24 April 2014

Simple Life: Myth Busting

Source: Phillip Finder

After years of thinking and talking about simplicity with my close ones, blogging, reading and commenting about the subject, I noticed there are a lot of ideas and preconceptions around the concept of minimalism and simple living. These myths tend to rebuke people, make simple living sound impossible for some, cold and boring for others. I am still learning, but here are a few of these myths I'd like to bust with you today.

Note: I have written a guest post over at Into Mind introducing my vision of the concept of Simple Living. It might actually be a good complement to this one. Thanks again to Anuschka for inviting me to write for Into Mind.

Myth 1: Simplicity is a Witch Hunt Against Materialism

Minimalists are often portrayed as owning as little objects as possible, fighting against consumerism by never buying anything and never enjoying material items. Often, people think that leading a simple life equals fighting materialism - as in, having as few objects as possible, placing no value in them, and finding pleasure only in non-material activities.

Myth Busting
I believe that simplicity has to do with fighting consumerism. But as I previously wrote about, consumerism is different from materialism. Consumerism is about trying to fulfil a higher, emotional or mental need with an object, and that is not materialism. On the other hand, a simple life is about finding adequate objects to match exactly your needs and preferences, which make your life easier and more enjoyable. Therefore, you do possess some items that you need, and you value them for their usefulness and the joy they bring you.

A simple life is not materialist, as priorities are non-material, but it  is not against owning objects. On the contrary, I believe you place your objects in higher regard, as they are fewer, well-used as well taken care of. Think about it, what is the best consideration for an object: buy it on a sale whim and discarding it in a storage room after a few weeks, or carefully select an adequate item and using it everyday until it wears out?

Myth 2: Simplicity is a Boring, Bare Shelves & White Walls Life 

Another image I often hear about, especially when talking about minimalism, is that Japanese inspired bare aesthetics that come with the concept. White walls, a simple cushion on the floor, a wooden shelf with a single piece of ceramics. I personally do like that kind of "mood", but a lot of people assimilate it as the "must" for a simple lifestyle and are turned away by how boring it is.

Myth Busting
Maybe these aesthetics are assimilated to simplicity because they are non fussy and depurated, or because they embody the simple aesthetics and philosophy from traditional japanese culture, but let's not confuse simple aesthetics and simple living.

We have two very different concepts here: simple or minimalist design and aesthetics - neutral colours, natural fabrics, clean lines, little decoration; and simple living, which is a set of decisions, choices and values to live by, regardless of the colour of your walls. You can very well engage in simple living all the while filling your appartement and outfits with cheerful colours, nice patterns and intricate designs. I have a living proof of that: Miss Xandra Bee, a very much colourful and light lady who engages in simple living.

Myth 3: Simplicity is About Leading an Ascetic, Uncomfortable Life

This idea often goes in pair with the one above: simplicity is often viewed as a very strict and controlled lifestyle, taking away the fantasy, the fun for a sad and uncomfortable life. You know, people who wake up at 6AM to go for a run, don't eat meat, don't drink alcohol, and never induldge in anything. Some people make these life choices, but this is not a requirement to live a simple life.

Myth Busting
My vision of simple living is quite the opposite actually: to me, it is about making day to day errands easier and more comfortable. It is about finding the adequate items to improve your life, it is about enjoying the little moments of life and create some fun in the ordinary things. A simple life doesn't mean sitting on a cushion on the floor, it can damn well mean finding a comfortable leather sofa because your backside deserves it.

It may also be seen as strict and controlled because engaging in simple living means for example budgeting to spend less than what we earn, or eating more healthily. But from the inside, when introducing the habits little by little, and, more importantly, adapting them to your needs and preferences, these are not strict at all, on the contrary they are a source of enjoyment.

Myth 4: Simple Life Means Buying Luxurious Items

This myth was born more recently, with all this literature about simplicity and minimalist aesthetics that is directed at upper social classes. Even in Dominique Loreau's L'Art de la Simplicité for example, she presents the simple lifestyle as one that requires a lot of money: Italian marble, soft and luxurious cashmere plaids, a home designed by an architect to be perfectly adequate. This can give the impression that buying the adequate items means being financially comfortable enough to buy the most expensive options out there.

Myth Busting
Yes, quality costs more. And if you are looking for an item adequate to your needs, chances are it will be more expensive than your regular supermarket or high street item. But that kind of choice can be made with any budget. Italian marble and luxurious cashmere are not a must. And since you buy less items overall and take good care of them, chances are you'd compensate the price of quality by a reduced quantity of purchases. Don't let luxurious brands fool you: you don't need to buy from them to live a simple life.

Sometimes, it is about the simple trick of having the chargers stored in a 5€ box near the power cord. Or it can be about the simple efficiency of a French Press to make coffee. Or it can be about hand-made items found by chance on travels, by craftsmen who don't artificially increase prices because of their notoriety. With a bit of research, you can identify stores, brands, suppliers, craftsmen accessible to you that provide adequate quality, for the adequate price. It can mean one luxurious item from a favourite brand if this is what you fancy, but it doesn't have to be.

