The post about needs brought up the interesting question of variety : how many items are necessary to fulfill our needs, and how many make us feel satisfied ? This is a subject often discussed within minimalism, especially when talking about the numbers game, but I think the notion of variety is personal, as is everyone’s simplicity journey.
Do we need variety?
The first question would be: do we need variety? This isn’t an easy one to answer, and I’m not a psychologist, but I often see people stating minimalism feels inadequate to them because they need variety.
When I ask myself how many of something I need, I take a look at my everyday life and estimate the number that will make my life easier without cluttering my home. The “right number” depends on your lifestyle. I would define my right number by asking myself: what need does it fulfill? How often will I need to use it? Does it need to be washed or replaced regularly? In other words, defining how much variety is adequate to my needs.
Examples: I have my plates, glasses and cutlery in sets of 4 because this is the maximum number of people I can invite for dinner. I have 2 sets of sheets so I can take the time to wash and dry them while sleeping in fresh sheets. I make laundry every ten days in average so I need 12 days worth of climate appropriate clothes.
Can variety make us satisfied?
Evaluating the need only partially answers the question of variety; you can own 4 times the same plate, or 12 white tops and that will fulfill the adequate number, but it may feel boring. Besides, how many decoration items feel adequate, knowing that we don’t technically need any? Since these are not washed often, should we own only one climate appropriate scarf or is it OK to have a small (or large) collection of scarves of different styles and colours?
I am currently forming ideas about this so I don’t have any definitive opinions or answers, but here are two topics to start:
- Knowing yourself and what kind of variety brings you little joys
- If you have one area in which you own a large quantity of items, why is that?
The Kind of Variety you Like
When you take a look at different minimalist blogger's environments, you will see a diversity of universes. Sure, you always have the minimalists who also like minimal aesthetics - white, grey, clean lines and no fuss. But others like a variety of colours despite engaging in a simple life. This is a proof that we all have our own preferences and you can tailor simplicity the way you want.
If minimalism sounds unappealing because you like having several different tea mugs and you feel like you’d have to own only white ones, I’m suggesting that you can lead a simple life and own 15 colourful tea mugs if that’s what you like. But the first thing would be to identify what kind of variety you really enjoy. Here are a couple of first ideas:
- First, which items you like to have several of? For example, I’m perfectly satisfied with about 2-3 pairs of climate appropriate shoes, but I like having 10 different scarves to match the overall colour theme of the outfit. I have 3 belts, and use only one of them 80% of the time, but others may enjoy wearing a different belt every day to bring a touch of originality to their outfit.
- Second, what type of variety do you enjoy? Variety, or diversity, doesn’t mean the same thing from a person to another. For example, for me, variety is colour. I don’t mind owning several copies of the same item (for example the GAP skinny mini I own 4 of, or the American Vintage Jackson tee I own 3 of), but in different colours. But other people may not even consider owning the same model twice, because variety means different cuts and styles for them.
I think these apply to any item type, I thought the wardrobe example was a good concrete illustration of it. In my version of simplicity, once you define for what items variety makes you happy, you can gift yourself with one item once in a while, as a little joy.
But it doesn’t necessarily mean you will own an insane number of possessions. Society makes us believe we need to own a lot of everything, but we don’t. When you find out what items you like to own in variety, you can also find out you only need few of other item types, hence editing your possessions. If that makes any sense. In the end it’s a way to balance things out without owning more overall.
Why Do You Own So Many of These?
The second question to consider is to see things the other way around: identify an item type you own a high number of and ask yourself why that is. Is this because it brings a bit more joy to your life? Or is there something else? When we try to fill a higher need with objects – whereas no amount of objects really helps – we can end up accumulating quite a bit as we hope to alleviate the need with every purchase, and it doesn’t work, so we keep purchasing.
For example, in my early twenties, I wanted to be taken seriously, considered like a proper adult. To fill that need of self-confidence and recognition, I bought a lot of clothing – high heels, tailored shirts and blazer jackets for example. However, if the outfit can be a symbol to start a change, it isn’t enough to meet that kind of need. So I ended up accumulating quite a number of “grown up” clothes, not because I like outfit variety, but because I hoped each purchase would “heal” my self-confidence.
Of course it didn’t work. Once I realized this tendency, I asked myself why I bought so many heeled shoes, and found out the need behind this, I started working on acting like a “proper adult”, asking myself what kind of adult I wanted to be and work toward it. And the accumulation of “grown up clothes” stopped.
In other words, when you tell yourself you can’t simplify your life because you like owning a variety of items, maybe you can ask yourself why you own that many. If the diversity of these items really is joyful to you, then it is compatible with a simple life and you can engage in a modest growth of this collection – at least in my opinion. But if this accumulation is a symptom of something else, it might be worth asking yourself a few questions and uncover what is really hiding behind this.
Final Thoughts on Objects & Happiness
In the end, this raises the question of “can objects make us happy”? When we talk about a joyful variety of items, we assume treating ourselves with items is a source of joy. Is it an idea contrary to simplicity, where a common mantra is “experiences over things”?
In my version of simplicity, the answer is balance and moderation. Yes, experiences can be far more rewarding than items, because it is a part of how you spend your time, it is how you live. No amount of collections sitting on shelves can replace a good time spent alone or with your loved ones.
But, in my opinion, it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy growing a small collection of material items – tea mugs, mineral stones, scarves or shoes, or books, vintage earth globes or whatever. There can be much joy in finding a new item to add to this collection once in a while, taking the time to integrate it to the rest of the collection, and using it.
For example, when I found this silk scarf in Thailand, it made me so happy to buy it and integrate it in my outfits. However, in my version of simplicity, again, I believe this is enjoyable only if you are aware this is a collection you enjoy growing – and not an unhealthy accumulation as a surrogate to a higher, unfulfilled need – and only if you actually use this items in a way or another.
This is a personal view, but I don’t see the point of a collection hidden in a closet. Why do you enjoy collecting these things? Because they are beautiful? Then display them. Because you like using a different one every day? Then use them. In the end, it isn’t the objects themselves that are enjoyable, but the fact that we use them every day, making the moment a little more joyful.