Monday, August 9, 2010

Maximalist minimalism

Hello again, my fellow TAA-dwellers. (TAADs?) The weather here in the Bay Area may be causing "the coldest summer in 40 years," but I am loving it! I miss my L.A. friends, I miss my kitty-cats (who're being watched by their auntie until I get settled in), and I do kinda miss my old TAA. But! Onward and upward! Even though I haven't been blogging much, there are still a lot of great articles on small space living that I've been obsessively reading, bookmarking, and mulling over. One such article is from a site dedicated to minimalism, about 100 common items that the author chooses not to own. The post has since disappeared, and I won't link to the main site because let's just say I disagree with a lot of what the author had to say. I expected an article about clearing out clutter and unnecessary objects in one's home, which obviously would be of interest to me and TAA. And in fact, some items on the list were reasonable; if you don't drink coffee you can do without a coffeemaker, if you use your gym membership you don't need to own freeweights and a treadmill, and if you're not a cheese enthusiast like myself you don't need to own a fondue set. But the majority of the list were things I couldn't quite wrap my head around. The author does not own a couch, a bed, a nightstand, an end table, a desk, a dining table, a TV, a DVD player, a clock! And from what I gather (though I may be mistaken), she is actively choosing not to own these things, though she could afford them and find room for them for the most part. She has a futon mattress on her floor, she uses her coffee table for eating and working on her laptop, and her printer sits on top of the box it came in. She declares that she has no art, no window treatments, no rugs, stating that she likes "bare walls/windows/floors!" When she mentions not having something like an end table, she says she "doesn't see the need for one." And that's one of the things that bothered me about her list: her tone. I got a distinct feeling that the author was very pleased with herself for living without the unnecessary junk the rest of us consumerist whores have sold out for. (But that's my reading of it; she did not say anything like that.) Her self-congratulatory tone really rankled me. The image that popped to my mind was that of a reverse-hoarder: instead of compulsively saving every item they can, the author appears to compulsively get rid of every item she can. Now, I understand the limitations one can have when owning things: maybe you can't afford an end table. An end table is pretty low on the list of priorities when you'd prefer your money to go toward rent and groceries. And I understand the limits of available space, as you well know. Maybe your apartment is so tiny that any additional piece of furniture would make things so crowded that your place turns into a fire hazard! And I also understand not wanting your possessions to start owning you -- "you are not your khaki pants," as they say, or in this case "you are not your couch." All of this, I understand. But your possessions can also bring you comfort and pleasure, and I think most of us strive to find a balance where our things bring happiness into our lives, but they're not the only things that do. I choose to own a couch because it gives me a comfortable place to sit and read, or watch TV, or have a conversation with a friend. I have an end table so I can put a lamp on it to provide reading light while sitting on said couch, and a surface where I can put my drink without worrying about knocking it over. I have art on the walls because it makes my eyes happy to look at, and because the works made by my mother remind me of her. These possessions make my life more comfortable and happy. And after I read the "100 Things" article, my knee-jerk reaction was, "This woman and her apartment sound so boring." From my perspective, her lifestyle is one of masochistic deprivation. Of course, I don't know her. She seems quite content with her lack of 100 things, and if that works for her, great. But her lifestyle is extreme, and I think many of us would be unhappy if we tried to emulate her. I'm happy with my stuff, and you should be too. And let's open this up for a little discussion, too. What are some items you've happily gone without? What are some things you need to live? What are some things you need to be happy? Here's an example to get you started: even though it takes up precious countertop space, I love my Kitchen-Aid to pieces. Sure, I could make do with a hand mixer, or I could give up baking altogether, but that would make me very unhappy. So my baby Bela (I named the Kitchen-Aid after Bela Lugosi -- long story) can take up all the space it wants; I'm never letting it go!

21 comments:

  1. I agree, the woman sounds hardcore minimal! I could live without a microwave and a TV. Must haves are books (and therefore bookcases), stove/oven, bed, and lamps...

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  2. Even though it's not my norm, I did go without TV for almost 8 months and was fine with it. I could probably get by without a microwave too. But I agree -- I can't bear to part with my books! I'd rather get a thousand paper cuts than ditch them.

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  3. I choose to go without a big car, a big house, a big TV, a big closet, a big bathroom.... you get the idea. I feel I am a minimalist in a very busy sort of way. I have a ton-o-stuff but it is for my pleasure and not the need to keep up with the Jones'. It is a reverse sort of snobbery, I suppose, which is probably what the post author and I have in common: a strong reaction to the McMansion syndrome.

