On Minimalism

by David Dennis


I’m not really a minimalist. True minimalism generally requires a level of forethought and consideration that conflicts with my need to be lazy. But therein lies another form of practical minimalism. We have a saying at work, that the best programmers are the lazy ones. The ones who find the least amount of effort required to achieve a requirement, and who seek the most elegant and robust solution in order to avoid doing further work later on in the form of revisions and error corrections. This is my kind of ‘minimalism’. It may be a fine distinction.

I’m also not a big collector of ‘stuff’. I don’t hoard and I have a tendency to clear out anything that doesn’t have a distinct purpose. This is in direct opposition to my partner, who needs to keep, hoard and reserve everything in existence. The most common source of friction in our relationship is ‘stuff’ that I consider needless clutter and that he considers to be an important if monolithically obscure contingency. I have come to strongly dislike the phrases: “But it still works,” and “It might be useful,” such that they can instantly spark a disagreement. By disagreement I mean an exchange of objections and grumpy faces for 10 minutes… such is the nature of our arguments.

Anyway recently the clutter about the place has started to annoy me; the lack of space in some rooms is awkward. I’ve decided that there is going to be an exercise in minimalism and I’m going to drag my partner along kicking and screaming. It began with an e-mail: each room was listed and a breakdown of my intentions was given. Some of this involved acquiring new things (different, better storage solutions for example) but the majority involved removing old things. It took a while to point out that minimalism is not an exercise in minimising the amount of ‘stuff’. Its actually an exercise in maximisation by the mathematical definition. You are aiming for a peak point where you meet purpose with the minimum investment of ‘stuff’ – the minimum level of ‘stuff’ to achieve a purpose is not the way to go about it, the minimum level of ‘stuff’ to achieve a purpose with excellence is the ideal. This requires a level of analysis but more importantly a compromise between aesthetics and utility.

So I forced a debate on what each room was used for, and what the issues were with each room. It is working pretty well so far. A lot of things are being disposed of; some going to charity and some going for disposal. The study is the most impressive example, with 5 significant pieces of furniture being removed so far and only one of them being replaced with a more suitable item. A lot of the provisions we made for guests (a spare computer for gaming for example) are being removed and replaced with more temporary/storable alternatives. We’re focusing more on what we need day-to-day and less on what might possibly be convenient at some point ‘maybe’. We’ve identified the need to actually spend money on a few things, which has to be put off for a while, but the process has actually been pretty enjoyable on the whole.

So I have to recommend to people who want to de-clutter. Make a list of the spaces in your home, define very clearly their purpose. Then determine what is essential to achieve this, non-essentials that fit in and those non-essentials that are contrary. Remove the latter, be selective about the rest.