Thursday, December 28, 2017

Favourite posts of 2017, #5: Less. More. The right to fry onions.

First posted July 11, 2017

What more can be said about more vs. less stuff?
I remember a vintage Mad Magazine parody of home renovations, where weekend handyman projects involved turning an extra bathroom into a messy closet, and a knotty pine rec room into an attractive cement-walled basement. Perhaps satires of minimalism (if they don't already exist) will feature trendoids Upsizing, knocking around in Giant Over-sized Houses.

Some people object to the term "minimalism," preferring "intentional" or "conscious" over a word suggesting a cold, unreal sort of asceticism. Others object to hyper-romantic notions that small is necessarily better. Sometimes a family's needs change. A couple I saw in a video had lived in a tiny house for a year, but decided to give it up when they had a baby. They wanted to give her floor space for crawling and toddling.

One writer complained that cooking caramelized onions for three hours in a tiny apartment created an indelible reek in everything she owned, including her bra. Comments on that story were largely unsympathetic, i.e. "don't cook onions for three hours." She did make the important point, though, that small-space living isn't always glamourous or fun, and it isn't for everyone.

For those who make a deliberate, conscious choice to live smaller, or with fewer possessions or clothes, does the romance rub off faster than the smell of the onions?

Or is the secret more in adapting? We live in a generous-sized apartment, with an eat-in kitchen and enough floor space for several (hypothetical) crawling babies. I wouldn't cook caramelized onions here, although we have baked cabbage rolls without too much olfactory distress. (To be honest, I didn't caramelize onions in our house either.) But we don't let garbage or laundry sit around too long, we wipe down damp things, and we clean the guinea pig's cage fairly often. We do have a kitchen vent fan, and a pretty good cross-draft when the balcony door is open, but why push our luck?

And in the end, we're not talking about onions at all, are we? We're talking about the things we feel entitled to do and have, never mind the consequences to us or those around us. Or to human beings half a world away who pick our coffee beans and sew our t-shirts.

Hey, where did that come from?

Because just as small spaces have inconvenient, less fun limitations, other intentional-conscious-minimalist decisions have their downsides too. If you buy expensive fair-trade organic coffee, you're going to drink less of it. If you wear 33 clothing items for three months, you may be fed up with your two or three pairs of shoes long before the season is over.

But you are getting less caffeine, and saving money on shoes. And saving time and energy spent figuring out which shoes to wear. And maybe putting money back into a people-helping coffee business, or the local store that sells it. Does that give you new resolve to stick with it?

You make the choice, you make a change, or at worst, you accept the situation you're in and try to find its good points. Maybe the tiny place where you can't fry onions is allowing you to live in a great city for awhile. Or letting you live on a smaller income. Or keeping you from having to own a lawn mower and a snow blower.  Maybe you have a bigger place, but having a tiny wardrobe or less stuff will allow you to share a smaller room and closet with your husband, and open up a bedroom for a parent, adult offspring, or friend to move in.

It's not about the adjectives. It's not about the fun-honeymoon side or the later second-thoughts side of choices. Everything may have advantages and disadvantages. So don't let either the fads or the critics blow away your decisions.

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