Years ago in a college Home Economics class called Home Furnishings, one thing that stood out to me was that the decorating pendulum tends to swing back and forth between extremes. For example, the Rococo era was characterized by excessiveness, playfulness, pastel colors, and curves, followed by Neoclassicism, which went back to straight lines, less color, and simple forms.
In my early married days, the “country” look was prevalent with a lot of wood and knickknacks. Then a lot of people went to a type of Victorian decorating, more sophisticated and fussy. Now the watchword is minimalism.
Decorating styles often reflect and/or influence what’s going on in society. Minimalism as a design concept actually started after World War II. But these days minimalism is a life concept.
Minimalism is not about ascetic denial, being spartan, or living with as little as you can. It’s about deciding what’s most important and getting rid of everything that distracts you from your core values. That means it will look different for different people. It’s also a reaction against consumerism, the constant pull to get more and have more and do more. With less “stuff” to store, oversee, and maintain, not only our living spaces, but also our minds are less cluttered and more free for what matters most.
And those are all good things! But like anything, it’s possible to become unbalanced one direction or another. As I have read more and more blog posts and articles about it, a few concerns have cropped up. You might be a little off-balanced in your quest for minimalism if:
1. You’re obsessed with it.
Minimalism tends to go hand in hand with simple living. I’ve seen a few people read articles or books on either minimalism or simple living and then feel driven to go through the attic, garage, every closet, every storage space, and I’ve thought, “That sure doesn’t sound simple.” Sure, we all need to sort through and get rid of things from time to time. But to turn the house upside down in a frenzy seems in conflict with the peace many minimalists are after.
I read a blog post just this morning from someone obsessing over, among other things, the fact that she had two whisks. Fine – set one aside to give away. But it’s not that big a deal. I have more than two and in different sizes, because sometimes I need more than one for one meal preparation, and different sizes work best in different containers.
Also, if minimalism or simplifying are near-constant subjects of thought and conversation, you might be overbalanced. The point of minimalism is to free your mind and time of stuff so you can spend it on more valuable things. You can still be obsessed with stuff even while trying to lessen your stuff.
2. You judge others for not being as minimalist as you are.
One of the tenets of minimalism is that it’s about keeping what makes you happy, so someone’s else’s home or lifestyle will not look exactly the same. But if you walk in and inwardly condemn their “clutter,” or somehow feel more self-righteous because of your minimalist stance, then you might have gotten off-balance. The whisk-worrier might see my collection of whisks and think me excessive if she didn’t understand my reasons for having them.
3. You’re constantly having to replace items you got rid of.
I knew a family with four children who sold their baby equipment after every single one and then had to get new. Maybe they didn’t have the storage space for it between pregnancies; maybe they didn’t plan on having more. I don’t know. But it seems simpler, less work, and less expensive over the long haul to store it in some way. Personally, I take a lot of time for certain big purchases, furniture in particular, to look at the options, assess the best deal and what would work best for our family, etc., so I don’t like having to go through that again any time soon.
4. You go without things you need in the name of minimalism.
This is not a tenet of minimalism – that’s one reason it’s a sign of being off-balance. My dear mother-in-law was a product of post-Depression era frugality, but even a good characteristic like frugality can go too far, if you don’t get things you really need or live in an unhealthy way just for the principal of frugality or minimalism.
5. You seek peace in minimalism.
Minimalism can definitely make for a more peaceful mind and household. But it’s not the ultimate source of peace. For one thing, it’s kind of elusive if it is a goal rather than a lifestyle. We have to evaluate our possessions again from time to time as we acquire more (sometimes through gifts) or as other items wear out or outlive their usefulness. But even more than that, we can get to a comfortably minimalist lifestyle and still miss lasting inner peace. True peace comes only through Christ.
I probably would never call myself a minimalist, but neither am I a hoarder. I like stories where kids go up in Grandma’s attic and find old treasures, but I do see the need to sort through things there before I am no longer able to so that my children aren’t burdened with it. (We’re planning on that some day when the weather is neither too hot or too cold). I have decorating stuff I don’t use in a closet because I am undecided about it. I have pulled things out of there to use, so I don’t go by the “if you haven’t used it in x years, get rid of it” mantra. Sir Walter Scott is quoted as saying, “If you keep a thing for seven years, you are sure to find a use for it.” Plus some of it is irreplaceable or would be too expensive to replace, so, since I have space, I hang onto it until I am fully ready to let it go. If we have to downsize at some point, I’d have to go through those things with a more critical eye. We saved some toys from our own kids that my grandson plays with now, but we were careful to dispose of any that were broken or unappealing. Even with that, there are a few things I wish we had kept. One year I bought a Christmas decoration that looked like a old-time Model A type car with a holly leaf on it. I don’t know why – I probably saw it on sale and thought the boys would like it. But then I don’t remember getting it out much, maybe because there was no room for it then. Now, however, it’s one of my grandson’s favorite decorations, so I am glad I kept it even though doing so went against conventional wisdom.
On the other hand, I do get rattled when my storage spaces are too full, and having less to clean and sort and tend to appeals to me. A good article on what minimalism is and isn’t is here. So while I tend to keep more than someone who is truly minimalist, I am evaluating what I have and what I consider acquiring more and more, which is a good thing.