What Kind Of Minimalist Are You?

minimalist-desktop-wallpaper

There’s much to be said for a minimalist lifestyle.

It keeps your mind and house empty of useless clutter, it allows you to travel light, and it permits you an indulgent smirk whenever you see friends clinging to an attic full of junk they’ll die before they ever get to sifting through.

On those matters, I’m with the minimalist brigade. If you want an easier life, use and spend less.

But there’s also an obsessive side to minimalism. There is the hardcore crowd, who live by the religious maxim of “whatever can be gotten rid of ought to be gotten of”.

This cult of uber-minimalists loathe the very idea of even witnessing a cluster of tangible objects, however organised – they balk at a library of physical books, a collection of DVD’s or a beloved assemblage of pet rocks.

“Books can be digitized!” they scream. “DVD’s can be torrented or streamed on Netflix!” they mutter under their oxygen-saving breath. “Why, if it’s collections of gems and minerals you’re after, you can browse them at your leisure any time with a simple Google Image Search” they advise patronisingly to the bearded rock-fetishist (of course he has a beard).

And that’s where I realise, that, much as I love the idea, I’m far less ideologically aligned with the minimalist crowd than I like to believe.

My Struggle With Minimalism

I’ll admit, I have a dog in this fight.

My one obsessive addiction is a bibliophila that has grown rapidly since the age of eighteen. What was once an impressive shelf or two of modern classics now boasts its own sub-sections in Literary Criticism, 20th Century American Fiction, Popular Science, and Romantic Poetry. I’m essentially a Barnes & Noble that doesn’t sell, a library that never loans (only because I know you’ll never give it back).

Is my life hamstrung by this collection of air-hogging books? One might be tempted to think so, particularly now the room taken up by these clunky bricks now well-exceeds the modest shelf space I originally carved out for their display.

Yet, the excess of books I’ve now acquired doesn’t lead me to the impulse of getting rid of them. In fact, it leads to me to the opposite conclusion: I need more space to store them.

Dogmatic vs. Value Minimalism

I don’t believe my book collection is against the tenets of minimalism. I actually think it’s compatible with it. It’s just a matter of what brand of minimalism you endorse.

The minimalists I describe above are what I think of as “Dogmatic Minimalist” – This minimalism says “Do Not Keep That Which Takes Up Space”. They are fundamental and religious in their commitment to bare walls and scantily populated wardrobes.

In the eyes of the Dogmatic Minimalist, all physical books are Dirty Space Thieves (yes, that’s also an intergalactic porno title) that long since should have died with the advent of the Kindle and other e-reading devices.

The minimalism I want to advocate though is a “Value Minimalism”. This adopts the slogan: “Do Not Keep That Which Offers No Value Or Pleasure”.

See, the problem is, my book library does offer a ton of value (especially since my academic life requires me to look up a particular quote or pen-marking I made six months ago), and it offers its own special pleasure, even for the books I rarely pick up. I don’t have time here to explain why, since to do so would only lead me to parrot Ryan Holiday’s excellent article defending his personal ownership of umpteen physical books.

Every time I enter a house and am greeted by a shelf of classics or a carefully curated collection of movies I never feel inclined to wince at wasted space. What makes me wince is seeing garages or attics, or entire ‘spare rooms’ wasted, having been loaded with rotting clothes, junk wires in piles from outdated electrical devices – essentially a heap of crap sitting in boxes, never to be used or thought of again. This is where people need a heavy dose of minimalist philosophy.

See, at its core, it’s important to remember that minimalism is only what philosophers call an instrumental good. It is only useful in so far as it leads to other valuable goods. Getting rid of certain objects is only good when it cleanses – when it brings freedom, peace of mind, more space to move and live, and a liberation from the material junk a lifetime of impulse buys and hoarding leave human beings steeped in.

But minimalism by itself has no intrinsic value. The bare wall that has nothing to say for itself is not inherently superior to a collage of beautiful photographs that encapsulate a life spent collecting and treasuring memories.

Remember this any time you enter a minimalist bedroom expunged of everything but a bed and a MacBook and are tempted to swoon at the owner’s monk-like commitment to economy of possession. It could indicate that this is the abode of a truly Zen minimalist master, who requires nothing but the bare essentials to get through the day. But it’s also possible that this steadfast commitment to nothing at all may be masking its own brand of laziness – a kind of non-committal lack of interest that relieves them of any character or personality.

It’s your call: just be careful not to confuse a clear mind with an empty one.

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7 comments

  1. Kathryn Green · October 3, 2014

    I share your addiction and I believe, maybe because I’m afflicted, books do not actually come under the same category as the normal household detritus. If books are intrinsically part of your life, of who you are, then to not have a space for them would be like an artist not having a studio. Not having somewhere for all the materials, paints, works of art, of passion and inspiration. They are a part of what makes you, the same as a film collection or art. We all like tidy and it was so cleansing when I threw out the sofa I’d always hated. I love your ease with words to create new terms for our individual minimalist selves. Intergalactic?! I read a line in a book once about a fantasy involving Princess Leia’s metallic bikini! It could catch on?!

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    • Stephen Hussey · October 16, 2014

      “If books are intrinsically part of your life, of who you are, then to not have a space for them would be like an artist not having a studio”

      Love this sentence Kathryn. My book collection feels like such a collection of inspiration and joy that I always love to return to. I don’t see it as a burden at all, I see it as a treasure. Tidying is only cleansing when you get rid of crap, but not valuable assets like an artists collection of paintings.

      Also, I await your further thoughts on metallic bikinis. It could be magic.

      Steve

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      • Kathryn Green · November 22, 2014

        How ironic, my bookshelves have the same subsections. And like you Ronda, I am often part way through a couple of books at the same time. I sometimes just like to loose myself in the language, such as in a Dostoyevsky novel, the story evolving is there in the background.
        Well never has there been such a metallic bikini as Princess Leia’s. If you google the image you’ll find an awful lot of women like this as fancy dress. I can totally see you would not be short of attention at a party in this, but in my experience dressed as a belly dancer it’s best worn in the warm!

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  2. wisekitty · October 12, 2014

    What a great article! I am not sure about the UK but in the USA, people tend to follow whatever life style is trendy and a bit edgy. It is a huge country with a lot of people in it; so most people are trying to look different in their community by having some visual edginess rather than intellectual edginess. Because it is easier and brings immediate attention. I always saw minimalism as one of those hipsterish trends that people follow to look edgy. However, as you mentioned in your article, the difference between what we need and what we want is a very subjective subject. I wonder if people who live by minimalist lifestyle have any kids. Because if there is anything that this world needs less, it is humans.
    All the best,
    Kiraz xxx

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    • Stephen Hussey · October 16, 2014

      Thanks for this wisekitty. I’ve got nothing against minimalists if they really need nothing more than a MacBook and a bed to be happy. I do agree with you though that some people become ideologically wedded to the idea as some kind of boast without thinking about what they really need.

      All best,

      Steve

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  3. Ronda Benjamin · November 21, 2014

    Such a great writer you are! 🙂 I love books, too! I have 2 e-readers that have never been used and a tablet I’ve downloaded only a few books on to make travel reading easier. But an electronic device pales in comparison to holding an actual book in your hands. Plus no glare! ;p I used to read so much more than I have lately (though I have about 8 books in different stages of readingness (making up words!), but I’m really looking forward to the retreat book club! I’ve already ordered On the Shortness of Life so I hope it arrives very soon. 🙂

    Also – great points, Kathryn! 🙂

    Like

  4. Ronda Benjamin · November 21, 2014

    Those smiley faces are alittle obnoxious! Forgive me! lol!

    Like

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