|Misleading minimalist photograph from our front porch|
Recently I read an article in the New Yorker magazine about minimalism as it relates to living spaces ["Simple Plans," by Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker, February 3, 2020], in which the author describes a video featuring a $60M mansion as "a stark, blank, monochromatic palace...." Readers are not informed of the square footage of the mansion, but I'm guessing the effect was as much in its size as in its minimal furnishings. I would be more impressed by a "minimalist" lifestyle if the homeowners had built themselves a one-room cabin by hand.
The Artist and I don’t live with bare walls and have no desire to do so. Walls, in our life, are for displaying art and for accommodating bookshelves. Besides paintings, prints, and books, we have our other little béguins matériels, if I may use that phrase to indicate things we fall for and impulsively must have but don’t need at all. For me, it’s bed linens, kitchen linens, specialty cookware, and what the Artist calls “kitten dishes.” For him, it’s boats (all kinds), leather bags, shoes and boots. And both of us have a thing for attractive boxes of all kinds. So no, we are not minimalists.
(Try this – or don’t: do an online search for ‘declutter’ and tell me how many times it took for the word to become a cluttering brain worm. Declutter, declutter, declutter….)
But although our life is not minimal, I would argue (mildly, gently) that it can be called simple. Not jet-setters or high-rollers, we don’t buy what we can’t afford, buy very sparingly of the new, and don’t gamble more than a couple dollars (literally) a year (scratch-off lottery tickets). We are possessed of nothing like a wine cellar, and the tiny little Paris kitchen in our old farmhouse does not even boast a dishwasher. Central air conditioning? Are you kidding? An old oscillating fan on the front porch and a tiny one in our bedroom window are all we ever need to get through a Michigan summer.
Minimalism does not necessarily equal simplicity. And there are ways in which a so-called minimalist lifestyle may not even be as simple as it looks on the surface.
One recent morning a man walked into my bookstore looking for a specific title – which is always a long shot, but as it happened that day I had in stock the book he had read years ago as a boy and wanted to read again. It was an out-of-print Michigan title, signed by the author, and while he had no reluctance to pay my $22 price, he surprised me by asking if I wanted him to mail the book back to me after he’d read it so I could “sell it again.” That was a new one! “I don’t like stuff,” he explained. And then he told me (this takes my breath away!) that if he wanted to “keep” a book, rather than pass it along to a friend when he finished reading it, he would take a saw, cut off the binding, and scan the pages! I begged him not to saw up the book he had just bought, and he said he wouldn’t, so it may come back to me, or he may pass it along to a friend.
…He doesn’t like stuff.
While not denying that they are material objects (and I love that about them), I’ve never considered books to be stuff. What I was mulling over in his wake, however, was not books as beloved or even sacred objects but the issue of human-readable vs. machine-readable text. In my simple home life, all I have to do to read one of my books, regardless of its age, is to take it in my hands and open it. At night I may need a lamp (or a couple candles if the power is out), but my daytime reading is completely grid-independent. And my book-reading requires no special digital storage or retrieval technology. I don’t need to worry that the “technology” of my printed books will be outdated during my lifetime, the content become inaccessible. Keeping my books comfortable and healthy adds no layer of complexity, either: if we are comfortable, they are comfortable.
The Artist once made a memorable statement about the way we live. “We can’t be trusted with horizontal surfaces,” he observed. True enough! Tables, counters, chairs, and couches all make themselves readily available as temporary storage for (among other things) slippy-sliding stacks of books, magazines, and mail. The minimalist mind would quail at the sight! And yet the solution, employed whenever one of us gets the urge, requires no cords or batteries.
What does ‘the simple life’ mean to you? Do you admire it? Are you living it? Is ‘clutter’ your nemesis or your comfort? Do I protest too much?
|A bowl of apples: the simple life!|