Archives for Minimalism
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…”
“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.
Last year, we wrote about Architect Gary Chang’s amazing 344 square-foot apartment with sliding walls. We recently discovered that Chang let video crews into his Hong Kong apartment, and now we can see his design in action:
Chang’s tiny apartment is proof that small-space living doesn’t prevent someone from living large. If you can’t see the embedded video, check it out on YouTube.
Back in early January, I marked the Ides of March as when I would officially check in on my first set of resolutions for 2010 and finalize my resolutions for the second quarter. In the post “Increasing energy: Erin’s first set of 2010 resolutions,” I outlined what I planned to do for January, February, and March.
For the most part, I’ve kept to the resolutions I created. Unfortunately, I had to take six weeks off from the gym and withdraw from the race I planned to run in April because I kicked a rocking chair and significantly injured my foot. I’m just now getting back into a modified gym routine and can wear regular shoes again.
One of the highlights of my first-quarter resolutions was discovering new recipes for my healthy meal plan. One of the things I did was add the Canyon Ranch Cooks cookbook to my collection. With it, I have successfully made and enjoyed dozens of new recipes. During the doldrums of winter, it was nice to keep mealtime interesting and nutritious. Additionally, simply having more energy has been a wonderful thing.
The theme for my second-quarter resolutions is “Embark on new adventures.” Now that I have the much needed energy I was craving, I’m excited about putting it to use. The following are the resolutions I’ve set for April, May, and June:
- Plant and tend to an herb and vegetable garden.
- Take a knife skills class.
- Go rock climbing.
- Accomplish all 67 tasks on the “Spring Cleaning for the Overachiever” list on pages 189 and 190 of Unclutter Your Life in One Week.
- Go through my entire home and office and play the uncluttering game I’m moving overseas! (Just to be clear, I’m NOT moving overseas, I’m simply playing the game.) Essentially, take on a full-home minimizing project.
To help me achieve these resolutions, I’m going to reference the post “Creating a plan to achieve your 2010 resolutions.” I’m also going to keep up with all of my first-quarter resolutions to maintain the energy levels necessary to help me with these second-quarter goals.
What are your resolutions for April, May, and June? How are your resolutions progressing for 2010? Share your resolution stories in the comments.
If money were no object and I kept a spectacular flat in London as a second or third home, I would decorate it with furniture like this:
The Boxetti furniture collection (beware of the music that starts playing when clicking on the link) by Rolands Landsbergs is a beautiful feat of minimalism. From the product description:
The capability of the modules to be transformed into compactly solid blocks is essential for the design concept in order to obtain an unobstructed and comfortable space – free of uselessness.
When I see designs like this, I really do wish I had that flat in London.
I’ve written before about my constant battle with an affliction called Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). It’s an almost compulsive need to purchase new equipment in the firm belief that the new item, be it a guitar, amp, or effect pedal, will be the spark that ignites stale monotony into inspired genius. Sometimes it works, but I find that more often, buying new equipment is just a substitute for doing the hard work required to be creative.
This isn’t unique to musicians. Most hobbies require some type of equipment, and therefore present the temptation to acquire more or better gear. We’ve covered the topic of breaking up with a hobby, but an alternative is to simply try to do more with less.
Over the weekend I happened to watch a fascinating documentary called Standing in the Shadows of Motown and I was inspired by the minimal amount of equipment that James Jamerson used. His bass playing on hit songs such as “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” helped define the Motown sound, and completely revolutionized the role of bass in popular music. Jamerson’s influence permeates so much of modern music that it would be nearly impossible to list it all, yet his bass rig was very minimalist. Just an upright acoustic bass, and later his 1962 Fender Precision Bass were all he used for most of his studio recordings. The bass was simply plugged directly into the mixing console.
One of my resolutions for 2010 is to buy less hobby-related equipment. Instead, I’m going to try to follow Jamerson’s example, and look for ways to do more with less.
Voluntarily living in less than 175 square feet is a skill. It is not a skill I possess or wish to possess, but I have respect for the people who do and am inspired by their way of life. They find a way to do without traditional conveniences of a home. They sacrifice a great deal of comfort to pursue whatever it is that matters to them more.
