Friday, 3 June 2016

The Life Changing Magic of Doing What Works Best for You



Let's face it, the minimalist aesthetic can look beautiful if your home is architecturally beautiful but if it isn't then a minimalist home just looks like student digs or a temporary living space.  For some people minimal homes are peaceful and relaxing but to me they are devoid of personality, seem incomplete, characterless and transient.  Anything beyond the basic needs (and even then defining basic needs is a challenge given various levels of privilege) is what tells the story of who the inhabitants of that home are.  Whether its art, craft, inherited treasures, bits and pieces brought indoors from outside, books that display interests, a few signs of living life scattered about, these are the things that to me indicate a home and not just a place to sleep at night.  For some people, a place to sleep at night, eat breakfast and hang their hat might all that is wanted or desired, especially if life is almost entirely about being away from home.  These people are often extroverts.

The minimalist movement gurus, especially the younger, often childless couples or single males, seems to promote this kind of life.  Do things, go places, see people, travel, get immersed in culture or nature.  Just don't stay home.

Another movement is the Kinfolk homesteading type where the ideal is more about staying home and growing all your own vegetables and preserving things in jars to also display attractively in your pantry.  Have people over often and serve attractive home cooked meals.  Wear simple linen clothing.  Dreadlocks are good, as are ugly sandals.  I confess I could become this stereotype more readily than the previous one as I am more likely to be a homebody.

I like nature and culture and travel but getting out and doing is tiring and I don't have much energy or stamina.  I like cooking and feeding friends and family and comfortable at home social gatherings, growing my own food and making jam but again, that also takes energy I don't have.

However, I do spend most of my time at home.  And for me the perfect environment has a moderate amount of tidy clutter.  No minimalist mantra of current times is as perfect, in my mind, as the words of William Morris, who is reported to have said "Have nothing in your house that you do not believe to be beautiful or find useful."  It's the inclusion of things of beauty that minimalists seem to leave out.  Or else their idea of beauty is empty table tops and blank walls.  Too much blankness makes me restless.  I don't know where I am as there are no visual clues.  At the same time, disorganised mess, objects with no home, unattractive things left out in the open and too much visual clutter also make me agitated.

Some people talk about practical minimalism or refer to a minimalist lifestyle as a journey and not a destination.  If I cared to I could join that camp.  My aim is to live only with things I truly want and need and for what is visible to be visually appealing to me.  Storage spaces full of stuff that I never use seem pointless and burdensome so I attempt to clear out that kind of clutter.  I have no number goal, no dogma about what appliances I should live without in order to be a minimalist, no desire for my home to look like I haven't gotten around to buying furniture for it yet.  I spent several years without a microwave by choice and didn't miss it.  At this point in my life I find one very useful.  A house is not a home if it isn't full of plants and books.  To me there is beauty and joy in those even if there isn't regular use.  Although I have not read her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I believe that Marie Kondo has a similar approach to choosing what possessions to live with.  The mantra attributed to her is 'does this item spark joy' but I think that is the question to be asked once past the first question: do I use this and need this? The focus seems often to be on sparking joy though I cannot think she is unaware that a dinner plate doesn't spark joy but is typically very useful. 

Ms Kondo's approach, while associated somewhat with the minimalist movement, is more about  simplifying.  For some people this is what a minimalist journey is also about.   Reducing the unneccessary possessions, activities, people, thoughts and square footage of your home are all part of the simplifying journey aspiring minimalists focus on, but the goal is to not have to focus on these things so your focus can be on what you value most.  It's reasonable to assume that the journey towards this goal might at first require more focus on the stuff as you begin to eliminate it then will eventually be required.

For me, my goal is to live a comfortable and simple life with time and energy to focus on what I value most.  I experience stress and anxiety from mess and from an accumulation of items that do not prove their usefulness nor seem to me beautiful.  It may require regular reevaluation to determine if any given item continues to meet those requirements but it's true that the fewer possessions one has the less time need be devoted to that.  I won't be getting rid of my books, plants or candles, the beach stones, decorative plates or sofa cushions any time soon.  I like a bit of layered texture in my home and I have no need to feel unfettered and ready to toss my five belongings into a backpack and travel the world.  By the definition of some I am pursuing a minimalist journey and by others I am not.  It doesn't matter what it's called; it only matters that it works for me.


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