What rich people have that you don’t

The wealthy – although we already know that they are not necessarily any happier than the rest of us – do tend to have something that I wish I had more of myself. This photograph (from Metropolitan Home magazine, April 1990) highlights plenty of it. The picture is worth a thousand words, but a good editor could knock them down to a handful: minimalist, clean, simple… breathing. When I look at this picture, I feel as if I have taken off my girdle and loosened my belt.

This is my favorite graphic representation of something rich people have that most of us do not: lots of empty space.

Either consciously or subconsciously, don’t we all long for the relaxed calm and the generous indulgence of empty space? Nothing is demanded of us there. There is nothing to do but be. Most of us try to satisfy that yearning by moving into bigger houses. Then – being domesticated humans – we feel the pressing need to fill every empty cubbyhole with stuff. But then, of course, we want an even bigger house.

Maybe more of us should just consider the alternative – clearing out the spaces we already inhabit. It’s a solution with a lot going for it. It’s simple. It’s free! It’s achievable. It’s immediate. And ultimately, it’s extremely liberating.

So take off the girdle and loosen the belt. Breathe easier.

Continue reading What rich people have that you don’t

Whose race are you running?

We all yearn for a simpler life.

I really believe that to be a true statement. So what’s the problem? We’re intelligent creatures, aren’t we? If we’re all so smart, why is it that our pets are the ones spending their idyllic days napping and snacking, and then napping again?

Because our work ethic won’t allow it.

If our lives are not in a continuous state of perpetual busyness, we feel guilty. Even when we are “relaxing,” our minds are on constant monitor-mode – keeping track of our endless to-do lists.

Her: I should balance the checkbook and call about the book sale Saturday and I’ve got to get that oven cleaned and I need to buy some kitty litter and I haven’t changed the sheets on the beds in a while and I have to get those seedlings started…

Him: I need to make an appointment to have the car radiator flushed and I haven’t read those new Terms of Service the bank sent about the credit card and I’ll have to remind Dad about those drill bits he borrowed and the lint vent in the dryer should be checked again…

Continue reading Whose race are you running?

Sometimes less is …not more

The word minimal is an adjective, describing a small amount, quantity, or degree of something. It can be defined as the least amount possible (yourdictionary.com).

In the current minimalist movement, the term minimalism is usually assumed to refer to a minimal amount of “stuff.” But minimal can refer to amounts of anything. You may, for instance, prefer to strive for minimal spending, minimal working hours, minimal interaction with other people, minimal physical exertion, minimal environmental damage, minimal stress, or minimal time away from your family.

These examples show the intersection of minimalism with other important lifestyle practices that also focus on downsizing, streamlining, and reducing consumption.

• Environmentalists hope to minimize the carbon footprints of humans on the earth.
• Advocates of frugality try to minimize the amount of cash they need/spend.
• Followers of Voluntary Simplicity attempt to minimize the quantity of their unfulfilling life demands in order to maximize life’s quality.

What is your goal?

Continue reading Sometimes less is …not more

Bloomberg.com Post: “Resist Simplicity”

In his post titled “To the Class of 2013: Resist Simplicity” (May 9, 2013), Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter knows how to grab my attention with a headline. But anyone who reads the headline and then skips the article may be succumbing to the very thing Professor Carter intends to warn us about: lazily deferring to slogans, sound-bites, and simple solutions in order to avoid thoughtful evaluation of issues which are often anything BUT simple. He makes the point that most of the problems of today are far too complex to be shrugged off with an opinion gleaned from bumper stickers – no matter how clever. And I think we can all agree that there is often a temptation to do just that amidst the deluge of information we are continuously bombarded with from the external world these days.

He suggests that the “simple” thing to do is to follow the herd.

Because of that, Professor Carter believes that the great challenge facing the college-age generation today is to “regain the high ground my generation once championed and has long forgotten: the freedom to think for yourselves.”

And I wholeheartedly agree. What I don’t agree with is his cavalier use of the term “simplicity.”
Continue reading Bloomberg.com Post: “Resist Simplicity”

Living outside “The Box”

Generally, the minimum recommended size of a 1-car garage is 22′ long by 12′ deep. But Zaarath and Christopher Prokop live in the smallest apartment in New York City (as of 2009 anyway) at 14.9′ long and 10′ wide. They have a queen-size bed that takes up 1/3 of their floor space. They store their clothes in the kitchen cabinets because their only kitchen appliance is a cappuccino maker. The only other furniture in the room is a flat-screen TV attached to the wall, a storage bench for linens that doubles as a sofa, and a bookcase that holds a radio, a cable box, and some bottles and glasses. (Coffee isn’t everything.)

And I can only assume that they have laptops or iPads.

But this young couple feels neither cramped nor deprived. They live and work in Manhattan! They eat EVERY MEAL in a restaurant! They are connected to Fifth Avenue, Broadway, Times Square, and all the rest of New York City by a subway that stops at their doorstep.

This is urban camping – instead of taking walks along nature trails in the woods, they can walk through F.A.O. Schwartz and look at the toys. Instead of sitting by a campfire, they can sit in Grand Central Station and people-watch. Instead of getting up early to see the sunrise, they can watch the curtain go up on a Broadway play.

They don’t spend their week-ends mowing grass or painting shutters or shoveling snow. They don’t spend countless hours dusting or mopping or reorganizing cupboards. In fact, when they leave for work every day, they turn on the Roomba to sweep up the hair from their 2 cats while they’re gone.

Once again, quality trumps quantity.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is that almost every media piece on cutting expenses tells us the first things that have to go are those $5 lattes. And if you’re lurching through the drive-through at Starbucks so you can stuff that cardboard-cradled quick-fix into a cup holder to be gulped in traffic, maybe the critics of $5 coffee are right.

But for those who go for the entire European café experience, $5 seems like a very fair price to me. For most Americans, this is the best theater and the most culture they will experience all day. The choreography of the baristas set to the rhythm of the hiss of the steam wand, accompanied by the hypnotic symphony of animated conversation with the counterpoint of a Coffeehouse playlist has the soothing – but also, somehow, stimulating – effect of a mind-massage. If you’re missing real conversation in your life, this is where you can coax it into being. If you want solitude without loneliness, you can watch from the edge of the landscape of shifting boundaries. If you need a respite from the hustle and jerk of the molded-plastic-chair scene, you can collect yourself in an upholstered chair by the window. Plug in, tune out, and get your caffeine fix. Five bucks buys it all.

All the intimate aesthetics
Of the dimly-lit cafe
Were a comfort to my buddy
In some strange, mysterious way.

She felt pampered and protected
In her cozy corner booth;
It reminded her of childhood
If you want to know the truth.

Like the snug, secure appeal of
Being held on someone’s lap –
Or the tenderness of being
Gently tucked in for a nap…

There was something in this setting
With the power to console;
It was more than pie and coffee –
It was food for Lila’s soul.
(from Lilabean: a Storybook about Simplicity for Grown-Up Girls)

The point is, it’s important to examine your priorities and decide exactly what it is that you want your money to obtain for you.

The older I get, the more often I find myself choosing quality over quantity. Less having, more doing. Like Zaarath and Christopher Prokop, I would gladly forego most of the “stuff” – and the space needed to store it – in exchange for a little more life.