It's hard to imagine minimalism seen from the outside and think how it appears to people who haven't practiced it, but it occurred to me today that it may seem severe and look like hard work.
All the videos about journeying towards minimalism involve sorting and clearing, tidying and organising, cleaning and being vigilant, making choices and decisions, and saying "no". I can see that might look exhausting.
Now, my life doesn't even appear especially minimalist from the outside because there are four of us living here permanently and we also guard a space for a fifth (her belongings are here but she's nomadic). We have two freelance artists and a publisher who is also a woodworker, so they all need space for the things associated with their occupations, and all the people who are not me are also music-makers so they have many musical instruments between them.
So our house is not empty like the minimalists in Japan wiping clean their bare floors with disposable wipes.
However, each person curates their own stuff, and then there are the common areas that we all keep clean and tidy — and this is where the minimalism comes in, because not one of us enjoys housework very much.
It would be inaccurate to say we don't like housework at all. There is a pleasing satisfaction in making a bathroom look as spotless and calm as a spa hotel. There is a peaceful, romantically monastic feeling about sweeping an empty corridor with a Japanese broom.
But if there were loads of things standing about and areas hard to get at, and piles of stuff in the way, I guarantee you every member of this household would lose the urge to clean anything, ever.
I like my home and belongings clean and tidy, but I am also fairly lazy. I prefer to spend my time thinking and writing and conversing and reading and learning and preparing for things I have to do. Added to that, I like my surroundings harmonious and although I don't in principle object to cleaning and tidying, I don't want to do much of it or very often.
This is why I practice minimalism. Not because I love cleaning and tidying, but because I don't. If there's a clear, plain surface or floor, then yes, I'll wipe it down. If it's got load of things in the way, I won't clean either the things themselves or the surface they're on. Everyone in our household feels the same (about that). So because we want to get on with life, we simply eliminate everything we think we can possibly manage without. Then we can live in a clean, tidy, harmonious space with minimal effort. The only belongings I really have are my clothes, which all pack away easily, without cramming, into a normal clothes storage space — a small wardrobe or chest of drawers or couple of underbed drawers depending what location I'm based in at any given time — and a few odds and ends of toiletries and stationery. I have a shelf of books but mostly my library's electronic.
I devote a little bit of time each day to sweeping, dusting, wiping or washing things, but not much, because I quickly get irritated with it. And we maintain and repair and paint bits of our house on an ongoing basis as necessary, but none of us works very hard at any of this for very long.
All this means we actually enjoy our lives and our home. It always looks pretty and smells nice, and we don't have to work very hard.
It's important to us that the place we live is a hospitable space. Not many people come here, but we do — every day — and we want our home to reflect the peace and order of heaven and welcome us and anyone else who comes in as if we and they were utterly loved and treasured special guests.
A lot of our things are shabby and second hand and home made, basic models of kitchen equipment, nothing expensive. Our ornaments tend to be things like fir cones or apples from the garden or a jam jar of flowers. It still looks lovely in a homely kind of way. We light a fire, which is always welcoming and aromatic, and the art work of our household members is displayed around the place. We have a couple of holy statues. And so the space becomes not only clean and tidy but also intentional. Houses speak, and we want ours to speak welcome and peace. We want a house that's cleaned its teeth, not one with bad breath.
Years ago a lovely healer called Gillian looked after all our therapeutic needs — she could fix anything from bad backs to unhappiness, and she kept us well. When we went to visit her, she'd give us a glass of water or cup of herb tea, and leave us sitting in her (clean, tidy, peaceful) living room while she went upstairs to prepare the space. When it was ready she'd come to fetch us. And always there were small candle lanterns lighting the way, soft music playing, and an essential oil diffuser fragrancing the healing room. Her house was healing by itself, before she even did anything. I do believe creating and maintaining intentional space is one part of what keeps us well. And it's not hard to do if there are not too many things.
Part of what contributes to intentional space is have fewer items in it than there's really room for — having spaces around things; breathing room. Another aspect of it is that the things you can see speak to you about why you're there.
In some churches, when you arrive and sit down your gaze rests on flowers and candles and stained glass, on the Bible waiting open on the lectern, on an altar and dignified architecture — maybe the curve of pillars and arches and simple stone or white walls. In other churches your eye rests on a snarling tangle of electronic equipment and training cables, with filing cabinets and stacked cleaning equipment, piles of spare chairs, and cheerful but awful art by toddlers or women's craft groups. Each to her own, I suppose — and perhaps you find the second category of church is what leads you into worship.
It is possible, in a muddled space, to keep working and working and working on tidying and organising, reclaiming little patches of land from the incoming tide of manufactured items. But it is certainly very tiring and dispiriting. You work so hard and achieve so little. If you are lazy and self-indulgent like me, then I heartily recommend minimalism, which allows you to maintain your home as a restful intentional space, in which cleaning becomes easy and you never have to do very much housework ever again. It is so, so worth it. Well, I think so, anyway. And I don't think it even needs to be hard work to get it that way. What ever you're doing, every time you get up to make a hot drink, pick something up and throw it in the bin. Every day. If it belongs to someone else, hide it under the other rubbish. Then when the wail goes up — where's my plastic doo-hicky? — you won't know, will you? It'll be miles away in landfill, no more lost than it is in landfill right here in your own home.
How will you manage without corkscrews and crown top openers? Stop drinking wine and beer. How will you manage without a toaster? Stop eating bread. How will you manage without an electric kettle? There's a stove top somewhere under that pile of pans waiting to be washed. How will you manage without a machine to make water sparkly? Make it a treat you enjoy at a café. How could you ever part from the movies in your DVD film library? Don't. Stream them. What will you read? eBooks.
The world has too much stuff in it now. It's more than time humanity slowed down. There's no need to deny ourselves anything, it's all there in the public space. Don't get a paddling pool, go to the beach. Don't get a swing set, go to the park.
And in writing this, I have had an epiphany. I have three mugs. Three. But only one mouth. But I still love the beautiful pottery one and the one with owls on that my daughter gave me. Ha! I know! I will keep them but re-allocate them for visitors, dispensing instead with the set of faceless boring guest mugs. Then we'll be six items down, not two. Excellent idea. For my own use I will keep the bamboo cup with the silicone lid that gets me 25% off at Costa when I remember to take it with me on a train journey. And if it's the one I use every day, I will remember to take it with me, won't I? Not like the last time when I forgot I even owned it, and left it at home and didn't get 25% off.
Right then, time to get on with the day.