13 December 2014

Minimalism TAG

Minerals. Personal Picture (iPhone 4S 2014)

While I'm finalizing the Thailand travel pictures, here is a short tag post, yet again inspired by Youtuber Cathy. I find her six questions very interesting to think about and share on the topic of minimalism/simplicity. I hope you'll enjoy them.

1. What drew you to minimalism? 

In my case, there were two major events leading me to turn to simple living.

The Year in Japan
First, my exchange year in Japan in 2006. I felt drawn to this notion of simplicity imbued in traditional japanese art and culture - not only the depurated aesthetics, but also this idea that a beautiful piece is better appreciated when simply displayed on its own - for example a single flower in a vase, instead of a full bouquet. This idea that removing clutter helps enjoying what really matters.

Also, the time and money it required to send back to France all the stuff I bought in a year was quite sobering. At that time, I was quite a collector of books, CDs, DVDs and manga, and this is when I realized collecting unused objects might be a burden more than anything. I started shifting my values toward objects and collecting at that time.

The Identity & Style Questioning
The second event, which really turned these brooding thoughts into a conscious effort toward simplicity was in spring 2011, when a colleague's comment made me realize my appearance, style, outfits, reflected the image of someone I wasn't. Or maybe someone I was becoming without noticing, and didn't want to be. This made me rethink my style, pare down my wardrobe, and get interested in the minimalism movement, through Dominique Loreau's book "L'art de la simplicité".

This action impulse lead me to declutter my closet and interior as a start (especially when I moved to Paris one year later); but more than anything, it engaged me on a path of self discovery - started by 'who am I really, and what style is really "me"?' to "what do I want to do with my life?" The path to simplicity isn't always that dramatic, but I discovered that minimalism was much more than paring down material possessions. It is about living intentionally, knowing who I am and what I need and want. The result is a change in consumption habits, because many of our consumerist tendencies stem from a mindless avoidance of all these questions.

2. How did you start the de-cluttering process? 

I started by buying much fewer items than before. Namely, when I came back from Japan in 2007, I completely stopped accumulating books, video games, manga and DVDs. I also remember getting rid of half my pieces of furniture and decoration, and repainting my walls in white. After one year living outside of my appartement, I had the opportunity to lay fresh eyes on my home and the clutter was suddenly unbearable.

However, 2008 to 2011 was a period of self esteem reassessment (living abroad for a year shakes many certitudes and beliefs, as do the young adult years in general). As a result, I started spending a lot of money on objects of appearance, mainly clothes, handbags and shoes. Maybe as a way to buy my way into a confident adult?

So I restarted a decluttering process in summer 2011, focused on these "appearance items" this time, by taking stock of what I had in my closet, getting rid of everything ill fitted or worn out. Then, I went more broadly again and started questioning: "when did I last use/wear this?" and made a major editing of my closets, shelves and cellar. This was the start of a longer term commitment to be more mindful about what enters my home and why.

3. Have you ever counted all your things? If so, how many things do you own? 

No, I haven't counted my things. And if I did, the number would probably be nowhere near the expected "minimalist" total.

I can share one number with you though: the current state of my wardrobe, since I follow it via an excel sheet these days. I currently have 96 items on my daily wardrobe list, and a staggering total of 273 items when counting every single piece of clothing, accessory, sports and travel gear: socks, underwear, running gear, suitcases for travel, gloves, swimsuits, slippers, every single pendant and ring, emergency pyjamas at my fiancé's place...

In any case, I don't really think the hard numbers matter.  I even think it can be unnecessarily stressful to focus too much on numbers and feel like "a failure" or "not good enough" at being a minimalist. What matters is: is this enough? In my case, it is.

4. What are your tips for dealing with the desire for more? 

First, the key element to me in today's society is to diminish the number of these desires by avoiding temptation. This comes with: unsubscribing from newsletters, avoiding my own "kryptonite" shops (BHV, Monoprix, Uniqlo, Muji...) or come in with a limited time and precise list at hand, blocking ads on the internet, avoiding window shopping or browsing online sites, stopping reading media that lead to consumption like some magazines or blogs.

But, if I end up wanting something anyway (which still happens quite often, to be honest), here are some tricks I use to deal with it, when it's really nagging me at the back of the head despite my conscious decision not to buy it. These may not work for all but are worth trying.

First, always give it a pause - save the wish on a pinterest board, on an electronic or pen & paper wishlist, or even on evernote (whatever system works best). During that pause, I ask myself some of the questions below:

  • Assess the possible future use for the object: Is there anything I already own that can do the job? Is it adequate for the situations I'm planning it for? Am I going to use it often? Where will I store it in my home? etc.
  • Wonder what else I could do with this money: say it costs 60€. That's a train ticket to Lyon to see my fiancé. 2 hours of violin lessons. 2 tickets for a theater play. A class of Ayurvedic cooking. A very good meal at a restaurant. Would I really rather buy this object than do any of these things?
  • Imagine I move out abroad - where would that object end? : is it small/practical enough to be included in the suitcase or small container I would ship with me? Will it be worn out by then? Is it going to become annoying clutter to get rid of somehow? Of course you could imagine moving in the same country, or even city if it sounds more realistic for you, but I thought moving abroad was the most "extreme" case of only keeping the essential items.
  • Remind myself of the bigger picture: Is there anything I want to save money for? A travel, my wedding, moving in with le fiancé, getting a nice birthday present for a loved one... Then, is buying this object more important than putting the money into my savings account for these things?

Most of the times, the answer to these questions is sobering and it makes the desire "poof" out of my head. But sometimes it stays, and, in that case, I keep the item on the wishlist and save money for it (once all essentials are paid for). This gives me extra time to decide if I really want it, or to forget I even wanted it in the first place.