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  4. Laura, that's a really good point. When you acquire stuff just because those around you are acquiring stuff, that's a bad thing. But when you acquire stuff because you honestly like each piece and it makes YOU happy, I don't see anything wrong with that.

    McMansions... *shudder*

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  5. I think that I read the blog post about the 100 things, too! I regularly go on about the merits of simplicity, conscious consumption and organized living, but it seems like the 100-things-people have severely limited the comfort and function of their living environment. This is the difference between a "home" and a "place you sleep".

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  6. "This is the difference between a "home" and a "place you sleep"."

    Yes. Exactly!

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  7. I knew people would be here saying 'never without my books!!' and I used to be one of those people too. Last time I moved it was across the country (Australia) and I couldn't really afford to have things sent over so I had to very severely cull my possessions. I had to do my books first (I had more than 500) because they were the things I believed I couldn't live without. So I put them all into the boot of my car and went to a second hand book shop. I choose a lovely one, it was in an old building, had lovely displays and a real book lover as an owner. I was really happy for my books to go there. Plus, it allowed me to give away or sell other things I had thought I'd needed to have around.
    Now I see books as transitory items. I buy them or borrow them and when I'm finished I find someone who I think would like them and pass them on. It is a nice feeling.
    I'm not completely book-less, but they aren't the focus of my house anymore and I've discovered that I don't need to own them to love them.
    So, yes, I now know I can do without my books and that not having heaps of books doesn't make me an uneducated oaf!

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  8. Her life sounds sad and depressing.

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  9. Yep, I'm definitely a "not without my books" gal. I just moved from one end of the state to the other, and I brought with me about nine boxes of books. Still, they were the first to get packed and the last to be unpacked, I did a pretty severe cull before I went, and if I'd been moving any farther I might have cut down even more. If I were moving across the country, I would seriously consider saving only the ones I really, really loved. And with Kindles and Nooks and all, it would probably be easier to do so without losing the precious stories kept within their pages.

    I think it's great that your books found good second homes, and I don't think you uneducated at all! And after all, you were responding to your circumstances and your priorities -- no one can fault you for that!

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  10. There's being a minimalist due to space/economics/aesthetics, and then there's being a minimalist to hold it over the heads of others. It makes no sense!

    I could very well do without a lot of the kitchen gadgets/pans/pots that have accumulated over the last year. I got rid of two pie plates last year, and had to remind myself why when I thought about buying one about a week ago.

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  11. I've been without a tv for approximately 4 years. I use my laptop to watch dvds and hulu and such, but haven't had cable or a tv.

    I went without a table for about 3 years, then someone gave me a very small round table with 2 stools that I put in my (very small) kitchen. I don't use it as much as a thought I would.

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  12. Ana: Right! I have a feeling the author was a little more in the latter category of the two.

    Gina: I think that many people are increasingly forgoing TV in favor of their computers. I really think that eventually TVs will get phased out, and perhaps instead we'll just have giant computer monitors on which to watch our (downloaded) movies!

    Your experience with the table is familiar; I rarely use my dining table too, but as the one I have is an old family piece, there's no way I'm getting rid of it!

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  13. Generally I have a problem with things that have a single use. Ooooh bringing up kitchen items - so dangerous! This could be a whole post in and of itself. I am still trying to find the perfect balance for me. Not having much counter space is an issue that makes single use appliances not desirable. We have two, a toaster oven and a blender. I was given the blender as a gift, which is functional but I loath its presence on the counter! I can't stop thinking about how practical and energy efficient an electric kettle would be, but I can't mentally get over the counter space idea.

    Appliances, ok, they are big and take space, but when I think about the number of SPOONS we have.... We have probably 4 times the number we need, but in the back of my mind is always "what if we have guests" or "these are from his grandmother"...!!! How many mugs do we need? I would say maybe 4 (to include guests), but how many do I personally own? 6 - 8, which is not even the grand household total!!! Another thing I notice is we have 4 redundant cutting knives but no serrated knife for bread. I think 4 is not a large number for cutting knives, but the fact that they all do the same things, and to the exclusion of some important tasks, it just seems unnecessary.

    (( The main benefit of limiting the dishes is there are fewer to pile up before doing the dishes! (which is my weakness, so that's a very useful trick) ))

    In other rooms.... we have no table but maybe if our lifestyles changed to eating at grown up times, that might become important. Recently I sold our couch due to space issues. I didn't think I even used the couch that much but apparently I did because I'm really missing it! Looking for a small, comfortable, makes-into-a-bed-but-not-a-futon alternative. Then it would be multipurpose and the guilt would be relieved. Right?

