Celebrity minimalist: Vincent Kartheiser

Actor Vincent Kartheiser plays the loathsome Pete Campbell on the hit television show Mad Men, and he does it extremely well. (In fact, he does it so well, I can’t watch the show because I truly disdain his character.) In addition to being a great actor, he also appears to be in the running for the most extreme minimalist celebrity in Hollywood. From an April 25 interview with the actor in The Guardian/Observer by Tim Adams:

Some of the ways that Kartheiser has chosen to [search for who he is] are unconventional, at least among Hollywood TV stars. He has, for example, in the city of cheap gas and freeways, given up on a car.

“I go on the bus, I walk. A friend left his car recently at my house and I took it out one day just for 15 minutes and it was terrible. You know why? I felt like I was back in LA again. Four or five years ago, when I had a car and I had been out of the city I wouldn’t feel I was back until I got in the car, you know. But now I feel off the grid. I feel that I am not part of the culture. And because I don’t have a car I don’t really go anywhere to buy things. In fact, I have been in a slow process of selling and giving away everything I own.”

He has? Like what?

“Like, I don’t have a toilet at the moment. My house is just a wooden box. I mean I am planning to get a toilet at some point. But for now I have to go to the neighbours. I threw it all out.”

(As he says this, I’m wondering whether this is just another of the parts Kartheiser might be trying on for size, but to prove the point he later takes me back to his house, which really is an empty wooden box, a small one-room bungalow on a nondescript Hollywood street and indeed it has no lavatory.) Is that a Buddhist thing, I wonder, or an early midlife crisis thing?

“It started a couple of years ago,” he says. “It was in response to going to these Golden Globe type events and they just give you stuff. You don’t want it. You don’t use it. And then Mad Men started to become a success on a popular level and people started sending me stuff, just boxes of shit. Gifts for every holiday, clothes. One day, I looked around and thought ‘I don’t want this stuff, I didn’t ask for it’. So I started giving it to friends or charity stores, or if it is still in its box I might sell it for a hundred bucks. I liked it so I didn’t stop.”

Does he have a bed?

“I do,” he concedes, “but that might go…”

A TV?

“Actually, that was the big discussion today, when a friend came over: I was wondering, should I have a screen in my home? It seems like the next step. I haven’t had a mirror for six or seven years, though I admit that causes a lot of problems when I have to tie a bow tie. Or if I have to, you know, comb my hair for something. I’m forever looking in the mirrors of parked cars.”

It sounds a bit like an extreme reaction to the venal material desire of Mad Men (and Money [a forth-coming movie on BBC Two in Britain]). He’s not worried about this tendency at all?

He laughs. “I probably should be worried. Sometimes, I look around my house and think: is this normal, Vinny? I mean it’s a bit more than just a remodel…”

Giving up most everything you own — especially your bathroom — isn’t my preferred uncluttered style. (And, can you imagine how annoying it would be to be his neighbor?) However, I like knowing that there is at least one celebrity out there embracing the minimalist life (even if he seems a little wacky) and turning his back on the consumer-obsessed image of the celebrity that most often is represented in the media.

Thanks to all of the readers who sent us the article from the The Guardian/Observer. The image with this article is by Barry J. Holmes for The Observer.

27 Comments for “Celebrity minimalist: Vincent Kartheiser”

  1. posted by Adventure-Some Matthew on

    Interesting interview. I have to admit, I’m a pretty big fan of having a functioning bathroom. At the same time, I don’t even know who my neighbors are, much less be on good enough terms to visit them daily. Maybe I’m missing out on opportunities by not sharing resources?

  2. posted by Peter on

    I’m bothered by the negative tone of this post. I find everyone has their own level of decluttering comfort. Some people have to move in little steps, afraid to give up even the smallest trinket; and some people can move in great leaps, making major changes in their lifestyle and environment. Will all the radical changes Vincent has made stick? Who knows? But I admire his courage to try. He’s exploring the limits of what decluttering can mean and I think that’s worthwhile.

  3. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Peter — Replacing your toilet with a rock doesn’t get rid of anything, it’s one toilet for one rock. He’s not minimizing if he’s not reducing.

  4. posted by Maureen on

    I think eliminating the bathroom is a bit extreme. I wonder how comfortable his guests would be. I imagine it would wear pretty thin with the neighbours too.

  5. posted by thisisbeth on

    Oddly, this sounds as obsessive to me as someone who must keep everything. I love that he’s minimalist, but he when he’s considering giving up everything (he’s considering the bed, and already has given up the toilet) it sounds less like a noble deed and more like a noble deed that’s turned into an obsession.