This week, I’ve been mesmerized by two articles on extreme minimalist living I want to bring to your attention. The first article from Salon is about a graduate student named Ken Ilgunas who attends Duke University and has chosen to live in his van instead of an apartment:
Living in a van was my grand social experiment. I wanted to see if I could — in an age of rampant consumerism and fiscal irresponsibility — afford the unaffordable: an education.
I pledged that I wouldn’t take out loans. Nor would I accept money from anybody, especially my mother, who, appalled by my experiment, offered to rent me an apartment each time I called home. My heat would be a sleeping bag; my air conditioning, an open window. I’d shower at the gym, eat the bare minimum and find a job to pay tuition. And — for fear of being caught — I wouldn’t tell anybody.
Living on the cheap wasn’t merely a way to save money and stave off debt; I wanted to live adventurously. I wanted to test my limits. I wanted to find the line between my wants and my needs. I wanted, as Thoreau put it, “to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life … to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
Ilgunas continues in his article to describe how he cooks meals over a propane stove, doesn’t clean his dishes, and has no friends at school so that his way of life won’t be discovered.
The second article from the New York Post goes inside the $150,000 175-square-foot condo owned by Zaarath and Christopher Prokop:
The couple wakes up every morning in their queen-size bed, which takes up one-third of the living space.
They then walk five feet toward the tiny kitchen, where they pull out their workout clothes, which are folded neatly in two cabinets above the sink. A third cabinet holds several containers of espresso for their only kitchen appliance, a cappuccino maker.
They turn off their hotplate, and use the space on the counter as a feeding area for their cats, Esmeralda and Beauregard.
“We don’t cook,” Zaarath said, adding that their fridge never has any food in it. “So when you don’t cook, you don’t need plates or pots or pans. So we use that space for our clothes.”
Once in their running attire, the two change the cat litter box (stored under the sink) and start their small Rumba vacuum — which operates automatically while they’re out, picking up cat hair.
They then jog to their jobs in Midtown, picking up along the way their work clothes, which are “strategically stashed at various dry cleaners.”
Be sure to check out the amazing photo gallery that accompanies the second article.
My immediate reaction to both articles was that I wanted to purge everything I own and give extreme minimalism a try. Then I remembered that cooking is a passion of mine and I would be unhappy if instead of pots and pans I had workout clothes lining my cabinets. I am incredibly impressed by all three of the people in the articles, however. I have more than a few things I can learn from them.
(Image by Angel Chevrestt at the New York Post.)
In 1952, Popular Mechanics magazine ran an article about science fiction author Robert Heinlein‘s then-new 1,150-square-foot minimalist home. Titled “A House To Make Life Easy,” the article written by Thomas E. Stimson, Jr., explores the “house that’s called extreme today but may become conventional before the 20th century has run its course.”
More than half a century later, it’s interesting to look back on this article and see which of the futuristic ideas caught on and which ones didn’t. One of the more interesting items that didn’t become a mainstream feature in American homes is the “commuting” table on page 66:
The “commuting” table allows you to set the table in the kitchen and then push it through the wall into the bookshelf-lined dining area. As full-time housekeepers were becoming more rare in the 1950s, I’m sure this was seen as a luxury for Heinlein’s wife. Nowadays, most new homes simply have open kitchen and dining floor plans where no walls exist between the two areas.
Check out the article (be sure to catch the jump from page 69 to 228, and then again to page 230) and learn about Heinlein’s minimalist home that supposedly only took “about an hour” to clean. Then, come back here and tell us your thoughts on this house that was supposed to make life easy.
Thanks to reader Robert R. for leading us to the article.
We’ve written before about Jay Shafer’s 96-square-foot house. We recently came across the following new YouTube video of him giving a tour and we’re particularly impressed by the amount of storage space:
If you would like to see more pictures of very small dwellings, check out Jay Shafer’s book.
