Radical Simplicity


It’s a beautiful ideal. And here, I have a confession: I don’t often live up to my ideals. Who does, really? For all my talk about simplicity, and all of my paring down, I still own eight different scarves. I’ve got a whole rainbow of them, even though I only really need one. Most of them were made for me, by my sister or my college roommate or my wonderful grandma-in-law. I like them all. When I’m not participating in Project 333, I wear them all. And you know what? I think that’s okay.

This is the other truth about paring down, the flip side to the idea that less is better: you don’t have to get rid of anything you really love. To do so, for me at least, would be defeating the purpose of this Project Minify experiment. My goal, in undertaking to change my life, is the same as the tag line on this blog: “sustainability. simplicity. happiness.” If one cancels the other out – simplicity eclipsing happiness, for example – then the experiment is a failure. That hasn’t been my experience at all, as I’ve pared down our possessions and cut back on things like TV and magazines. I’ve felt happier, healthier, and closer to living the way I know I should. So much so that perhaps I’ve ignored the fact that others might not feel the same way about minifying their own lives.

I’ve seen a lot of blog buzz lately about the downsides of minimalism. My what minimalism isn’t post was a response to one of them. A Nina Yau guest post on RowdyKittens about minimalism and abundance. Then there was a wonderful, thoughtful post that considered both sides of the issue on Be More With Less, in which Courtney Carver itemized the potential upsides and downsizeds of minimalism, such as

  • Upside: Kill your TV and free up several hours a day. Downside: Spend all your new free time on Hulu, Netflix or Facebook.
  • Upside: Count your stuff as a tool to declutter. Downside: Become obsessed with counting your stuff.
  • Upside: Confidence in living with less. Downside: Arrogance in living with less.

She makes a great point. Cutting things out isn’t going to make you happier. What you replace them with matters, too. If you cut out TV because you felt it was a time suck (that’s why I gave it up), you need to replace it with something that isn’t also a waste. Yoga, or volunteering, or reading a book. For me, the good habit that replaced my bad TV habit was spending time with friends and with my husband. And let us not forget baking, far more engaging and fun than TV ever was:

Plus, when I’m done baking, I have something to show for it! (And here’s the very un-minimalist recipe for these cupcakes, which were delicious!)

And as for counting one’s stuff? It’s a feature of a number of minimalist blogs, many of them based on The 100 Thing Challenge. I really love the goal of it. I’m still deciding whether or not it’s something I want to try. For some people, it looks like a useful tool – a way to quantify the hold stuff has over their lives and determine what “enough” feels like.  But I wondered about the possibility that for me it would devolve into obsessive stuff counting. Counting my stuff is something I’ve generally avoided, except when deciding what to give up (sometimes realizing that I own 13 mixing bowls helps me let go of a few of them). Then I started Project 333, and numbered my clothes. That’s how I know how many scarves I have.

The point of my minify experiment, though, isn’t to eliminate all but 100 personal items, or 33 items of clothing. Those are arbitrary numbers, meant only to help us figure out what enough feels like. And THAT – recognizing and achieving “enough”, rather than being buried under “too much” – is the point of this experiment. Not radical asceticism, or even radical minimalism. Just radical, beautiful simplicity – a life that contains only what you need, or love, and not what you don’t. I’ve realized, in reflecting on what Tyler Tervooren was saying, that I agree with him. Less is not the goal – that’s just the path some of us have chosen, to get to the common goal, which is a better quality of life, a healthier planet, and a sense of enough.

In her beautiful conclusion to her Downside of Minimalism post, Carver wrote, “…let the focus be on how you treat people, and live your life, instead of how much stuff you have or don’t have.” Well put.


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