘after’ picture in that guardian article is the most depressing looking flat ever. It looks like she’s just moved in, or is about to move out and some of the stuff is already gone. There is no personality, no signs of a life being lived. I know that there are plenty of people who move into those beige new built flats, and then don’t do anything to them. No painted walls, no interesting furniture, hardly any pictures (maybe some generic ikea ones though). And I know that not everyone is into interiors the way Dave and I are, or at all. But I do find it strange when I go into a place like that.

Another interesting thing raised in the comments of that article that I hadn’t really thought properly about before is how connected ideas of minimalism and consumerism are. The idea that you should chuck things you’re not constantly using out takes it for granted that if you do ever need one of the things you’ve chucked, you just go and buy a new one. Which assumes that you have enough money to do that, and that you have access to shops that will actually let you do that. And it ignores the environmental cost of replacing things when you need them and then getting rid of it*. It also normalises the tiny size and minimal storage of so many of today’s new builts. Clutter wouldn’t be clutter if you have enough space to store it properly.

The consumption link becomes particularly apparent when it comes to clothes. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read bloggers embarking on some capsule wardrobe challenge that is also described as a ethical fashion project. The first thing people do is to chuck out all their existing fast fashion buys and I just find that so confusing. The resource has already been spent, so shouldn’t you get the most out of it? I mean fair enough if you want to start from a clean slate and assemble some highly thought through capsule wardrobe, but that (1) is expensive (2) wasteful. Please don’t call it ethical. I often feel like the whole thing is just an excuse to go shopping. Like the aim is to only have a limited number of things, but not necessary for those things to be the same ones all the time. Minimalism doesn’t necessarily mean sustainability I guess.

* and yes I know people often donate. But people wildly overestimate the desirability of their cast offs. Plenty donated stuff never even makes it into charity shops before it gets moved to Africa where it swamps local markets, or just plain ends up in landfill.

photo clickale for source

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kerry 13 May 2015, 1:10 pm

    I like the idea of not having clutter because it gets dusty and I hate dusting, but I also like having meaningful things around me. Difficult to balance!
    Kerry recently posted..Thoughts on Fabric, Ethics & ConsumptionMy Profile

  • Sandra 13 May 2015, 2:07 pm

    I like the idea (from that article) of packing up rooms and then only taking out what you need. Then maybe deliberating over the remaining box contents whether they can be stored, used as decor, or given away. Would be kind of a pain though because I hate packing. 🙂 I am forever saying I should declutter but never getting around to it or doing it like one day and then saying that was enough. I just put that Marie Kondo book on hold at the library.

  • lorena 13 May 2015, 3:30 pm

    I have those urges too. To just dump everything. However I am one of those who hates to have regrets so I have to think about it for a while before I do. Which is why I take forever to edit my closet for example. I wish I was so “thoughtful” when it came to shopping and bringing things into my house.
    Like you, I also think about those homes in magazines and blogs where it looks like nobody lives there… as much as I like looking at it. Its just not real. The same for people who pay a home interior decorator to take care of setting up their home. Its impersonal and its not really you.
    My home look “unlived” in once a week, when the cleaning lady comes. Then… its shoes by the front door, dog toys everywhere..

  • Sophikita 13 May 2015, 5:43 pm

    That’s a really interesting thought that the oft touted “minimalism” is just “buy a new one if you need something” by another name. I too had uneasiness about this way of thinking, without being able to put my finger on what was wrong. I read an article the other day saying you should only own what you can carry in a backpack – fine for those renting a furnished flat with enough money but otherwise not a great idea! Yes we shouldn’t have too much stuff but not to go so far the other way!

  • knitlass 14 May 2015, 10:22 am

    I agree to some extent, and I also disagree.

    I agree about decluttering and wardrobe editing as an excuse to chuck out lots of stuff and just buy, or sew more. I really don’t understand some of the sewing bloggers who seem to make themselves a new outfit/dress every week!

    However, there is something to be said for decluttering as a way of becoming a more conscious consumer (although they are not necessarily linked). When you have fewer clothes it is easier to look after them, it justifies spending more on each piece, for thinking carefully about where and how you source things.