Since it opened to the public in the spring of 2007, I have been eagerly waiting to tour Philip Johnson’s glass house. This weekend, I finally got my chance:
Johnson’s house, which was built in 1949, is heralded as an icon of minimalist design. As you can tell from the image, the house has four glass walls and sparse furnishings. It is a home without excess and a home without clutter.
I’ve always admired Johnson and his ability to live so minimally … that is, until I went to visit his home.
Was he a minimalist? Ha ha! Ho ho! Hee hee!
In addition to the glass house, the 47-acre grounds are covered with numerous other homes and buildings where Johnson spent his time:
- the brick house, a small guest house that also hides the mechanical support systems for the glass house
- the Popestead farmhouse, a second guest house with an enormous kitchen he used to cook in when he had guests (even though he had a kitchen in the glass house and another in the brick house)
- the studio and library, where he did his work and stored his collection of books
- the painting gallery, which housed 42 of Johnson’s friends’ large paintings
- the sculpture gallery, an entire building devoted to his sculpture collection
- Da Monsta, which Johnson built for no apparent reason and named it to sound like a hip-hop reference (not a joke)
- Grainger, the house where he watched television
- Calluna Farms, a fifth house on the property where his boyfriend lived that is currently occupied by the grounds keeper
In my mind, there is nothing minimalist about a nine-house/gallery property. If you have a separate house where you watch tv and another house where you keep your books and another where you keep your boyfriend and all of his things, it completely defeats the purpose of calling oneself a minimalist.
If I had more than one house I could easily keep one of them in the perfect minimalist condition. Imagine how clutter free you could be if you had nine houses/galleries to contain all your stuff.
Oh, and I should mention that Johnson also had an apartment in New York City containing even more possessions.
Was the glass house architecturally amazing? Yes. Was the property beautiful? Yes. Do I recommend seeing the property if you have the chance? Yes.
Do I still think of Philip Johnson as a minimalist? Not in the least.
After the tour it felt as if the glass house was little more than a publicity stunt.
Philip Johnson’s glass house is located at 199 Elm Street in New Canaan, Connecticut. The house is a National Trust Historic Site and tickets to tour the home can be purchased online.
(Image by Eirik Johnson for Time magazine’s article “Splendor in the Glass“)
A friend who is getting married recently asked me what I think are the essential items in my kitchen. I first directed her to the “Creating a multi-tasking wedding registry” post I wrote last year. Then, I made a list of the 10 things I can’t live without in my space.
Making “essentials” lists is a risky endeavor. Obviously, the items I turn to every day aren’t going to be what other people use. It was still a fun experiment and I created my list by answering the question: “If my home were destroyed in a disaster, what 10 items would I replace first?”
The minimalist kitchen:
- 10″ cast iron skillet. The Lodge version and the Le Creuset enamel-coated version both get the job done extremely well. I prefer the enamel coated version because I don’t have to season it and can throw it in the dishwasher, but both are excellent and the Lodge price tag is unbeatable. They work on the stove top, in the oven, and on the grill.
- 12 qt. stock pot with lid. The best and cheapest way to get one of these is to head to your local restaurant supply store and pick up a well-made aluminum one for under $30. You can make soups, pasta, and sauces, as well as using it for frying and soaking. It also works in the oven and on the grill.
- 9 qt. cast iron Dutch oven. Roast or braise in this amazing product. You can fit an entire chicken in this bad boy. Plus, it can go on the grill or directly over an open flame. Expensive, but it will last you a lifetime.
- Two silicone oven mitts. I use an Orka brand, but there are many others out there. Because they’re silicone, I can reach into boiling water and grab things without risking burns (the way you do with fabric oven mitts).
- A good knife set. I’m a big fan of the Cutco 5-Piece Set because they’re durable, can go in the dishwasher, and come with a solid warranty. Plus, since there are so many dealers around, it’s always easy to find where to have them sharpened.
- Cutting board. I love my Epicurean Cutting Surface because it’s nice on my knives, can be tossed in the dishwasher, and can be used as a trivet (up to 350 degrees F). I’ve had mine for a number of years and it is as good as new.
- Tongs. Not a lot to say about them, but love that they lock closed for easy storage. Long-handled stainless steel ones can be used for items in the oven as well as on the grill.