  6. posted by Jsd on

    For anyone interested, it’s worth checking out the interview in its entirety. Sometimes minimalism like this reeks of one-upmanship. Leo Babauta had a great post over at Zen Habits highlighting this phenomenon (see here: http://zenhabits.net/minimalism-rethunk/).

    Reading the full interview convinced me that this is not the case for Mr. Kartheiser. This extreme type of minimalism is probably among the more normal things about him. He’s out there, and I think it’s genuine.

    Mad Men is an incredible show by the way. Cheers.

  7. Profile photo of

    posted by motoxo on

    i’d let him use my bathroom.

  8. posted by jane on

    He’s remodeling which is why he doesn’t have a toilet at the moment. He didn’t replace the toilet with a rock – he’s using the rock for a countertop.

    This is admirable: “It started a couple of years ago,” he says. “It was in response to going to these Golden Globe type events and they just give you stuff. You don’t want it. You don’t use it. And then Mad Men started to become a success on a popular level and people started sending me stuff, just boxes of shit. Gifts for every holiday, clothes. One day, I looked around and thought ‘I don’t want this stuff, I didn’t ask for it’. So I started giving it to friends or charity stores, or if it is still in its box I might sell it for a hundred bucks. I liked it so I didn’t stop.”

  9. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jane — I don’t know. Maybe??? He said he needed it for his sink. I thought he just wanted to have a rock with a crevice in it that he could use as a make-shift sink. Your explanation makes a lot of sense, but I didn’t get that from reading the article.

  10. posted by Alix on

    It’s one thing to do without because you can borrow/rent an item when needed (a car, a book). But to do without and mooch off your neighbors? It makes me nuts when someone’s “minimalism” is predicated on the assumption that other people aren’t minimalist and will therefore have materials goods and services for the picking.

    IMO, people who are are so loath to own things are as consumed by material goods as any shopaholic, the way both anorexics and bulimics are obsessed with food. One avoids, the other binges — neither is in control.

  11. posted by Alix on

    Also, where/what is this wooden box in Hollywood with no lav? Is it someone’s old garage? The rent’s gotta be cheap.

  12. Profile photo of

    posted by motoxo on

    i didn’t have hot water, sink, electricity, or insulation for a little over a year while i was (and am still) remodeling. it made me start the process to become an unclutterer after realizing i could live on a small air mattress and sleeping bag with pillow and a porta potty outside on the street.

    it also helped me realize that i could get rid of almost two whole storage containers i was using during the remodel, i’m just now beginning to see the light to living simple. [but i'm not any where near strong enough to show you all the mess that is my office. ... maybe an after pic sometime.]

    what is funny is that i picked a rock that is used (by my stone cutter) for the counter of my bathroom sink and my kitchen sink. it’s very grounding and for some reason everyone gravitates to it and puts their hands on it. hopefully this is what Vincent was referring to.

    … but being without a shower for so long … the shower is now my most precious me time of the day! oh – and kitchens are nice. especially if you’re trying to lose the weight gained by living without one for so long.

  13. posted by Dawn F on

    I bet he’s a fun date to hang out with at his home. Not. I hope he escorts his mother or his date to his neighbor’s house for a potty break and doesn’t send them over there alone. LOL.

    I guess as long as he’s happy and content (and his neighbors aren’t sick of him yet) then that’s all that matters.

  14. posted by amanda lee on

    Haha, I saw this article over the weekend and I thought, “I bet Erin Doland’s going to write about this!” The original article made it sound kind of like he might have been remodeling – picking out stone for the sink, I imagine?

    I’m glad to see some celebs embracing a minimalist lifestyle, even if it’s too minimalist for some of us. I definitely wouldn’t live without a toilet in my house, but I *might* consider living without a bed like he’s considering. [Sidenote: I do have a friend who got rid of her bed and sleeps on the floor. She did it on a bet once, and then never got another one after that. The only time she sleeps in a bed is when she stays at hotels during conferences!]

  15. posted by Vanessa H. on

    I think the toilet issue is beside the point. The gist of this is that he’s following what he wants to do a day at a time without worrying about what other people think. And I think that’s pretty cool. For years I’ve had a fantasy of chucking everything. I don’t really want to, or I would have done it by now, but I think to a point we all have some of that desire inside of us (or at least the people who like reading this blog do). I mean, just remember the last funeral you went to; it’s startling to realize that you really can’t take it with you!

