Minimalism is about many things, much more than just aesthetics and trendiness. Often, to my dismay, minimalism is distilled into one or both of these things. And while, yes, minimalism is a style of interior design and is currently a trendy lifestyle, it really is so much more. The benefits of minimalism are not having a beautifully styled home or being on target with trendy fashions and interiors. No, the benefits are what having less affords us, the space it creates in our days, in our homes, in our activities, in our lives. Among other things, having less gives us more time. Time is the most precious resource. I am always chasing time. But I digress.
Another aspect of minimalism that I’ve wanted to write about for a while now is sustainability. Acquiring few things (by shopping less), having less to clean, repair and replace is just simply better for the earth, kinder and gentler on our planet. In the comments from my post about how to get started with minimalism (here) the sustainability aspect came up. I mentioned that I’ve wanted to start my own term ‘ecominimalism’ to talk about my brand of minimalism. I know, the word brand is a bit icky, especially in this context, but what I mean is my version of minimalism is ecominimalism. My minimalism is about having less, but most importantly acquiring less (It’s not about having little but constantly acquiring new things and pitching old things out the door, so that you keep few things). Too often I read on minimalism message boards requests for advice on how to replace 5 things with 1, or how to start a personal wardrobe from scratch in order to have a capsule collection. Yes, this is minimalism, but not sustainably-minded minimalism. And I know that minimalism isn’t necessarily about lessening one’s impact on the earth, but I really wish it was.
So, I was really happy when I read Robin Kay’s interview answers (see below) because she talks about the sustainability aspect of minimalism. Not only do we (hopefully) lessen our acquisition through minimalism, but we are also inclined and more able to choose products that have minimal impact on the earth. With a little more money in our wallets (from not mindlessly consuming and impulse buying) we can hopefully afford to purchase products that are ethically and sustainably made, like organic and fair trade clothing and food. And if we can’t afford these then at least we are not further indebting ourselves for the sake of fashion.
When we sit back and reflect on living with less, living simply, living minimally (all variations on the same thing) I think we can see that the true benefits have nothing to do with trendiness and everything to do with having more time for the people and activities we love, and feeling better about the things that we do acquire, whether they are organic or not, because our acquisition is much more mindful, considered and intentional. Of course, it’s easy to live minimally when we have very little money in the bank, when living minimally isn’t a choice. When we are fortunate to have money to spend on frills and fashions, on vacations and commuting, that is when our true test of minimalism and environmental consciousness comes up. Buying eco products when we *actually* need something is the best choice, but if we don’t really need it, maybe the best choice is to go for a hike…?
Below, you’ll hear from Robin Kay, a fellow Canadian and minimalist. I hope you’re inspired not only by Robin’s beautiful images and home, but more importantly by the substance of what she shares in her answers. Thank you Robin for sharing your story!
Let’s start with a little bit about you. Who are you? What’s your background?
I am a twenty-seven year old wife, mother and teacher, currently on a year of maternity leave. I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, where I was homeschooled from age nine (except for one semester of high school). As an introvert, being able to learn on my own terms was very important, and I definitely thrived outside of the traditional classroom. Having a non-traditional education also sparked my interest in how others learn.
I was drawn to Early Childhood Education, and after I graduated my program I worked as an assistant teacher at a co-op, a nanny, and finally a teacher at a non-profit preschool/early years centre. I love the career path that I chose because I believe that it better prepared me, personally, for motherhood.
It’s sometimes hard to remember what I did with my free time before I became a mother, because my days are now fully devoted to my daughter. We play, read, and sometimes nap together. I try to make time to brush up on my photography skills, and occasionally write while she naps. As a family we love to go on walks, visit new places and vegan bakeries, and just stay in together.
How many children do you have and what are they like?
I have one daughter, Ramona Jean, who is 9 months old. From the beginning, I feel like she was brimming with so much personality – she was so alert and vocal even as a newborn (and I thought it would be such a boring phase!). We jokingly call her “nosy” because she’s so hyper aware and curious about everything, constantly straining her neck to see what’s around the corner.
I find that she’s such a mixture of quiet and loud, calm and wild, spirited and sweet. It’s such a balance of strengths on either end of the spectrum. She’s quick to smile and laugh, but on the other hand deeply sensitive. She’s full of sass and determination, but has such a calm, thoughtful nature. She’s opinionated, yet easygoing. We’ve just been over the moon in love these past nine months, and cherish every second we spend with her.
Do you have a favourite quote or words that inspire you?
“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” – Ansel Adams
I believe there are many ways to be a minimalist and many forms of minimalism. What does minimalism mean to you? And, in what ways are you a minimalist?
Minimalism means, in the most basic terms, living simply. And I really think that applies to all things.
To me, there is a huge sustainability aspect to minimalism – buying less, consuming less, and choosing products that have a minimal harmful impact on the earth. I came across a quote by Vivienne Westwood the other day: “Buy less, choose well, and make it last” which just felt so appropriate for this time in our lives. My husband and I choose to buy mostly used goods from an environmental standpoint (they don’t use up new resources, often don’t have packaging, etc), and when we buy new we try our best to support brands that use sustainable materials or practices, and that are high quality that will last over time.
With this mindset we strive to live with less, and to be more mindful about what enters our home, separating want from need. We try to apply this simple, more thoughtful way of life to all aspects of our lives, even the food we eat. We buy as much organic and locally grown produce as our budget will allow, and prepare all of our meals with whole ingredients. Ultimately this simplified way of life allows us to focus on what’s really important, which is spending time together as a family, and tending to our passions.