What do you think? Do you have any ideas that stops you from living a simple life, which really were preconceptions? Are there any other ideas or images you have of simplicity you'd like me to discuss about?


  1. Well said. I have a simple, uncluttered home, but the "minimalist" look doesn't appeal to me. I like dark wood and lots of texture and colour - while having simple lines and the prioritising of function over everything else.

    Form follows function, never precedes it, but the form has to be beautiful and interesting. Second-hand items - things of good quality from family members, consignment stores and ebay - that have stood the test of time bring character and don't cost as much as if they were new.

    If you buy directly from artisans, you may get a beautiful, functional item that costs no more than an inferior mass-produced one. You can buy a decent hand-woven Native American cotton blanket in vibrant colours and prints in the U.S. for around $50, about the same as buying one the same size in polyester or acrylic. One just needs to look around and be patient.

    1. That's very true, form follows function in my opinion too. I think a lot of people are put off by the strereotypical aesthetics of simplicity, whereas it is not the main object of simplicity.

      I also noticed, like you, that buying from artisans or local craftsmen delivers higher quality items because these people have an expertise and don't sacrifice quality for margins, because they are personally invested in their product, it is an extension of their skill, and their art for some, so they are very engaged in producing qualitative items. And, as you say, it's not necessarily much more expensive than mass market alternatives. Especially when considering high end brands which are very expensive despite mass producing their items. It is true though, that it requires a bit of research and patience :) I make it a little game when I travel, but one needs to train to differenciate the real thing from the tourist trap.

  2. Love this post! One of the things I've written about in the past is another myth busting I guess. That minimalists are not sentimental. I have decluttered so much and indeed some of those things were sentimental, but a photo of it was all I needed. Then there are things that remain in our home that are sentimental and I can focus on that good feeling each time I reach for the precious mug, platter or book.

    Our simple living includes & enables...
    more travel & experiences
    eating at good restaurants when we want to
    not filling our diary with commitments
    simple classic clothes & uniform concepts & the occasional more luxurious item
    basic furniture (nothing designer, just functional)
    no recreational shopping
    time to spend with family & friends
    low maintenance home
    minimal email newsletter sign ups
    one or two modes of social media
    trying to cook with in-season fresh produce as much as possible (but there's always chocolate too!)
    appreciating the small moments of beauty and joy each day
    focusing on our priorities not the Joneses or other irrelevant stuff

    While there is so much excitement in the travel, experiences etc, there is also much richness in the quiet times too and they feel so luxurious.

    Love your work dear!

    1. You expressed it and summed up brilliantly!


    2. Very beautiful and touching comment lucent! It is a wonderful description of your simple life, to which I also identify a lot. It is true that it is another myth - that minimalists are not sentimental with their objects. On the contrary, it brings so much joy when you have a few special items that you use gratefully every day... I always enjoy your pictures because they seem to express this peace and luxury of quiet times and joyful experiences.

  3. I love minimalism and I try to focus on that as well.
    My reason are; trying to be less materialistic and
    gets the full needs out of minimal things c: Xx

    1. That's great, good luck on your own journey then, I hope you enjoy it ;)

  4. Your discussion is very well put-- I was talking to a colleague just yesterday about my simplification journey, and so many of these misconceptions came up over the course of our conversation (i.e. that simplification is a reaction against materialism, simplification means living an ascetic, uncomfortable and masochistic lifestyle, I must feel tortured by barring myself of the pleasure of shopping, etc). I always love reading your insights on the matter of simple living. I will have to direct him to this post!

    1. That's a very interesting anedcote! It's true that a lot of people see simple life as strict and boring, especially when it comes to shopping, or food too for example. I'm hoping that people who live a simple life help debunk these myths all around the world by showing to their close ones that it isn't true - showing how they enjoy daily life and are happier overall... If my post can help with it, that's ideal :)

  5. I was forwarded a link to this and I am probably guilty of making all of those assumptions, but I agree with all of your myth-busting points. I think instead of simple living it should be called "intentional living" because it's about making choices to maximize your own personal happiness and not just doing what everyone else is doing or buying the first thing offered to you.

    The thing I struggle with sometimes is over-researching a purchase and realizing later that maybe the decision wasn't worth that much of my time.

    1. It is a good point indeed, simple living is about living intentionally, with purpose. I remember that a blogger (I can't find the link right now unfortunately) had decided to call herself an "intentionalist" instead of a "minimalist" to protray her lifestyle more accurately. I think the problem is that "simplicity" is such a broad concept, and can mean so many things - besides it has been used and deformed by so many media and corporations - that it's difficult to define what "simple living" means, really. Besides, I think that each of us make their own definition of how they decide to lead a simple life.

      I can relate to your struggle - sometimes I feel I spend both too much time and money on items, and once it is found and purchased, even if it's great and fulfills my needs, I feel like my priorities should be elsewhere. But in today's consumerist society, it is difficult to shift our focus off material items.

  6. I used to think minimalism is about white rooms that look very uninviting and for people who don't do anything at home. I'm definitely not into that, but I do actually love the stereotypically minimal clothing style. My boyfriend and I have been getting rid of a lot of things in our home because we want to be more comfortable and have space for things we really love.