- Food turner. I grew up calling these things spatulas, but apparently that is not their official name. Again, you can use them on the stove, grill, or in the oven. They also do nicely in the dishwasher.
- Infrared thermometer. Simply point it at your food and know the temperature. Nothing to clean, and really cool.
- Baking pans. All you’ll need to get started are anodized aluminum sheet cake, loaf, and jelly roll pans.
I believe anyone can make fantastic meals with only these items. Do I have more in my kitchen? Definitely. This is just a basics list and nothing more. If I were to add five more items, I’d throw in a long-handled ladle, heavy-duty stand mixer, bread machine (I use mine twice a week minimum), coffee pot, and tea kettle.
Are there essentials that I have forgotten from my list? Do you think any of these items are unnecessary? Give your opinion in the comments.
Whenever I see a piece of furniture that is brilliantly simple, my first thought is, “I want to share that with the Unclutterer readers.”
This week, I learned about the Piegato One shelves and instantly wanted to share them with you. They’re designed by Matthias Ries and will be manufactured by his company MRDO Products. The shelves ship flat and then you bend the metal into place with very little effort:
A short video shows how to setup and install them.
I know that the industrial look isn’t everyone’s favorite style, but you can still appreciate that such a beautifully engineered product exists. This shelving system is simple, streamlined, and wholly uncluttered.
When I decided to get clutter out of my life — physical, mental, time, and productivity clutter — I did it because I wanted to have more time and room in my life for the things that matter most to me. There are only 24 hours in the day, and I want to spend the majority of my waking hours doing what I value and find important.
Sure, there are chores (about 30 minutes a day) I don’t love, but doing them keeps stress and other negative effects out of my life. My overall life is better because I have routines in place to take care of the not-so-great parts.
One thing I don’t like doing is gardening or anything to do with the yard. I know that some people love gardening and are horrified that I don’t like it, but I enjoy things that I’m sure they have no interest in doing (cheese making, doing stand up comedy, reading mystery novels, playing the pedal steel guitar). We’re all different, which is what makes unclutterers so great.
Since I’m not fond of gardening, I have fake plants in all of the flower boxes on the front of my house. These are high-end fake plants. Even when you’re standing inches away from them, you have no idea that they’re not real. But, unlike real plants, I don’t have to do anything to maintain their beauty.
- No watering.
- No weeding.
- No dying plants.
- No plant diseases or pests.
- No maintenance.
If you’re interested in sprucing up a flower box with fake plants, follow these tips to make it so that no one on your block has any idea:
- Use high-end fake plants. If it looks bad in the store, it’s going to look bad in your flower box. The French make the world’s best fake plants, and if you can afford them, buy them. My favorite is Trousselier at 73 blvd Haussmann in Paris. If heading to France isn’t in your future (Trousselier doesn’t have an online shop), check out your local craft store and be very picky about what makes it into your cart.
- Buy plants, not flowers. You don’t have to worry about things blooming in the wrong season if nothing blooms. And, even when they are very well made, fake flowers can still look fake.
- Only display the plants during appropriate seasons. If a fern wouldn’t be growing outdoors in January, don’t have a fake fern outdoors in January. Store it into a garbage bag in your garage, and put it back out in the spring.
- Only buy fake plants that could grow in your region.
- Take the time to plan out and landscape your flower box before you go shopping for fake plants. You want the plants to look as natural as possible.
- Buy fake plants with realistic looking imperfections. Not every leaf on a plant is the exact same shade of green, and sometimes a leaf or two is brown. Nature isn’t perfect, and neither should your fake plants be.
- “Plant” your fake plants in gravel with fake moss or fake grass as ground cover. Weeds won’t grow in rocks, but they will grow in dirt. If you “plant” in dirt, you’re still going to have to pick out weeds.
Okay, now you know my time-saving secret. Where do you cut corners to free up time in your schedule to pursue the things that matter most to you?
(My apologies about the picture being small. It was hard to line up an image that didn’t flash my neighbors’ license plates to the internet.)