I noticed that on the longer term, buying less and "disamorcing" my desires that way, makes me desire less often when I see items, and I'm hoping that the journey toward a simple life will tame the desire for more items even further.

5. How do you deal with non-minimalists in your life?

I shackle them in my cellar.
That's a joke.
I don't have a cellar anymore.

First, I'm making a conscious effort not to judge them with my values. They have a right not to be attracted to simplicity, and they might never be. Now, when it comes to explaining my views on simplicity, because the conversation calls it, or because I want to share it with my closest ones, I explain things from my point of view.

"I'm making efforts to consume less, I'm asking myself questions about the environment and human rights." It makes it sound like a personal choice and not like "THE path to follow and you should do the same". Also, I focus my explanations mainly on the benefits it brings to my life: more time, more freedom, a more serene home, more money, the opportunity to get back to older activities, to be healthier...

Finally, a note on presents (as it is December after all, and many cultures call for gift giving (and receiving) at this time of the year). I wrote a post on the subject 2 years ago, but here is a summary:

  • For the giving part, the gift is about the receiver, not the giver, so I don't impose my simplicity on people. However if I have a choice between a material item and an experience (e.g. concert tickets), I will choose the experience. 

  • For the receiving part, many people around me are attached to the tradition of gifts. So I either suggest consumables (candle, tea, wine bottle, chocolates...), or, if the persons are comfortable with the idea, I ask them to participate in a bigger gift I couldn't afford on my own (this year, a PlayStation 4).

In the end, the solution for dealing with non-minimalists in my life, as with anything else, is communication. Daring to explain, in a simple and non-judgmental way, why you are doing this or why you don't need or want this free item... In my own experience, most people understand my position even when they don't share this view.

6. Do you have any guilty pleasures where minimalism doesn't apply?

Oh yes. I have two specifically, which come down to the same thing really: I'm fascinated by natural stones and minerals. I grew up in a volcanic region, and we were introduced to geology very early at school. I remember picking stones in volcano craters and learning how old they were and how they came to existence. My childhood friend's father was also a minerals collector, and he made us discover all of these cristals of all shapes and colours, created by Nature.

During my childhood, I constituted a small collection of minerals, which I now display in my mini-palace, and occasionally furnish with one or two additional pieces. I know the idea of collecting rocks and putting them on a shelf is hardly minimalist, but that's my little joy.

The second one is also linked to natural stones. In my adolescence I put aside my collection of minerals (as most teenagers do, rejecting their childhood's activities to show they are becoming adults now), but this fascination of natural stones continued to express itself through silver & natural stone jewelry.

I bought amber pendants and tiger eye rings during my "ethnic style" years, and dragon or leaf shaped silver jewerly with amethysts or moonstones on it during my "gothic style" years. Then I discovered the "silver by weight" shop called Gudule in Lyon, and gradually constituted a small collection of rings, pendants and earrings of various colours, usually picking those on which I found the stone particularly beautiful.

Ten years later, I have probably over a dozen (each. Yes. I know.) rings, pendants & earrings of all shapes and sizes, made of amethyst, turquoise, amber, tiger eye, cornelian, quartz, ox-eye, malachite... Owning over 60 pieces of jewelry isn't very minimalist. Oh but how I enjoy picking one (or stacking more) of my few silver necklaces and choosing, from little wooden bowls, which pendant(s) to wear today.

That's it for the "minimalism TAG" created by Cathy. The answers look long when the tag is written and not shared as a youtube video, but I hope the contents were interesting to you! Of course, i'm tagging anyone who'd like to share their own answers, via comments or on your own platform. Please let me know if you do this tag, I love reading/watching these posts :)


  1. ...at least your cellar would have excellent cheese (assuming that's even a proper place to store cheese.) I may not mind being in this cellar after all!

    "what else could I do with that money" is always a valid question. I would put that money toward gas for a photo trip into LA, or eat a really good burger and fries. Or both on the same day!

    1. Haha excellent wine more likely ;)
      It does put things in perspective indeed, to think about what else we can do with this money, doesn't it? I've been able to save much more for important things thanks to that little exercise ;)

  2. I seem to gravitate towards your blog always at the end of the year. Probably because that's when I look back on the year and think about what my plans were for the year and whether I feel I succeeded in them. But also I start looking forward to the new year and making new plans for the year: what do I want to do, how do I want to improve on the last year etc. And the thoughts and plans quite often relate to the themes you deal with in your blog, simplification, cutting back on shopping etc.

    1. I'm glad to hear that! It is true that the end of year makes a lot of us more reflective, and thinking about plans and improvements. I hope you find helpful resources around here :)

  3. Kali,

    "this idea that a beautiful piece is better appreciated when simply displayed on its own". That struck a chord for me. Very well said.

    I am not in the minimalist bucket yet. I am on a journey. One day, i would like to answer these questions too. But reading yours made me think about things and have been pretty inspiring.

    - Archana.

    1. Thank you very much for this kind note! If you are attracted to this idea of subliming the beauty by displaying it in a simple way, you may be interested in traditional japanese arts and philosophy :) I found it incredible how true it is, when looking at a simple tea cup, or an ikebana arrangement with only one flower. But this isn't part of the traditional French aesthetics at all (for my own culture at least).

      I don't consider myself a minimalist either to be honest - when I viewed Cathy's answers she seems to own much fewer items than I do, and I'm not looking to minimize just for the sake of minimizing. But I did like the exercise of answering these questions, it helps looking back and reflecting about objectives and why we engage in a certain path in the first place.