Saturday, March 23, 2013

Less = happiness? Define less.

 The N.Y. Times had an Op-Ed piece by tech multi-millionaire Graham Hill who had an awakening:  he once had a fondness for stuff and lived large and now he doesn’t want the stuff and lives small. How small? 420 sq. ft.  On first reading, your head starts singing “Oh happy day. Oh happy day. When Jesus washed. My sins away.”

Mr. Hill heads a firm LifeEdited that designed his tiny apartment as a prototype to coax us into joining him in his newly calibrated life.  The renovation that transformed an honest 420 sq. ft. of lovely undifferentiated space into 8 possible rooms cost around $300,000. The 8 rooms are made possible by a multitude of hidden, stacked, double-duty load of high-tech preciousness including a moveable wall that holds some of the rooms in suspension, a collapsible table that seats 10 ($15,000), a desk in a drawer, drop down bunks for guests and a full-size media room/home theater achieved by moving the magic wall all the way to another wall. 
 Mr. Hill wants to persuade us to edit the way we live and consume because possessions are the problem not the solution. But instead of torpedoing our old perversions in his prototype, his stupido apartment has glorified our stupido old habits that made us feel empty in the first place. We wanted to get away from our media room. Wasn't that the point?

The master plan of the apartment is to cleverly hide all the stuff we need to live there behind inscrutable cabinets.  Life becomes a freak show of premeditation.  You have to hunt for and unstack the induction burners to cook.  Un-telescope the table to eat. Get your desk out of the wall to work. Push the freaking wall to get to the television.

I like to read at a big table and I like to sort out stuff on a big table and I like to put a small appliance (toaster/toaster oven/electric teapot all on the table or a trolley nearby. I need the table available all the time. The designers should have spent a day with their mothers and watched how they live.    They would then skip the bs moveable wall and the drop down bunk beds and the cleverness.

I could live with a small bed, a table, a big easy chair, a flat bottomed bowl, a cup, a sharp knife, a spoon, two good sweaters, three tunics, a half dozen leggings, a knit hat, two scarves, a down vest, a towel and those 18 washcloths from Wal-Mart that cost 3.95.  For cooking, I would have a deep frying/sautéing pan and a two-quart saucepan for rice, oatmeal, spaghetti, a blender or small chopper for smoothies or soup.  I would LifeEdit my food intake, too.

Many comments were left by other readers of Mr. Hill’s essay. Here are a couple I liked a lot:

“'Not enough' is the soul-grinding, joy-crushing truth for very much of this world's population. We'd do better to tend to that rather than fetishize our ability to more elegantly calibrate our own abundance.”

“I'm 82 and live on and with the barest of necessities, for the less I have, the better I feel. I regularly go through my small house wondering what else I can get rid of. Minimalism is soothing, aesthetically appealing. I sometimes fantasize about living in a cell like a monk - a cot, a table, and a window. “

"If I had lots and lots of money I'm quite sure that I'd quickly learn to buy freedom and 'experiences' rather than stuff, too. That's what this article is about.

“Knowing what I know now, if I had my life to live over, at the age of 18, instead of sitting around devising plans for a cluttered life, I would put a knapsack on my back and with my dog I would leave the house and just start walking.”


  1. MS Baehr- our book club is reading Daughters this month and we were wondering if you have any suggestions for discussion questions. What a wonderful story and so beautifully written. We'd appreciate it!

    1. Thank you for choosing my novel, Daughters, for your discussion group. I am so grateful - this is the best possible blessing for a writer.
      As for discussions, I think there are three areas where this novel might yield interesting ideas - 1. the eternal mother/daughter push-pull. These daughters are so hard won and yet there is always conflict and missed connections. Is it inevitable?
      Miriam is misunderstood and possibly resented by her mother. Miriam cannot reach Nadia in any meaningful way. It's easy to blame it on the generational differences but each mother has tangled feelings about their daughters. Nadia is not really available to her daughter. She sees her through her own guilt and misgivings.

      Another discussion might investigate the cohesive family structure that was the way of life in Tamleh. Family was everything and provided a comfort and sense of belonging. Of course, it also brought a tight code of conduct that was constricting. Would our present lives benefit from having these parameters? Or are we better off going our way without the tight family bonds?
      You could also explore the three marriages and the how they began. All three women felt they married out of coercion yet the marriages flourished. Of course you could an entire discussion on Delal and her behavior.
      Thank you again for selecting Daughters.

    2. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer me! So gracious! We will definitely have a lively discussion with your questions and insights. I'll follow up and let you know how it goes.
      Many Blessings, Donna

  2. I've spent so much time hauling stuff to Goodwill and downsizing over the past year that it amazes me I still have...all this stuff! I'd love to be more minimalist and hope to do so, but I'd like to do it in a bigger house. Maybe that's not so eco of me, but I'd like big rooms that are more empty of things and full of space. I'm tired of tripping on people in my kitchen. I can't even get out of it if someone has the refrigerator door open. I've seen those tiny little houses that people can pull on a trailer, and they're adorable. But I can't breathe just looking at the pictures. Perhaps I'd do better in one of those out buildings people put up for their tractors. But with wood floors and big windows and a stone fireplace at one end. And bookshelves.

    1. Yes. The out building minus the tractor. Heated, of course.

  3. Having reached "a certain age" I have realized I do not need "stuff." I live in a little under 800 sq ft condo and have been getting rid of stuff. As said by someone else in your post "minimalism is aesthetically appealing." It is indeed soothing. Clutter whether between your two ears or in your living space causes chaos. I'm finding peace in minimizing my stuff.

  4. Exactly. I moved all my stuff to paint the inside of my very small house and never put the stuff back. It feels very good.

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