10 May 2015

Minimalist Bits

Personal picture - a test at macro with the iPhone 4 in 2012.

Limitations foster creativity, and I've had a number of new, smaller post ideas on the week-end before I received my new appartment's keys, planning a number of post drafts which I didn't have quite the time to finalize in April. This time, I'm coming back with a post similar to the Update Bits, but focused on minimalist topics. Hope you like it.

Joy in Objects

Minimalism and objects is a big topic. Yes, minimalism is about focusing less on material possessions and more on other things (social connections, creativity, personal projects, travel and experiences...). I personally believe that, more than anything, minimalism is about getting rid of that urge to acquire new things all the time.

But that doesn't mean you have to treat each and every object in your life like a pure utility item with no soul nor joy. As I learned more about Marie Kondo's method (after all, my whole feed was full of her these weeks, I had to check it out), one of the interesting things I found about her is that she places the joy in objects at the centre of her method. After all, the question you ask youself when sorting your stuff is "does it spark joy?".

So yes, a minimalist can find joy in the objects they own and use every day. No, it isn't superficial and useless to write down your shopping list in a nice-looking notebook, if the notebook in question sparks joy everytime you go to the market. It isn't superficial to  wrap your neck around a colourful scarf or to wear this beautiful clove-shaped pendant if it makes your day a bit brighter.

Minimalist doesn't mean everything black and grey and white and utilitarian. There is space for a bit of fantasy and magic. It is not only OK, but recommended, to use items that spark joy. Moreover, I believe that is a great way to cultivate gratitude, mindfulness and a sense of enough - while you happily go get your groceries with your cute notebook, you may feel less tempted to go buy a new notebook, or scarf, or whatever else, because you are happy with what you own.

Access and Ownership

Yet minimalism is indeed about owning less. Especially for utilitarian objects that spark no joy and are used only sparingly. We usually think about stuff like lawn mower or electric drills when it comes to renting or borrowing an item instead of owning it, but it came to me with another type of item entirely.

Books. I am an avid reader, and my geek shelf has always been full of mainstream and niche books to show off to my guests - there was A Song of Ice and Fire on there ten years ago, after all. Being such an enthusiast reader, and a writer, books would be the last thing I'd consider accessing but not owning.

Yet, as I simplified my life, I realized there is no value for me in a book that sits unread on a shelf. After I read it once, I mean, of course. Books aren't really the type of items you read again and again over time - usually, you read it once then move on to reading something new. I came to realize that I don't need a geek shelf to validate my identity and tastes. I also came to realize that, unless I do go back to a certain book to read it regularly, I only need to access a book for as long as it takes to read it. So I'm using libraries a lot now. I'm selling or giving away books I've had to buy because they were unavailable at the library. And I'm curating a selection of books that I'm keeping, because I'll make regular use of it. And it sparks joy (say, Dominique Loreau's L'Art de la Simplicité for example, which I read passages from regularly).

In a more general way, the concept of access is simple: you don't need to own everything you use. Especially when it takes up space in your home for most of the year, because you either only use it once, or at very rare occasions. You can buy, use, then sell or donate. But I have to admit that borrowing or renting is way easier then, isn't it?

A minimalist gamer?

One thing I love about blogging, is discovering profiles just as odd and unexpected as my own. As I blabbed about video games in general, and, recently, Dragon Age in particular (the lady doesn't have time to post but she has time to play the PS4, go figure), I discovered there is a number of minimalist gamers out there. Hey girls!

Today's point is: is it possible to be a minimalist and a gamer? Many minimalists advocate to get rid of the TV (and I totally agree when it comes to ad-filled TV channels, mind you), but also, mainly on blogs with a male audience, they advocate to stop playing mind-numbing video games and go outside more. Well, you are not the boss of me. I can be a minimalist gamer and here is why.

This position comes from seeing games as a mindless distraction, as can be TV or internet browsing. But I think you can consume video games in a mindful way. Just like reading or watching films, there are good video games, and... other video games. With an audience who grew up with the NES and mario in the 80s, we have now gamers who were children in the 80s and, contrary to the South Park heroes, grew up. A lot of gamers, especially playing on high end consoles like the PS4, are in their late 20s, their 30s and even in their 40s now. As a result, video games have matured as well.

