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The new minimalism. It’s not just about decluttering, ok?

And austerity doesn’t have to be a bad word either.

I haven’t posted for awhile, but I have been exploring newish ideas. Achingly trendy ideas actually. How exciting.

First up: minimalism.

What it isn’t: that aesthetic choice – you know, the bare walls, the perfectly stuff-free space with neat, empty shelves. Or maybe no shelves. Surely, they should be the first thing to go, stuff-catchers that they are.

What it is: a life less cluttered.

Actually, plenty of people are still confusing and mixing both those kinds of minimalism. The Facebook groups feature lots of photos of aesthetic choices, from lean but suave new bedside tables with $800 pricetags (“so what do you think, peeps”) to living rooms so pared back that they look like an anonymous short-term rental apartment on the first day you move in, forever. “Can you see anything left for me to remove?”

But no, it’s not about that really. In essence, minimalism is about the removal of excessive stuff (physical, psychic, financial, emotional) with a view to living a life in sync with the important stuff, however you choose to define it. Enjoy free time? Don’t buy a big mortgage which you have to work long hours to pay. Don’t like cleaning? Live in a smaller space. Too many small daily decisions cluttering your mind? Streamline your wardrobe choices with a monochrome ‘uniform’. Ditch all but the most basic cooking utensils. Drop outgrown hobbies. Dump the toxic friends or those who are just a bit whiffy. American ‘tiny houses’ are popular, as are Japanese style living – small, bare-ish rooms, a minimal stuff collection of only what you love or what is useful a la Marie Kondo. Some people are even inspired to free themselves of beds and sleep on the floor.

The pros:

It’s a terrific idea. Clear space for what matters. Live with intent. Free up time for the things and people that you love.

Less stuff and more intention is also a brilliant environmental message. As they say, the true cost of something is how much life you are prepared to give up for it. How many hours of your three score and ten is that MacBook worth? How much are those billions of ‘disposable’ coffee cups worth in terms of human and animal life?

The cons:

Somehow, minimalism’s obsession with de-stuffing, seems to engage the part of the mind that obsesses with stuff (now try not thinking about a pink elephant…). No surprise there, just an aching conflict – which may simply be a challenge on the path to mental purity for some. Or an OCD trigger for others? In some groups, mere things appear fetishized. “I bought my tea strainer when I was in a bad relationship. Now it reminds me of my past, but I don’t really want to have to buy another one. Should I get rid of it anyway?” “If your tea strainer makes you unhappy, set it free…”

Then there is that quite personal point at which what is austere becomes merely stark. Take the vogue for ‘closet shots’. “Here is my entire wardrobe of fourteen black and grey items for work and socialising.” “Wow, that’s amazing…”. Of course, it frees time and psychic energy for what truly matters (like sharing on Facebook) but where is the joy? So Maoist China. So not exuberant Lagos marketplace. And why is it more ok to self-express on social media than through colour or pattern? Or the embodiment of a character through clothes as we live our daily lives?

On a personal level, minimalism is working beautifully for me. I ask about the cost (time, energy, money, emotion) before I consume (things, experiences). Simple and incisive.

It does clash somewhat with my mission to salvage stuff and use it a.k.a. my thrift shopping habit. Also, while I live a stuff-heavy life right now (though on the lighter end of the Western consumption scale, which ain’t saying much), I’ve been quite the minimalist at various stages along the road. There was those three years living in a bedsit. Or two years based out of a top floor boiler room in a disused Amsterdam hospital (no rent meant more travel). At least a year out of a backpack (all in). I even did a stint in the Holy Grail of minimalist set ups: a very small, bare Japanese apartment with a sleeping mat you tuck up in the cupboard during the day. So what did I learn? Travel light for a more interesting journey. Experiences really are more important that things. Most living conditions and ideologies are driven by economics. Humans need room to roam. I will never aspire to a live in a tiny house.

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