Calling yourself a minimalist is about as popular as saying you're a feminist these days. And if you happen to be both a minimalist and a feminist then you'd better have thick skin because some people won't respond nicely to such blatant posturing. Maybe, it's the "ist"-factor, suggestive as it is of an unwavering belief system, possibly even a sense of moral superiority, that gets up people's noses.
But, anyway, I still like to think I'm sort of a minimalist. I try to resist clutter, unnecessary objects and buying stuff. There's a zeitgeisty expression that goes something along the lines of: "I try to collect memories, not possessions". That is a vomit-inducing sentence and you'd have to have the skin of a rhinoceros to own it but there are far worse outlooks you could have on life.
In 2012, in a piece on minimalism, I crowed that my favourite sweatshirt was ten years old.
But that piece of clothing was but a spring chicken according to one reader who owned a pair of shoes from 1958. That is good going. Some other readers wondered if I could be a minimalist while being a self-confessed possessor of a "hand-woven Iranian rug". In my book, a minimalist is still allowed to own some things. It's about having few things; it's not about having no things.
Some eagle-eyed readers (who'd done a bit of sleuthing and discovered an old article online) reckoned it was hypocritical of me to claim to be a minimalist while adorning my walls with paintings and lithographs. That's a fair cop in one sense but every last piece of that art was sold at auction a couple of years ago. My walls are officially bare. Take that.
I guess the brand of minimalism that I subscribe to is the one in which clutter and excess material possessions are eschewed. I'm not associating myself with the design aesthetic that is the highly contrived, extreme form of minimalism: one large room, one bare table and one spare object on it. Rather, its appeal, for me, lies in the fact it's a simpler, less consumer-driven approach than the Buy-buy-buy and More-is-good mentality of the modern world.
In 2014, in a piece about consumerism, I wrote that "it sometimes feels as if we spend our entire lives in the pursuit of either earning money or spending money ... Our addiction to possessions means we have little time to just be". Reader responses were mainly in agreement. "Well said, Shelley. We are trapped and brainwashed by consumerism", wrote one. "We have all become good little dumbed down consumers, addicted to spending on s*** we do not need to impress people we do not like with money we do not have", said another.
I have a few guidelines to help cut down on needless purchases and the wanton accumulation of objects. I try to make the things we have last. So that hand-woven Iranian rug I copped some flak for a while ago must be at least twenty years old. Does that make it okay now? Or is it still an unpalatable symptom of an elitist floor-covering situation? It's a tough crowd here sometimes.
I also try to follow the policy that if something comes into the house then a similar item must leave. So when, say, a new book, magazine or article of clothing arrives I put an old one in the pile for the school's caring shed so it can be redistributed to a deserving home. This system is not foolproof. When my daughter was a preschooler, I bought her a couple of items from Pumpkin Patch. I'd left the new clothing (still in the store packaging) by the back door and my other half thought these goods were earmarked for removal from our house. Using his initiative, he swiftly disposed of them before I'd had a chance to unwrap them. Yes, he had been warned about using initiative. Repeatedly. No, he has not lived it down. On the plus side, some other children received some super flash threads that year.
Minimalism was given a hard time in a recent opinion piece in The Guardian. It was described as an "incredibly tedious piece of performance art", "privileged posturing" and (illogically, I thought) "just another form of conspicuous consumption". Associating minimalism with people who embrace "yoga and green juices", the writer considered it to be little more than an overly self-conscious choice made by insufferable hipsters.
She also noted that you're in a fortunate position if you have the luxury of choosing minimalism. Many people must endure a type of "forced minimalism" due to economic and social hardship. For some families, going without is a hard reality of life rather than some artificial construct that makes your Instagram posts look spare and artful.
So we need a new word for "minimalists" - one that doesn't rub people up the wrong way or mock the design aesthetic resulting from straitened circumstances. We need a new word for people who are just trying to not be rampant consumers, people who want to tread a little more lightly on the earth and who do not think shopping is the be-all-and-end-all. I don't have the answer. Suggestions are welcome.