Open thread: Why is it so hard to be a “minimalist”?

wilson-houseI HAVE THIS THEORY that full-on mid century modern style never really takes hold and endures — because it’s just too spare for most people. It’s minimalist. And we humanoids are not. We like our ornamentation. We pouf our hair and bedazzle our ring fingers. We put bones through our noses, we draw on cave walls, we put feathers and arrowheads into cigar boxes, and we spend hours hunting down rare kitschy creatures for our collections of postwar Made in Japan salt and paper shakers but “animals under $5 a pair only”. It’s a magical, mystical, mesmerizing, magnetic pull — to accumulate. Above: The Wilson House is stunning, but still too… tidy… for me.

I really don’t like to encourage ‘being a meanie’ [a key commenting rule here on the blog is: No one is to be made to feel bad for their choices], but for purposes of today’s Open Thread, I point to this website, Unhappy Hipsters, which lampoons the poses of not-too-happy-looking people in their bare, artful, modern houses. Should we get these folks some tchotchkes, stat?

I spoke to none other than mid century modern design legend Vladimir Kagan recently, and we chatted about this very issue — the struggle to achieve the most noble philosophical aspirations of minimalism.

Mr Kagan:

My designs were influenced by the Bauhaus philosophy, “less is more” – I was raised on this. If you have a bigger piece of furniture, you need less seating elsewhere. The serpentine sofa seats eight people.

Pam: Do you live “less is more” in your own home? (I knew the answer because I had seen the photos of Kagan and Wilson’s New York City apartment on The Selby.)

Mr. Kagan laughs:

Less is more. Except in my own home. Do as I say, not as I do.

Pam: So why did you end up with more is more?

Mr. Kagan:

I wish I could be less is more. I have a yearning to move and start over. You end up with more is more because you like things. Erica and I traveled a lot, and we collected…. We have always acquired never eliminated. To create a clean space is a wonderful thing. I admire it and help create it for my clients. Unfortunately, emotionally I can not down-scale!

So why is it, do you think, dear readers,
that it’s so hard to be minimalists?

Is there something very deep instinctual need to have our stuff?
(Let’s set aside the extremes, please, for this discussion.)
Should we give ourselves a break for being
creatures of domestic comfort?

Or, is there, and *should* we, strive for some sort of more “evolved” “balance”?
Please be *compassionate* in this discussion, okay?

  1. Karen says:

    Heh! We had to impose a volume-in/volume-out rule when my daughter (a collector from birth) was growing up. The item in/out rule was too literally interpreted. Of course now that she is grown and we have an “extra” room, the rule no long applies and we are the collectors!

  2. Just another Pam says:

    Trudi, you are so right. I’ve worked at estate sales and seen what families have gone through especially when Mum &/or Dad was a hoarder. So many of the adult children already have full homes of their own and yet here they are lugging off box after box after box of stuff they have no where for and will never use out of love and respect for their parents. Obligation hoarding, not a happy place.

    One of the people I worked with asked the magic question one day…..what would you do if you knew your days were numbered. We all agreed the first thing we’d do is call for a dumpster and lots of packing boxes so our children would never have to deal with our ‘stuff’ as all too often what is wonderful to us isn’t to them.

    In the mean time I’ve stopped shopping….too many exciting vintage things to be found and it’s hard to say no….and am slowly letting go of the stored “stuff” to charity shops and auctions. Like another poster rightly said, the stuff deserves a good home so letting it go free instead of in the back of my closet with other some day pieces is a good thing.

  3. I don’t even have to read the comments here to realize that many people that read this blog piled on and weren’t super fond of minimalism. I am. I am as an ideal and as a goal. I get tired of the stuff. I get tired of collecting the stuff. I get tired of dusting the stuff. And I get tired of not having money for retirement because of buying the stuff. Do I like the stuff? Yes!!!! But my house just isn’t that big. So the fun for me in minimalist goals is going through the house, selling what I don’t love anymore, throwing out the junk, and paring it down. I am no hipster (old by any standard), but the ideal and the aesthetic I can admire and appreciate. If I can keep the objects to a low roar, I can see them easier and appreciate them easier. So am I a real minimalist — NO…. but do I amass tons of stuff into my house without regard for how it all really looks (e.g. hoarding) ABSOLUTELY NOT!

  4. Jan says:

    Very well said, Linda! This is exactly why I find it hard to be the minimalist my brain wants me to be – part the scouting “be prepared” premise and part the keeper of history, often my history.

  5. Sandy says:

    I too love this house and could live it in without adding more than a few things. I like “stuff” and have lots of it. However, I think the answer to your question is to have a big house with lots of storage space so that everything does not have to be out on display. I collect dishes amongst other things but keep them put away until they can be used for a dinner party for example. I know this is a very “let them eat cake” solution but works for me.

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