a ruthlessly unsentimental minimalist

I’m surfing the internet, catching up on daily news, tweeting the occasional archi-story or whatever and I come across an article titled “Smaller Modern Homes Mean Less Storage”. At first I was intrigued. But then I finished reading the very first paragraph in which the author states that unless you are a “ruthlessly unsentimental minimalist” eventually you will need more space for your “stuff”. And I have to say I was more than a little insulted by this assertion, or this assumption that minimalism has anything to do with unsentimentality or a cold determination to abandon all personal possessions.

Now, the article seems to be an advertisement for self storage businesses as the rest of the article surmises that you don’t want to move to a larger space, don’t want to get rid of all that “stuff” crammed into boxes in the back of your closet that you haven’t looked at or thought about in a dozen years and CERTAINLY don’t want to take responsibility for all that crap clogging up what little storage you do have, so OBVIOUSLY you need offsite storage that is accessible, secure and well lit….. :-\

image courtesy of cartoonstock.com and used under creative commons license

What a load of crap. First, minimalism is not a cold and heartless way to live your life, but rather a way to clear out that which is unnecessary so that you can focus on things of real value like family, friends and experiences that will enrich your life. But clearing out “stuff” we make room for what is really important. That tchotchke you’ve been hanging on to since high school to remind yourself of that boyfriend who dumped you for the hot chic but you were just so in love with him so you kept that random piece of belly lint in a box in your attic ever since…..yeah, I’m thinking you don’t need it anymore.

image courtesy of cartoonstock.com and used under creative commons license

And talking about housing. The average modern home is STILL about 2,200 square feet for a family of 2-4. Just a generation ago the average house was less than 1,500 square feet for a family of 4-5. Our obsession with “stuff” has led to this need for more room for our “stuff”.

A home with more storage space is not a better home it’s just a more expensive one. All that storage costs money and it detracts from the useful spaces that actually serve a purpose, thus making your home larger but not necessarily more functional or enjoyable. By reducing our need for “stuff” we can reduce the size of our homes, reintroduce value and functionality and even save ourselves some money in the process.

image courtesy of cartoonstock.com and used under creative commons license

When was the last time you took a look in the back of your closets? I’m betting whatever is in there is something you can do without. When you start taking a more critical look at the value of the things we hold on to, you might be surprised by what you can do without and by clearing out you make room for more of life that has real value. More storage is NOT the answer.

5 thoughts on “a ruthlessly unsentimental minimalist

  1. Well, you got a reader!
    I was always wonder why people appreciate minimalist and modern design more in furniture, automotive and jewellery and less in housing. I can’t say why more light is considered heartless, because more glass is more light and I can’t see anything more alive than the rich-light environments. Maybe it is a preconception dating from the cave times, where light=exposure=danger & cold.
    I don’t get your point about storage: some people have 2-3 dozens of suits, some just one + 10 t-shirts and 2 pairs of jeans. Only the clothes people have can make a huge difference about the amount of storage space.
    Don’t get me wrong. I always stressed for my clients and for the public in my country about the moderation of spaces when they program a new house. 1500 and 2200 square feet are the numbers that I use too. For an average family, a 2200 sf house it is more than the standard quality necessity. I actually tend to extend the meaning of “less is more” to the space dimensions: do you really need a wine cellar (you don’t have a wine collection), do you really need a fitness room (you don’t go to a gym).
    People use to imagine the new spaces according with their last way of living. I think that a new house should not ask for it’s owners a new way of living, but provide it a better way of living. With other words, don’t ask them to revolutionize their lives, even when you are correct. People tend to resist to changes, even that people change during the years.
    I will ask you a question: should people throw away their shelves with books? My parents have about 10.000 books in their library. Is the Kindle an enough powerful gadget to get rid of the old-fashioned books. Because books means storage. I bet your answer is NO, books should be kept.
    Where should we draw the line?

  2. I absolutely agree with your post – I remember back when I was young my cousins all lived in houses that were about 1500 square feet, and they were good Catholics – at least 5 kids per family. I don’t recall houses being cramped at all, they didn’t have lots of junk. My family was better off, and only had two kids, my sister and I. We had a much larger house (about 4,000 square feet, a giant for the time) and we had lots of “stuff” – most of which we never saw or used.

    The stuff just weighs you down in so many ways. It gets in the way of finding things you need, it makes you have to occupy more space and spend more money, it clutters up your life and your mind. Look at how much debt the average American carries now compared to earlier generations. It’s all the “stuff” we have to have. It’s time to move on and get liberated.


  3. I have mixed reactions. While I do advocate for getting rid of excess ‘stuff’ in life, I tend to prefer large spaces – large, uncluttered spaces. I feel much more relaxed in rooms that are large, and tend to spend most of my time in the public areas of the home simply because I feel better there. I currently live in an 800 square foot condo, and while we have enough storage for our current ‘stuff’, there are a few items I would enjoy having that we simply have no room for at present. My husband and I also enjoy throwing large dinner parties (we often cook full meals for 15-30 people), but our current home is just too small to accommodate such groups without feeling cramped and insanely hot. When we do eventually build or buy a larger home, we intend to have a family – whether that means 1 child or 3, we don’t know yet, but we’ll want enough room to provide for any option. My point here is that some homes are larger not for just storing junk, but because the owners need large spaces to accommodate people – and thus cultivate relationships with those people. I don’t see anything wrong with large homes, so long as their primary purpose isn’t to act as a storage locker. Hopefully those who build or buy larger homes will understand that people come first, and will be able to limit their purchases to reflect that value.

    • Brinn, thanks so much for stopping by and throwing in your thoughts to the mix. You really need to go look at Life Edited and the competition that ensued. The challenge was to design a functional apartment with some pretty tall order requirements in a 450 sf apartment in NYC. Including dining for 10. I’m all for generous space in a home. I myself don’t actually like having large open spaces because I have an uncontrollable urge to FILL the space with “stuff” and that just ain’t cool for me. I like more intimate and functional spaces. My wife is more like you, she likes to have “room”.
      Anyway, back to my point – having “room” does not necessarily have to mean extra square footage. Once can easily accommodate entertaining and living and cooking and eating and sleeping spaces into a modest envelope while still giving the illusion of being very open and “spacious”. We’re architects, this is what we do every day. It’s why we get up in the morning and dress all in black. 😉 If you tried, I bet you could fit all your space requirements into 1500 sf or less and even keep room for a growing family. Ultimately it’s about the quality of space not the quantity of space. Leaving more room for those relationships you talked about, which is at the core of minimalism. 🙂
      Great comments! Keep em coming.

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