  16. posted by Lose That Girl on

    Thanks for posting this article, Erin. I love Mad Men and Vincent’s character is so creepy — he goes a great job. I think it’s refreshing to read about a celeb who doesn’t care about all the free trinkets that are thrown their way just because they are famous. I’m sure a bathroom will return to his wooden box of a home – just give him time. Artists, eh? ;)

  17. posted by lola on

    I’ve always liked Vincent Kartheiser as an actor; from early on, he seemed to march to the beat of a different drummer and in interviews he always seems sweet and down to earth.

    I respect his desire to achieve Minimalist Nirvana, but I totally agree with Maureen: I’d hate to be the neighbor who owns the toilet he’s abusing.

    At some point, he needs to just cry “Uncle!” and rent a damn Porta Potty.

  18. posted by Peter on

    @Erin – If “replacing his toilet with a rock” is all you got out of that article then I think you missed something.

    I think he’s exploring how far he can go. (“Do I need a TV? Do I need a toilet? Do I need a car or a bed?” Reminds me of Thoreau actually.) When the pendulum has swung so far in one direction it’s not surprising to see it swing far in the other. Hopefully when he settles down he’ll have retained some appreciation for the decluttered lifestyle.

  19. posted by Jay on

    Thanks for the post.

    In order to unclutter, you have to become more minimalist that you are. Stories like the one in the post are inspiring, even if one would never go that far into minimalism.

  20. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Peter — I agree with you that it was more than about the toilet, otherwise I wouldn’t have written about the article. Did you read my concluding statement in the post about how happy I am that someone in Hollywood isn’t focused solely on consumerism? However, Unclutterer doesn’t support extreme minimalism. We believe, like many of our commenters to this post do, that “too far” does exist. Living as an ascetic is not our message. I can say that I’m inspired by someone without agreeing with every decision he/she makes. In fact, I think that is how most of us feel after reading this article. We’re glad this guy exists, we’re glad that he’s going against the grain and talking about minimalism, we think he’s a great actor, but it’s also a little weird that he has to use the bathroom at his neighbor’s house.

  21. posted by chacha1 on

    he is probably going to have a paparazzi problem now that the world knows he goes to the neighbors’ house for No. 2.

  22. posted by Marie on

    I think being in Quor-Toth for so long fried his brain.

  23. posted by Lindsay on

    Vincent, on the off chance you ever read this and decide the whole fame and fortune thing isn’t fulfilling you either, there’s a group of guys called the Franciscans of Primitive Observance who own nothing, beg for food, sleep on the floor, and spend their lives serving the poorest of the poor. You might find it feels like home.

  24. posted by Leslie on

    @Marie – LOL!

    Like Erin, I think it’s nice to see a celebrity that’s not following crowd in our highly stuff-oriented culture (although the very existence and popularity of sites like Unclutterer and Zen Habits give me hope that this may be changing). But that’s definitely too minimalist for me. And I hope he takes his neighbors out for a nice dinner or something once in a while. :)

  25. posted by Jess on

    Keep in mind that his neighbors might be perfectly happy to share a toilet with a famous TV personality, or just because they like him… Plenty of people live where they must share a toilet with their neighbors and they manage.

    Why label others as too extreme, or ascetic, just because you wouldn’t go that far? We can’t all be Gandhi, but wouldn’t the world be a better place if more people really tried, without limiting themselves based on artificial assumptions imposed by our own extraordinarily artificial society?

    Why kick a famous poster child for this cause?

  26. posted by Lily on

    I like extreme challenges and lifestyles, even if I wouldn’t make them myself :)
    And I •heart• Mad Men!

  27. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jess — I think it’s ironic that you used Gandhi as an example for your argument. Gandhi is a person who is admirable for some aspects of his life, but deplorable for others. I think his teachings on non-violence and possessions are wonderful, but his racist writings on black Africans and his teachings on sleeping naked with teenage girls are abhorrent. Thankfully, Vincent’s only quirk seems to be that he doesn’t have a toilet. Which, at least in my opinion, is barely a quirk at all in comparison.

    And, since our inception, Unclutterer has stated that we do not promote ascetic practices. If someone chooses to be an ascetic, that’s cool. Heck, one of my best friends lives in a religious community and has just a handful of possessions. From my friendship with him, though, I can say that his life is NOT simple. Unclutterer believes that modern conveniences are compatible with, and actually necessary to, a simple life. Using your neighbor’s toilet is not simple living, it’s difficult living. Think about your life and how little mental energy you spend thinking about using the bathroom. Now, compare that to how much energy Vincent must spend thinking about the same topic. Which way of life is simpler?

Comments are closed.