How to Be a Grownup: It Costs a Lot of Money to Look This Minimalist

I read them in the checkout line: organization porn. Magazines like Real Simple, which, like all good science fiction, show things that are beyond our mortal ken (in this case, spare, perfectly tidy children’s bedrooms).

The hot design trend is a “simple,” “minimalist,” Buddha-chic look. A look which says, “I only have a few items in my home, because I am detached and not crassly materialistic like you. Is it my fault that the few items I do have are exquisite? That’s only because God rewards deep spiritual devotion with equally deep Persian rugs.”

So, a few points about all this.

First of all, it’s great to de-clutter. A few years ago I got really into it, and my home looks a lot better for it. Getting rid of so much stuff helped me to get organized, which then gave me positive reinforcement to get even more organized. And that paved the way for me to be able to live in a lovely, small apartment – with my boyfriend – while also working from home. So, yay.

But, there are a few things I want to point out.

First of all, most of the people writing these design books live in New York City.  Only New Yorkers have to think, “Well, I bought this new pillow, so to make room, I’m going to have to throw out the cat.”

New York design is all about overcompensation. These folks live for years in cramped, cluttered quarters, so they spend their free time fantasizing about vast empty spaces filled with beautiful white nothingness.

But you, clever person in Iowa, have a spare bedroom, and you’re not even a millionaire! So live it up and get the second throw rug.

Second of all, I would like to point out that there is a hidden paradox to minimalism: living a beautiful uncluttered life can often take a great deal of money.

Let me explain. When you’re poor, you don’t just have, say, one clock radio — instead, you have the one where the alarm still works, the one that still gets FM on the low end of the dial, and the one that still plays CD’s (sometimes). You cobble together what you need out of half-broken things, and you keep weird crummy items around because they help you gerry-rig your broke-ass life (“No, you can’t throw that away, I use that to jiggle the radiator when the heat won’t come on!”).

Pretty soon, you end up with a lot of . . . stuff. Not stuff you’re proud of, just crap that you can’t afford to get rid of.

By contrast, when you’re rich, you can buy an item that really fits your purpose and needs. You can buy things that are well-made and built to last. And you can afford to maintain, repair, and replace things.

In the Victorian era, when the manufacture of dry goods was laborious and expensive, having lots of things was a sign of wealth — and that led to the fussy, over-decorated Victorian aesthetic.

In this day of planned obsolescence and Ikea, living without a lot of stuff has become, in a strange reverse-snobbery way, a sign of wealth.

It is the ‘white couch’ of life — simple, but hard to achieve without money.

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