Can less clutter really be a good thing?
Following on from my recent article on the perils of plastic, I think it's only fitting that I now address the other end of the telescope by penning a few thoughts on the current trend towards minimalism.
To start with, what is minimalism?
As there are numerous definitions, ranging from a style of music, to a genre of painting, to the idea of living with less than 100 possessions, for the purposes of this article I will rely on the one given by the Collins English Dictionary: “A style in which a small number of very simple things are used to create a particular effect.”
Despite many lifestyle gurus claiming that minimalism is a new trend, prior to the advent of the Industrial Revolution most of the inhabitants of this planet were minimalists out of necessity.
Unless you were supremely skilled or very wealthy, all man-made items were difficult to acquire and hard to pay for.
If you couldn't pick it up off the ground or grow it yourself you often either did without or devoted a great deal of time to making the required item by hand.
The few items that you did purchase from someone else were all deemed to be luxuries and, once you acquired such an item, you took such good care of it that it was still serviceable when you died and was passed on to your heirs.
This list of purchased luxuries would have included many things that we now view as disposable, everything from pens to combs, to pocket watches to bedsheets to tools were considered “lifetime purchases”.
Even rags and flour sacks were repurposed into useful items like quilts and dish towels.
Although there is not really anything unique about the current trend towards living a life devoid of “stuff”, what these new minimalists have reminded us is that a cluttered environment eventually leads to a cluttered mind and a cluttered mind is distracted, inefficient and overburdened.
Life in a relatively empty space, in which each item is carefully assessed for its aesthetic value and function, inspires a sense of mental clarity, positivity and peace of mind.
Once again, this is not exactly a new idea either, as any member of a religious order who has taken a vow of poverty will tell you, but it is interesting to see this medieval notion of an austere life making a resurgence in the 21st century.
Far from having a “poor” life, I am sure every one of them would tell you that their life is very rich, it is just devoid of “stuff”.
So, would we all be happier as minimalists?
Perhaps, but realise that bar to entry is set quite high.
Unless you are just starting out in life and actually do not have very many possessions, the first step to becoming a minimalist is not just deciding what items to give up, you must then find a new home for each of your possessions.
You can't just throw them out or leave them in the backyard and hope they disappear, because New-Age minimalists are highly ethical, earth-conscious people.
You do not possess items that do not have highly defined purpose and you strive to live a “zero waste” life.
But, mercifully in this minimalist renaissance, you yourself get to decide what and how many possessions are the right number for you.
Personally, I like the idea of an uncluttered living space and not holding on to things I don't use, but I do seem to still have quite a few pairs of shoes and as for dog toys ... don't get me started. How about you?
• Robin Trimingham is an author and thought leader in the field of retirement who specialises in helping corporate groups and individuals understand and prepare for a new life beyond work. Contact her at www.olderhoodgroup.com, 538-8937 or firstname.lastname@example.org