Featured in

Featured in: Tiny Buddha, Halifax Media Coop, Fine Fit Day, Simplify the Season, La Presse, Filles, Le Canada-Français

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 27 - The faces of minimalism

massmarrier, Flickr

By an interesting twist of fate - or, more aptly said, because I took advantage of my summer vacation to visit my mother, who lives 1500 km away - I ended up spending a few days in a house that, at first glance, is the epitome of anti-minimalism.

Not counting the mud room, workshop, attic, loft, basement and garage, my mother's house is over 5000 square feet, with ceilings 11 feet high and windows taller than me, and boasts 6 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, formal living and dining rooms, 2 sun rooms, 1 library/music room, a sauna, a large kitchen with walk-in pantry, 4 fireplaces + 1 cast iron stove, 2 stairways (one of which leads to what was originally the servants' quarters), many alcoves, built-in bookshelves, tons of storage space, and lots of architectural wonders. I'm not even mentioning the spacious decks and garden (and wooded area). 

Two people live in there, namely, my mother and her partner.

Without being overwhelmingly cluttered per se, the house is also filled with massive furniture, antiques, works of art, paintings big and small, mirrors, sculptures, figurines, fine books, porcelains and crystals, beautiful rugs, all gathered during numerous travels around the world. When my mother's good friend called the house "a museum", she was at least partly right. (As for me, I am seriously considering writing a story based on the fascinating building, its contents and its surroundings.)

Surely, this looks and sounds like a life of luxury, and in some ways, it is. Past the first impression, however, there are many ways in which the two inhabitants of that house embrace at least some aspects of minimalism, perhaps not in terms of dollars spent and objects owned, but definitely in terms of healthy, environmentally-friendly choices.

  • They bought an already existing house and piece of land, as opposed to building on a new lot.
  • They upgraded it with energy efficient roof, windows, heating/cooling system, lighting, etc.
  • They both work from home, so the house doubles as an office for the two of them. Consequently, they do not commute, they only need one vehicle, and don't use it daily. They also do not need work clothes.
  • They rarely go "to town", avoiding most consumerist temptations.
  • They are very mindful of electricity use and water use, don't watch TV, and dry their clothes on the line.
  • They cook from scratch 95% of the time, using almost exclusively organic fruit and vegetables from their garden, and organic eggs and meat from small local producers.
  • They make their own bread, yogurt, preserves, and canned goods. They don't buy packaged foods, prepared meals or bottled water.
  • They compost, reuse and recycle everything (including seeds from the previous years).
  • They use natural cleaning products.
  • They play an active role in local matters, advocating for environmentally-friendly practices throughout the community.
  • They both quit demanding and high-paying careers (one in finance, one as a physician) to refocus on something they actually love to do and requires less hours per week, albeit being significantly less lucrative.

All in all, it might still not qualify as a frugal life, but some conscious choices are made. Minimalism has many faces: you can live in small quarters and own few things. You can aim for self-subsistance and the smallest footprint possible. You can be mindful of what you do with your money and time. Minimalism is also a process: you start where you are, and you make your way toward simplicity.

Where are you at, simplicity wise? Where do you want to get?


Observations and cogitations

Being on vacation has been the ultimate test for consumption. Especially when strolling through big cities in which wonderful stores filled with wonderful things abound, and in which people dress and drive with style. Most of us will probably never be able to afford the Maserati I saw, but we might still want to indulge in quality clothes, objects, food and drinks - at least occasionally. Doing so would be okay... especially if it's a treat, and as long as it's done mindfully. It all comes down to the concept of choice: what am I going to obtain from the purchase of goods and services? Is it worth my money and, if it's an object, is it worth the space it will take in my house and the dust it might gather? Is it worth the environmental impact?

This year, instead of walking in stores thinking "If I see something I like and/or a good bargain, I will buy it", I kept in mind the things we really needed, such as new shoes for the kids, a few specific items of clothing for us, and a new air mattress for camping. Those are the only things we bought. We saw many other beautiful objects, but instead of acquiring them, we simply admired them in passing. It was a nice opportunity to explain to the kids that "just because you like something and can afford it, doesn't mean you should get it".

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

Become a follower of the blog/subscribe by email (top left corner of this page)!

Follow me on Facebook (click here)!

Follow me on Twitter (click here)!


  1. I love your focus on admiration without the need for acquisition.
    Here I am still wrestling with the over-supply of books. I am getting more ruthless and now have over a dozen boxes of books packed up and ready to go. I will ring the company next week and expect to have another five or six boxes to go.

  2. Very interesting to read this article Julie ... and it would appear your mother and partner have a good balance in their life. Why not write about their 'fascinating building, its contents and its surroundings' ?I'm sure there are quite a few people who would read it with interest.

    It is good to share and question what many of us do each day thinking it is the only way to do things - when of course it isn't. It is up to each of us to choose wisely and what works for us.

    All the best Jan

    1. I like this a lot: "It is good to share and question what many of us do each day thinking it is the only way to do things - when of course it isn't."

  3. I saw many similar households growing up in the mountains of Colorado. When I lived back there last year, I rented a room in a similar household. I appreciate people who live like that.

    For me this was a week of decadence. I took my old beach cruiser out of storage and rehabbed it. I know have one bike more than I really need. Oh well...

  4. LOVE this and how you were able to stop and step back and view your mom and her partner through a different lens.

  5. I'm a pretty hardcore minimalist, so I couldn't live in a house that big, but I do admire their other lifestyle choices. Leaving the corporate rat race can usually shrink a person's environmental footprint tremendously. Can I ask what they do now for work?

    1. We both work as freelance translators, in our fields of expertise. We thus both need some office space and lots of bookshelves because we are also bookworms and book collectors. We certainly do not qualify as minimalists, but assuredly for the lesser footprint. Our large house is heated and cooled with geothermal energy, which we installed within 7 months of living here and which costs less than traditional energy for a house half its size. We are also lucky to live in Quebec, where 98% of energy is from hydro. Not everyone has such an opportunity.

  6. Your family choose voluntary simplicity, just as I have. Not everyone needs to live in a shack :-)

    We need to find the balance that satisfies us as long as it doesn't harm others. I make many choices because it feels more harmonious to me to live this way. I could have a lot more stuff, but I don't need to. I'm glad I have that freedom, but the best thing is it does not feel like a sacrifice, it just feels good. I don't expect it to make a difference. It's like a drop in the ocean compared to the behavior of the majority.