I now personally consider video games as a cultural product, the same way as books, films, series and other cultural media. When you play a video game, you can learn things, ask yourself questions, but also improve attention and reflexes. It has been proven that gaming provides a level of focus, a state of "flow", rarely attained nowadays as we get distracted and interrupted all the time. Children who play some games like puzzles or reflex based games improve their motor skills, reflexes and memory. And some adult games provide real philosophical topics to think about, like a book or film. Take Dragon Age for example - they broach the topic of religion, faith and belief, of power, freedom versus safety, only to mention a few. As you make choices yourself as a player, your own values and ethics are put to the test, which can be enlightening.

So yes, if you are a gamer, I believe you can be a minimalist without tossing your PS4 out the window. Or your mobile game, if that's how you roll. It's a question of choosing the right games, the ones that bring you joy, immerse you into a state of pure focus, help you ask some questions, why not? It's also a question of balance, gaming as a cultural activity among others, and not as an unhealthy habit to distract ourselves from real life issues.

And, if you are not a gamer, but have another hobby of yours minimalists say you should get rid of, maybe you should think about: what does this hobby bring to my life? Is it indeed a mindless distraction, or is it something that brings me joy, makes me think? The point is, there is no one size fits all for minimalism, and I strongly encourage you apply your critical thinking to any advice you read about...

That's it for today's minimalist bits, a bit longer than expected but hey, I hope it helps! What about you? What did simplifying your life teach you about lately?


  1. Absolutely! I'm not much of a gamer myself, but am friends with a few indie game developers and do some freelance code for them from time to time. Some of the games that are out on the market right now really are works of art, and can be as complex as any puzzle or novel, as unique as some works of art, or just as "larger than life" as some blockbuster movies. I'm really glad I've been able to take a peek inside of the world of video games by working on some smaller ones, although I still prefer card and board games myself :)

    Also I'm so glad that you brought up the topic of critical thinking. It really is so important to take any piece of advice with a grain of salt and use your own critical thinking skills to decide if it makes sense for your life.

    1. Oh yes I guess the gaming was an example of how I think minimalism should be approached - tailoring advice to each own's preferences and lifestyle as opposed to blindly believing anything professed by an authority on the subject, no matter how infuential, serious or expert that person is.

      I agree with you that there is so much more to video game than what mainstream media tend to portray. I've come to the (maybe wrong) conclusion that television discredits video games because it takes audience away from them!

      And I'm sure the same reasoning could be applied to card and board games, in a "get rid of your board games if you're minimalist" kind of way. Although I wouldn't mind playing board games in a games café and borrowing them instead of owning them, as a matter of fact. In my case I'm lucky to have quite an afficionado in my social circles, who happily provides the games for our weekly meeting :)

  2. I have for the longest time felt the same regarding books. As a writer/reader myself, I always thought shelves of books were a necessity and if I didn't have them I was somehow a "fraud." You've inspired me to do something I have been questioning for quite some time: I packed away most of my books in boxes to be donated to the local library and I will become a member of the library as well (something I haven't done since I was a child). I did keep a small collection of books I know I will re-read multiple times. I also deleted my wish list of books to buy and read on Amazon because all of them were available at the library. Ironically, I feel I might be inspired to read even more without having to worry about the cost of the book/whether or not it will be worth the price, etc. So thank you!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, it's very interesting to see there is a sort of "validation" feeling in owning books, as if it made us more credible as readers or writers. I'm happy to hear that you have a local library you can borrow books at, and I agree that I have also been reading more since I've started using libraries - no issues of cost, storage or anything like that. The only limit for myself, is that there are much fewer books in English available here in Paris, so I still have to purchase a few, but I found a Canadian bookstore that has tons of second hand English books, and they also buy back your books once you're done, so it's also a good solution. Enjoy your reads :)

  3. Hello! : ) I reached out to you on goodreads on the topic of gaming and minimalism. Lovely post!

    In my video game/minimalism experience, I was the happiest when I stopped buying games just because they were critically acclaimed and stopped to think exactly what kind of games I loved. As much as I admire Mass Effect's incredible story and character development, I get terribly anxious when I play games that require me to react instantly. My fingers hurt and it's not a fun time. Accepting that and focusing on turn based strategy games, story driven adventure games, etc (and more slower paced fantasy games), allowed me to enjoy gaming much, much more.