I’ve heard from others in this series that they wouldn’t call themselves a ‘minimalist’ and yet the notions of ‘less is more’ and ‘live simply’ permeates their life perspective. So, what is your story, how did you arrive at a point where simple, less, minimal feel right to you?
When my husband and I were married five a half years ago, for the first little while I carried on living the way I was raised, filling our home with things we didn’t really need, often that we thought we needed. Growing up, it had been very normal for me to be surrounded by “stuff.” Good deals, roadside finds, intentions for projects, things we might need later, multiples of almost everything. There were more things than there was space or time for. And there was also this attachment, this innate need to hold on to everything.
As newlyweds, it felt like we were always organizing or trying to find places for things. There seemed to be an ongoing conversation about buying MORE furniture or moving into a bigger place just to hold our stuff, which is just ridiculous to me now, thinking back on it. There was just so much waste – waste of time, resources, money – and this general dissatisfaction with what we had, even though we had so much.
So two things happened all at once, and that was realizing how wasteful we were being, and deciding that we didn’t need more to be content.
And from there it was a process of undoing everything that I was taught, both in my upbringing and by our consumer society. Each year our resolve grows stronger – we declutter more and are more realistic about what we really need (or don’t need, which is more often the case). When we moved last April I realized how much stuff we had accumulated that was out of sight and unused – we de-owned almost half of our furniture and possessions in the move, and have since shed even more.
Early on in the simplifying process a friend told me that everything he owned could fit in his car and that he could uproot and move anywhere at a moment’s notice – it was such a beautiful, inspiring thought, but also gave me a little anxiety thinking about the size of car I would need to fit all the things I currently owned. Ideally, everything that we own needs to have a “home.” I often strive towards the popular William Morris quote:
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
(And even better if it’s both!)
The more that we commit to this way of life, the easier it gets, and the more at peace we become with ourselves and our lifestyle. It’s almost addictive how freeing it is – I find myself wondering how little I can possibly live with. Is there even more I can get rid of? I don’t think I could strip down to standard-car-size level (at least yet), but I’m working my way down bit by bit.
Since Ramona was born I find I am a lot less attached to things, maybe because it’s readjusted my focus on what’s really important. I know that I want her to grow up in a calm, uncluttered space, with more time to spend together instead of our possessions.
Are there any books, websites or other resources that have inspired your minimalism?
I have heard great things about the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, which I have yet to read myself. This website (Hippie In Disguise) has been a great resource, and always gets me thinking and revisiting my ideas on sustainable minimalism. [ editorial note: Thank you Robin! ]
Other than that my method is fairly unstudied. I’ve always felt inspired by the clean, minimal look of Scandinavian homes, which is very apparent from my Pinterest boards (minimalism, of course, doesn’t mean all white and lots of negative space, but that’s what inspires me personally). I’m also quite inspired by Waldorf education, which to me has always felt very minimal in its simplicity and focus on nature.
In what ways do you struggle with keeping things minimal? What is your weakness?
Books, without a doubt. When we moved 10 months ago, most of or boxes were filled with books. I generally only ever buy secondhand, and it’s the one thing I never feel guilty about having too much of. But I do feel guilty for not having read all the books we own.
My other weakness is holding on to certain things for too long, wondering if I ever might need it again.
Have there been any struggles with the other people you live with about living in a minimal way?
My husband is right on board with me, and also sees the benefit in having less. Sometimes we differ in our opinions of what is essential, but we respect what is important to other. As an artist, he needs to have a lot of supplies and mediums, as well as paintings or set pieces he is working on – and while I sometimes am frustrated at having to find places to store giant canvases (there’s a stack beside our dresser at the moment, and two 5×5 foot canvases in our dining room), it also beautifies our space, and encourages creativity.
In what ways has minimalism improved your life?
There’s this Swedish proverb that says “He who buys what he does not need, steals from himself.” It frustrates me to think of all the time I’ve spent rearranging, reorganizing and moving clutter from one place to another, when I could have been writing or taking photographs or any number of more useful things.
Less really IS more. It’s more time, more energy, more focus on what’s important to us. And that has improved my life by making more present, more appreciative and content with what I do have, rather than always seeking more of something.
What advice can you offer to people interested in living a minimalist lifestyle?
I think the term “minimalist” always frightened me because I thought I would be judged or misusing it if I didn’t have tons of bare space, or if I didn’t live off the grid, surviving off the land, growing my own vegetables and knitting my own clothes.
There are no rules – minimalism looks different to everyone. You have to start somewhere, and it begins with just trying to get rid of the excess in your life (the old blender you never parted with even though you bought a new one, three of the five frying pans you own, etc.), and then in a few months, revisiting what your idea of excess is. At first it might seem difficult and a slow process, but after actively working towards your own vision of minimalism, it eventually becomes second nature.
Do you have any goals for this year or next few that you want to share?
I want to read more – not online articles, not emails, and especially not Instagram captions, but actual physical books. I was an avid reader growing up, and it pains me that so much of my time these days is spend “plugged in.” My goal is one book a month, at least. I also want to learn a new skill, whether that’s knitting or bookbinding or woodworking or doing a cartwheel.
As a family, one of our goals is to try to exclusively purchase from ethical brands. It often means saving up and buying less, but it is in harmony with our lifestyle.
Find all the other interviews in this series here. Please share this post if you liked it!
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