It is not easy to determine, in detail, just which things are really necessary to refined and beautiful living, and which are the evidence of…ostentatious waste. -1907

The lifestyle of all the cool people nowadays–minimalism. Like most extremes, it’s the reaction to the opposite way of life of the last several decades known as materialism.

Have you ever looked at pictures of a minimalist home tour? To generalize my observations, they’re usually condo/apartment type homes consisting of one or just a few people. A twin bed, a nightstand that doubles as a dresser, and a small table with an uncomfortable looking, modern chair. Is it my imagination that most minimalists seem to be bloggers and writers? I’ve yet to see a homesteading, DIY minimalist. Yes, there isn’t a smidge of clutter or disorder anywhere. But I don’t see the personality, either. Where is the cupboard of favorite teas? The photo albums? The boxes of craft supplies? And most importantly, where is the stash of mason jars?

We can’t deny the mass quantities of possessions we all have these days, more than at any other time in history. Garage sales, thrift shops, and big-box discount stores have allowed even those with a small income to have stuff galore. Several friends and I have gotten together numerous times to brainstorm and share ideas on managing our homes more efficiently and smoothly so that ultimately, we spend less time at it. It took us over a year to conclude that the best way to manage our stuff is to simply have less of it to manage. (We may not be sharp, but we’re persistent…)

For those of us who make our home our profession, we can’t keep our equipment scanned and digitally managed. Ours are tangible tools, essential to running a household. A cherry pitter may collect dust 363 days a year, but when I buy 12# of cherries, every time I’ve had to shuffle it around in a drawer has been worth it. I keep several tins of thread in all colors, because I actually mend and sew clothes and things for the house. I may not know what color thread I may need for a future project, but I have enough variety that I’m prepared. Having supplies on hand means that I don’t have to interrupt my day to track down what I need and run all over town to get it. Who’s to say that we’ll always be able to access anything we need at any time? Life would be a lark if we never had to consider the future. But a good manager prepares for possible needs in various situations.

It’s not that the minimalism movement is all bad. I’m learning to be a little more realistic and less sentimental when it comes to hanging on to something I haven’t used and likely won’t in the future. I’m also learning that I don’t need as much as I think I do.  By culling the excess, I can spend more time, money, and energy on the stuff I do value. Like books. Ahem.

As usual, happiness is found in balance. The Shoppers and Hoarders on one side and Minimalists on the other can tout their ways of life but I think the rest of us can live peacefully in the middle, hanging on to what we need and use without feeling materialistic and greedy. 

Where do you stand?

8 thoughts on “Minimalism and the Housewife, 1907

  1. This is such a good post. I recall when I was living in the mountains, and I read a book about a zero waste home. I mean, this family only generates about a handful of trash a year, or something ridiculous like that. Each member only has one set of bedding, the mother shops by carrying glass jars with her everywhere–oh it was amazing. However, as a homesteader living on a mountain with no vehicle and primitive laundry facilities (2 five gallon buckets and a plunger on a long handle, with a clothesline hung between trees), such minimalism was impractical. If someone got sic in the middle of the night, My supply of bedding was great for simply changing the bed and putting fresh pajamas on the ill person once they cleaned up, and they could easily go back to sleep. Minimalism in my pantry wouldn’t work either, as I could only get to town once or twice a month to get groceries. I never had to worry that we didn’t have enough of anything to last us through a snow storm that blocked roads. I do try to minimalize the amount of trash we generate by buying in bulk, recycling, etc. I don’t buy things I don’t need or that don’t add to our lives in a positive way, and I am constantly getting rid of things to keep my home neat and decluttered. But just like you–don’t even THINK of getting rid of my mason jars!

    1. In an effort to live a “simpler life” I think the people who have taken it to the extreme have become less self-sufficient, and ultimately, less simple! I don’t want to have to run out and buy something every time I need it just so I don’t have it taking up space in my cupboard. And like you said, stocking up in big quantities or growing your own means less trash, less energy used for shopping (and fewer temptations to buy more stuff), more time at home… There was no such thing as a minimalist pioneer!

        1. I know, right? Pioneers knew they had to be prepared for whatever came up, unlike modern society that thinks self-reliance is ridiculous.

          1. Of course there is the other extreme–some of the folks I knew up in the mountains are hoarding food and other supplies, wearing tin foil hats to block the government’s ‘mind control’, and waiting for the apocalypse! Being prepared is great, but being paranoid is just sad.

          2. What? You don’t have a tin foil hat wardrobe?!? I have a jaunty little fur-lined one for winter. (I’m totally joking.) I watched a few episodes of a cable prepper show once–exhausting! There is no way anyone can prepare for every scenario, real or far-out imagined. I couldn’t live like that. No, I think we have to be reasonably self-sufficient and leave the rest to God.

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