Friday, August 5, 2016


If you haven’t noticed, the current fad is minimalism. People are opting for small houses rather than big mansions. Some people are opting out of housing completely, and living with just what they can carry on their backs, not by necessity, but by choice. Instead of having several devices, people want just one that does what they need. Designers are embracing the concept, focusing on the basic needs and trimming out the extra. I saw an ad for a “minimalist watch” that does nothing but tell time. There’s something refreshing about the whole thing.

How different this is from what I remember from years past. I used to have a watch with a calculator on it. I remember buying watches with an alarm, an hourly beep, water resistance to 200 meters, a clock, a calendar, a way to tell direction, and who knows what else. What do I need with a watch that I can dive with? What do I need with the rest of that stuff? But I wanted it because it was available. So what changed?

People are, generally, overwhelmed. When you look at a big house and all you can think about is how difficult it will be to keep the thing clean, it loses its appeal. When you look at a bunch of devices and you know you have to mess with keeping the batteries charged, understanding how they operate, and keeping up with them, they aren’t as exciting. Minimalism makes a promise of making life simple. It offers freedom.

I don’t know that minimalism will be able to deliver on that promise. There are, however, some things about minimalism that are intriguing. I have things in my house that I haven’t used in a long time and I may never use again. I am hanging on to things that I know I will never use, but I like having them. If I were to eliminate everything but those things I actually use, my house would seem empty. I could put it all in a movable house and I would choose a different location at the drop of a hat. But does that make life simpler, or better?

Probably not. It’s never been stuff that makes life difficult. It is people who make life difficult. When I think about the stuff I have in my house that I can’t seem to give up, it all goes back to people. It may be memories. It may be that I’d rather not have them discover I threw out their gift. The heart of minimalism probably has more to do with getting rid of the need to please people. It’s all about getting rid of the white elephant. If you don’t have a guest room, you don’t have to house guests. If you don’t have a car, you don’t have anyone asking you to come pick them up. If your dining room is small, you won’t be the one hosting family dinners.

When I look at it that way, minimalism makes me sad.