Millions of people are grappling with materialism and cultural overload and longing for a saner life. Two popular terms have emerged that speak to this longing – minimalism and simplicity. These terms are often used interchangeably, but I have noticed that, though similar, the words are not identical. I don’t want to get caught trying to make a clear-cut distinction between the two terms, but each term has a shade of meaning that is helpful for me.
Minimalism can refer to a certain quality of design or a minimal number of personal possessions. In design, minimalism values the use of empty space, whether in a painting or the decoration of a living area. A minimalist kitchen might be spacious but not necessarily simple, in that it may contain a large number of clean-design appliances – large refrigerator/freezers, dishwashers, trash compactors, and a plethora of utensils. On the other hand, a simple kitchen may contain a small stove, refrigerator and few utensils, yet be appear cluttered with photos, knickknacks, pot holders and the like.
My own life is developing as a combination of the two: simple minimalism. That is, I feel freer and happier when I own only a few things and when those things are simple and basic. However, in a technological society there are crossover decisions to be made. For now, a good cell phone feels minimal and simple, though the technological web to which it is attached is complex and fragile. The same for my laptop computer – it’s a small, easy to use, well designed, older Apple. It feels necessary, simple, and minimal. Someone else may see it quite differently. In many other areas Nancy and I are leaning away from complex technology. We wash dishes by hand, use pour-over coffee filters rather than a coffee machine, heat with wood when we can, eat mainly plant-based whole foods, and try to buy and use hand-crafted items such as utensils when possible.
Since our living space will be quite small in the future, we are beginning to look for ways to sell, donate, or recycle most of our furniture, clothing, and possessions. We like a sense of openness and, even though space will be minimal, we hope to keep it clean and let it have an uncluttered feel. Also, the entire world of nature is opening up to us with its magnificent spaciousness and we hope to spend much of our time outdoors. Nancy is even working on developing an outdoor shaded studio for her bookbinding and repair.
In making these choices we can’t rely on rules that say one thing is minimalist and simple and some other thing is not. We are learning to make our choices based on more fundamental qualities. Will this choice support our basic commitment to the healing of the Earth? Will this choice bring us closer to nature or move us a step away? Will this choice give us deep pleasure and communion with each other? We try to take plenty of time in making these choices, avoiding impulse buying and seeking to discern what the energies and motivations beneath the choices might be.
The choices we make today may be reconsidered in the future, but each choice will always be, to the best of our ability, a choice for freedom, simplicity, and joy and for the healing of the Earth we all call home.