    I also disagree about the getting rid of stuff only to get it back again when you need it. Marie Kondo’s book sees donating/giving away things as a way of freeing those objects to become useful again. And, when we have adopted a position of not hanging onto objects that we don’t need/use, then we might also let go of the notion that we need to own/buy everything and to keep things ‘just in case’.

    Lets think of an example – there is a tenement with 10 flats. In each flat the owners have a complete set of DIY materials, ladders, power tools the lot. 10 sets of ladders, 10 drills, etc etc.

    However, if people let go of the need to own all of that kit permanently, they might rent it when they needed it, or pass it onto the new neighbours when they move in, or share it. Some friends of ours bought a wallpaper stripper – they stripped all the wallpaper in their house and when we moved into our place they said: would you like it? We used it to strip the wallpaper in our house, and when our friends moved again, we gave it back to them. Recently, they passed it on to other friends who have just moved into a new place. One piece of kit, 4 families…
    knitlass recently posted..Another day, another blankie (FO)My Profile

  • Steph 14 May 2015, 12:40 pm

    I agree with your points here, it is how I have been feeling about a lot of the talk around minimalism I have heard of late. I haven’t really understood why, when I am interested in sustainability I found this minimalism difficult to try to get behind. I think at the root of it is that while certain things make sense to share, for example the DIY stuff talked about by another commentator, the things that make our homes ours are often the things others would say were clutter.
    I don’t think we should keep consuming, consuming and consuming more, not at all, but I’m just not sold on throwing out everything I have in my house that makes it mine. Not that I don’t every so often get the urge to throw everything away just so I don’t have to dust 🙂
    I also agree wholeheartedly with not getting the ‘throw all my stuff out then start buying everything again but ethical’ idea – it isn’t sustainable at all.
    Steph recently posted..I Made a Skirt!My Profile

  • Jessica 18 May 2015, 8:32 am

    Franca, you are so good at sorting out and expressing my own thoughts logically and eloquently! I agree with you about the underlying sentiment of ‘we can always buy a new one’ under that idea of not owning much. Owning too little does really really seem to be a sign of consuming too much. I am put in mind of a generation who grew up during a war, or whilst there was still rationing; one didn’t throw something potentially useful away, because there was no way of getting more. Thank you once more for your thought-provoking writing.

  • Sarah 27 May 2015, 10:00 am

    This is really interesting – I find it so short-sighted that people will just chuck stuff and replace it. It’s partly that often what I have stored I have bought at a bargain price and if I had to buy it when I needed it I’d be paying full whack (or a marked up price for convenience) and wasting time going on a mission to find it!
    Also it seems like saying “oh I can donate it to a charity shop and someone else will use it” is a way of absolving yourself of responsibility for what you’ve bought. You absolutely cannot guarantee that someone else will use it, that it won’t get junked. If you definitely won’t use it, fine, but in the case of something like a chipped mug that you’ve been using anyway you are the only person who will use it. Ever. It seems to me that there’s almost shabby-shaming going on “of course I should chuck this out” – how dare one hold onto something that is shabby but still fundamentally useable, why don’t you have shiny perfect things? Some might link it to self-esteem and that’s pretty fascinating but not necessarily the case.

    As for “when I need something, I’d like to find it, not go on a quest for it.” in the Guardian article – well why not organise your stuff? Make things have places and get used to putting them back in them. Yes, throw out some things, but you don’t have to go to crazy extremes.

    My grandmother had a large house and lots of things but they were carefully curated and stored so she could describe to you exactly where something was. She was on crutches for the last 15-20 years of her life so couldn’t just pop out and buy something new, and moving around the house wasn’t easy either so being organised saved wasted effort.

    I imagine personality and mental health play a big role. Some people will find it easier to do a massive overhaul, some will be overwhelmed by getting rid of tiny things. Is doing a purge like this an easy way out? I’m sure some people get rid of a lot but gradually bring it all back without addressing why they do it or trying to change their behaviour.

    http://unfuckyourhabitat.tumblr.com/ is really great at encouraging sustained change and not overwhelming oneself.

    Sorry for the mini essay/rant 🙂