    I wonder what it means to play a game that "challenges" you in games.Or what are our "classics".

    1. Hello Anja, thanks for commenting, the part about minimalist gaming was inspired by our exchange actually :)
      I agree with you on the choosing games part. It's the same as any cultural product really, either you buy/use critically acclaimed products to be in the trend, be accepted as a "real gamer" and be able to have discussions about the games everybody is currently playing, or you focus on your own taste and preferences and play at your own pace. I also prefer the latter option, but, working in the gaming industry, many games' business model bets on the facts that gamers will buy the newest games just as they come out, to be '"the most up to date gamer" or something. A bit like fashion collections in a way. But unless it's a co-op game and your friends happen to be playing together now, I don't see the point of juming on the bandwagon of the new releases.

      If you like turn based strategy games, I assume you'll enjoy the Might & Magic Heroes series - I've always prefered this to real time strategy games, like you I prefer to take my time and build my strategy, instead of relying upon speed... I think when you know yourself as a gamer, you have your own classics, favourites, and you know what kind of challenge you are looking for in a game... It's a part of the bigger "know yourself" in a way, no?

  4. A lovely post. I’m not a gamer, but my husband is. I must admit I have some difficulty (even after many years) accepting all of the hours that he spends with his console – especially since he sits at a desk behind the computer for work all day too! But it’s not like he’s addicted, he won’t say no to other fun or social activities in order to play. So it’s just my preconception of gaming as a lazy escapist hobby that I need to fight ;). It’s hard: I rationally know that it’s a hobby like any other, and can be intellectually stimulating, even more than watching tv (because it’s interactive). I’ve even experienced a top-notch game myself: my husband recommended I try out ‘The walking dead’ because it doesn’t require much experience with the console and buttons and stuff. And I really liked it, it was quite challenging and even philosophical. (But still not turning into a gamer.)
    I have a problem with minimalists who tell you to just digitize everything. Sure, it solves some space issues, but I’m not a fan of replacing physical clutter with digital clutter. And I’m not about to spend hours doing the boring job of digitizing all of my music only to become a complete slave to my computer. As for e-books: I just really prefer reading physical books. I have also come to the conclusion that I like my library to be full of books, even some ‘unnecessary’ ones. I only keep books I really like, but I don’t mind that much if I know I won’t reread them. We regularly have family borrowing some of our books (or cd’s or dvd’s) and I like this social aspect of our ‘media collection’! (Social not in the FB likes manner :p)

    1. Oh yes I agree about the digitizing part of things - it tends to be a trend, as it is an easy way to remove physical clutter, and I think it does make sense in some cases depending on the persons and material concerned, but what I don't like about this "all digital" philosophy, is that it doesn't acknowledge the possibility of enjoying a physical product. I have very few CDs, but there is a pleasure in putting one into the hi-fi system, turn it on, and listen to the whole album, sitting in a chair with a cup of tea. It isn't the same as listening to one mp3 among many on a laptop. Which doesn't mean I'm looking to own a whole wall of CDs, I own maybe 15 and that's quite enough - in the end it's all about balance. And I guess it's the same for books (I really can't go digital on that one). Plus, I see your point about digital clutter, I guess minimalism is about choosing what items will bring the most utility and joy, instead of collecting just for the sake of collecting, digitally or not. For the point about owning books or DVDs to be able to lend them to friends, I so agree too! This is how we feel about video games actually with my fiancé. We have quite a few friends and family members who own a PS4, and lendig a game we liked and recommend is a part of the social bond, which is why we rarely buy digital games (unless they are only available as a digital download). For the books, our home is really too small for a huge library (although I did dream about Beauty and the Beast's huge library when I was a child), but I like sharing recommendations so I'm looking at creating a sort of little book club with friends where we'd recommend and exchange books. I was supposed to do that in March but moving into a new place changes many plans. I'll probably revive it in the next few weeks though, as you say it's all about social connections in the end...

  5. I've heard about the "does this spark joy thing" but never really gave it much thought. Your post made me pause. I am now thinking of my activities and wondering. Thanks for sparking that wonder.

    1. Thanks for letting me know! I have to admit this particular wording she uses "spark joy" seemed a bit excessive to me as well, but once you get the idea, it really helps :)