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  14. I need to tell my mother to cut down on the number of mugs she has. It's just her and my dad, and maybe an occasional guest, so she does not need a dozen mugs! They can barely fit in her cabinet!

    As for your couch conundrum... They have oversized chairs (which are smaller than a couch, maybe the same size as a loveseat) that are also sleepers. Check this one out:
    http://www4.jcpenney.com/jcp/X6.aspx?deptid=70752&catid=70832&grptyp=PRD&itemid=19513ab&dep=FURNITURE&pcat=Living+Room&cat=Chairs+%2b+Recliners&refpagename=XGN%252Easpx&refdeptid=70752&refcatid=70827&cmAMS_T=XGN3&cmAMS_C=FEATURE&cmAMS_Z=XGN3ABOVEPAGINATION&CmCatId=70752|70827

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  15. I applaud the desire to own less, but the no-art, no-comfort, nothing-more-than-15-inches-off-the-floor bit is what gets me. She must have good knees and a good back.

    The last time in the past 8 years I had a TV was when I was living in a communal co-op in Austin, TX, and the co-op board bought us one. I find I get more done when I don't have HGTV in the background anyways. My roommate was making noises about getting a second-hand TV soon for watching movies. I'm seriously considering a pre-fall closet purge. I don't know if I have enough stuff to do a yard-sale, but it might be worth a shot.

    That said, my books are my livelihood -- I need to own them because the library at my university has rather poor selection, given its ambitions, and I need to mark things. I suppose the same isn't true for that pile of picture-frames behind my bed...

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  16. Hi Simone! I also wanted to suggest this for yeyejoijoi: Studio Day Sofa from World Market http://www.worldmarket.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3479111

    I just moved into a new apartment and am living alone for the first time ever. I have a TV but I chose (in order to save money) not to get cable, and that is a big change for me (I do get some over-the-air channels). Also, I do not own a computer. Never have (unless you count the one my family had when I was in highschool). No computer = no internet. How do I do it? Well, I spend roughly 8 hours a day in front of a computer w/ internet access at work, so that helps curb the urge.

    The only good thing I have to say about the above mentioned *hardcore minimalist/possibly insane woman who doesn't even own a bed!* : it must be very easy for her to move (having just moved myself - aggggghhhh, I just hate it!)

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  17. there's a lot of ... snark about her no end table ness.

    think about it: she has no couch, right?

    and likely sits on the floor to use the coffee table?

    so, why *would* she need/use an end table - which is likely at or above shoulder height when sitting on the floor or futon?

    it makes perfect sense, to me, that she'd just prefer to set things directly on the floor where they'll be lower to reach.

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  18. Actually, I have been following the "100 things I don't own" lady's blog for awhile and I really like her posts about minimalist travel.

    geeksdoitbetter: She owns 2 chairs, so no floor sitting there.

    I have to say that I read the post a bit differently. While I agree that some minimalists get swept up in the "reverse snobbery" thing, I don't feel that she has. I think that she is a fairly hardcore minimalist (by my standards anyways)----but she gets great comfort and happiness from it. Her blog has inspired me to let go of some of my stuff and to travel with fewer items. With that being said, I'm not exactly a minimalist. I like her blog and I like this blog. Each holds its own appeal for me.

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  19. I don't really like minimalism. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a clutterist or anything, but I just find stark and empty spaces, no matter how well they're done, to feel rather cold and lacking.

    I suppose this might be something I can blame on my mother? All those trips to garage sales and thrift stores growing up has given me a dependency on the knicks and knacks of life.

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  20. Perhaps it is my own sentimentality but I know I would have a hard time with a minimalist lifestyle. I was recently at my moms when she dragged out an old box of books I had as a child. I shrugged it off, but the minute she went to bed I went digging through it. I came across at least 3 books that made me cry at the sight of them and countless others that flooded my head with happy, carefree memories. I like having stuff that reminds me of my past, a tangible thing that draws up memories of me crawling in my grandpa's lap to read a book. Now do I really need the three person couch, the love seat AND the chaise lounge? Hell no, when we bought the set it fit our life at the times (1300 sq ft) but it really crams in when our little cottage is only about (900 sq ft.) but there is that nagging little bit in the back of my head that says, But you will need it someday! And when that day comes, you will wish you still had it. Perfect example, I finally got rid of a couple of fish tanks, and low and behold I needed one for my new classroom (I'm a teacher) but freecycle saved my butt. I found a 6 gallon tank and it is perfect! So perhaps we should all look around our TAA's and really consider that chaise in the corner that is only there for the princess kitties and the random clothes that get thrown there.

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