Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Frugal Minimalism (without the New York Times)

I'm a huge fan of apartment slideshows. I love looking at other people's houses.

Especially the people featured in the New York Times (they always seem to be Danish or Swiss or Polish or...), with their sprawling rooms with one spotless white chair and a single red flower artfully displayed in an invisible vase. Where do they keep everything? Why the one $300 000 chair?

I realized this mix of admiration and incredulity highlights these two values of minimalism (which the designer homes featured on the NY Times know something about) and frugality (which usually they don't).

I want to make the case for a brand of minimalism that embraces frugality.

In the big things, there's already a ton of overlap between minimalism and frugality:

1. Having the smallest house you can. By having few things (particularly as little furniture as you can get away with), you can feel comfortable in a much smaller space.

2. Transportation. Both minimalist and frugal peeps (?) dream of going without cars.

The place where there is sometimes tension between frugality and minimalism is in the (not universal) minimalist desire for the one perfect "thing". Or the willingness to pay a lot for beauty or brilliant design. I'm there. I totally understand that desire. But I'd argue that often, we shouldn't pursue it. Firstly, because nothing is perfect; our sensibilities change and what is perfect today is not perfect tomorrow. Secondly, because it can produce a sense of restlessness about what is, and make us continue to buy stuff in the search for perfection.

Particularly for those of us with children, there's something beautiful in relaxing into the fact that our houses are not New York Times minimalist, that the sheets are rumpled and old and we don't have the perfect way to hide our shoes in a secret trapdoor at the entrance of our house. That our pots and pans are just shoved into the cupboard any way they'll fit. And so on.

Mindful minimalism could mean gradually finding the number of things that make you think less about things and more deeply about all the other parts of your life. Though we might end up just thinking about things and money until we get down to your personal golden level of minimalism. Which seems to defeat the purpose, as it makes more sense to enjoy the journey. So I think I'm a proponent of simple systems (one in, four out; one thing out every day, etc) that allow us to gradually figure out what works to get us to where we're thinking less about stuff and money. Whatever gets us there...

While frugality sounds frumpy or evokes some negative self-denial for some future gain (where you still have the desire but you hold yourself back), minimalism highlights self-denial as a discipline where you benefit in the present because you're actively looking to fulfill deeper, more life-giving desires. I'm inspired by this kind of minimalism!


leah said...

I'm with you on the pursuit of the perfect single thing idea. I have spent many many many hours fretting over the perfect baby carrier, all to carry a child through a stage that lasts only 3 weeks. We have 6 baby carriers in our house now, (1 sling, 2 moby, 1 byorn, 1 ergo, and one hiking back-pack) and each seems indispensable. Don't get me started on why for some reason we have 4 strollers. And yet I imagine that each will solve my problem of some moment in a magical way. hmmm.

Concrete Gardener said...

I just saw two baby carriers on Freecycle and thought of you.

Eug and I were pondering whether we could, in fact, share a laptop and an ipad (rather than having two laptops) and I actually had a really hard time talking myself out of buying a(nother) $1000 computer. It was a really interesting experience for me, because I didn't want to have to share, and it didn't matter that we didn't actually have the $1000.