|Beef Shabu-Shabu & Cabbage salad // personal picture|
Today, I'd like to introduce the Simple Life series. In these posts, I'd like to present you how I approach various life areas, based on my idea of simplicity I've been refining these past few years. The concept was already introduced to the Nife with these posts on Quality, and on Food. In this post, I'd like to introduce my approach to the material items I surround myself with.
This series concept is inspired by the book l'Art de la Simplicité by Dominique Loreau, in which she explains her vision of simplicity in various areas of her life. I discovered her book in 2011, it opened my mind to a different approach of life, based on simplicity and mindfulness. After a second read over summer 2013, I realized I don't agree with everything Loreau explains in her book. Therefore, I have decided to write this Simple Life series, as an introduction to my own vision of simplicity and mindfulness. I hope you will enjoy it, and bring your own voice to the debate!
- Simplicity & Material Items
I think I mentioned it in a previous post, but I am sometimes a bit uncomfortable with how minimalism demonizes buying and owning material items. I personally believe that the problem with consumerism isn't materialism itself, but the unhealthy emotional relation one can have with their material possessions. Therefore, I believe we shouldn't be ashamed to indulge in nice material purchases from time to time, and to enjoy using our objects.
However, I do believe in the need to simplify our material collections in today's "Western" societies. My own approach to my "collection" of objects is a careful curation - I think it is not the quantity that matters, but rather the adequacy: What do I need this item for? Is it the most suitable one for this? I'm not looking at owning as many as possible (like collectors would for example), but I'm not looking at owning as few as possible either, and I certainly not looking at owning what I "should" be owning given my age and social situation. My collection of items should be tailored to my needs.
Example: Let's take the example of CDs. Most minimalist movements are in a sort of all-digital trend, advising to digitize and get rid of all CDs. But I think the quality of a good CD in a proper hi-fi system isn't comparable with mp3 quality.
My own approach was to evaluate for what type of music CD quality really made a difference, and select a few albums that I bought and/or kept. I digitized the rest. I currently own about 10 CDs, mostly jazz, classical music and video game soundtracks. Sometimes, on week-ends, I brew a tea, put an album of Stan Getz in my hi-fi system, sit on my couchling and just listen to the music. I don't think I would enjoy these moments as much if the music came from a laptop speaker & mp3.
- Usefulness & Practicality
As mentioned in the Quality chapter, an item has to be practical, convenient to use, easy to maintain, sturdy and tick the boxes of my specific criteria (for example, that the cat can't easily break it). The objects are supposed to make my life easier, not be an additional pain to use and maintain. For example, I would avoid a plate that is not quite big enough to bake cakes, tea that is stored far away from the kettle and pot...
With this in mind, usefulness, or practicality, is a major criteria in my choice of items, but also in the organization of my furniture and cupboards. I have to admit this is also due to the fact that I live in 25m², divided in 2 rooms, therefore, ill-conceived items or organization become very annoying, very quickly.
On the other hand, I agree with the "minimalist" idea of culling items when they are no longer useful. An item for which you have no use, but still occupies your living space, can get in the way of your daily life, clutter your home, and stop you from making room for other items you'd really have a need for. Basically, I should use what I have, and have only what I use.
- On Aesthetics & Daily Joys
When Amitai Etzioni explains the difference between consumption and consumerism, he says that consumption is about fulfilling a "basic need" and consumerism is about fulfilling a "higher need". But does it mean that an object should only be bought for its basic usefulness? In that case, what place does art have? Or a bunch of flowers? Or a photo frame, even?
Minimalism has this image of being barren, depurated and ascetic. And that's probably the way some minimalists decided to live, if it matches their preferences. My vision of simplicity is a bit more measured, though. Just like art has a rightful place in human culture, I don't see why beautiful or sentimental objects should be thrown out the window.
We live in our home every day, use our objects - they are a part of our daily routine, and I think they can influence the quality of the moment we are living. Being practical and fulfilling their purpose certainly makes the moment more comfortable, but I think having a personal link the object also improves the quality of the moment. I don't see why useful objects, like a tea cup, couldn't also be beautiful, or a sentimenal legacy from a grandmother. And I don't see why we couldn't indulge in that type of daily luxury.
In my vision of simplicity, the items I own are carefully selected, cared for, and I enjoy using/looking at them. For example I don't see the point of owning some high quality - say, silverware - and keep it out of sight for most of the year because it is "for special occasion". I am all for using silverware everyday, wearing cashmere on Sundays and drinking Champagne on a regular weekday if I feel so inclined.
Your collection of items are tools, ways to spend quality moments in your everyday life. I agree with traditional minimalism in believing that owning objects shouldn't be an end goal, it is rather a way to improve our life and help enjoy the ordinary moments of life.
The number of items, type, criteria of choice are personal, I don't think there is any hard rule for any of this. My only rule is for my objects to be adequate to my life, and to give them the appropriate amount of importance - in other words, we shouldn't let ourselves be owned by our objects.
To close this Simple Life chapter, here are a few example of objects I own to illustrate my approach:
- My morning coffee cup is a hand-made cup I found by chance in Carpentras during my summer holidays in Provence. I find it practical (just the right size), beautiful, and the fact that it's been hand made gives it a special "soul".
- I have purchased a cheap but beautiful vase in which I put a fresh bunch of flowers every now and then, just to lighten up the mood of my mini-palace
- I always make a point of setting my table in a nice way before eating (see pitcure above), even on weekdays, even alone. I also rotate all of my dishes & china, from the cheapest Ikea ones to the hand-made Japanese ones
- I have curated all my cultural items - CD, books, DVD, games - to a small but meaningful selection of favourites. The rest has been either digitized or sold. I re-watch/read/listen to the ones I kept regularly
- I have added a selection of decorative items to my mini-palace over time, to warm it up a bit - a colourful cushion here, an Indian painting there, a couple of postcards from an art exhibit I liked over the bed...
What about you? How do you approach your collection of items? Have you ever felt like simplifying them? What's your own philosophy and choice criteria?