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Monday, October 12, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 42 - Beautiful things

Blosterblu, Flickr

La beauté n'est que la promesse du bonheur.
Beauty is nothing other but the promise of happiness

A question that has been haunting me: How does one reconcile frugal living with beauty? Especially when you know that in some aspects:

  • Beauty is not a basic need (some even consider it a very superficial thing)
  • Beauty can cost a lot of money (fashion, home decoration, nice cars)
  • Beauty can have an impact on the environment (buying new things not because you need them, but because they look good)

Even the minimalist trend in architecture is everything but frugal: luxurious materials, costly design. The end product looks pared down, but a lot of thought, time, and money is put into it.

Human beings, that being said, do seem to get a lot from beauty, no matter which one of the five senses they experience it through: presented with nice music, nice food and wine, nice perfume, nice spa treatments, nice art... few of us can claim to remain indifferent! I myself had a hard time resisting a feeling of awe while visiting a nice boutique recently: so many beautiful objects! I did resist actually buying any of them, based on the facts that 1) I didn't need anything; 2) they would take up space in my house; and 3) they would take up money from my wallet, but I cannot say I didn't mind. I felt torn between the positive effect beautiful things have on me and the desire to transcend material objects.

I'm not the only one. My friend S and I had a written conversation about it recently. Here is what she said (quoted with her permission): 

"[If I purchased the beautiful things I see in stores], I think I would be valuing my material objects too much and basing too much of my identity and personal expression through those items. I am going to stick to good quality functional items that I will take good care and appreciate, but that I do not derive any sense of "style" or "chic" from. I need a certain level of comfort in my home - house plants, nice furniture layout, proper lighting and some art on the walls, but I do not need to go overboard. But would be surrounded by beautiful artistic things make you more creative and artistic yourself? I noticed when I listen to lots of great music, I am more creative."

As it turns out, we might be hardwired for beauty. In a 2014 article, The Atlantic explored how and why. It seems like looking at beautiful things and people does indeed make us feel better; for example, those who live in an aesthetically pleasing city were shown to be happier. In the same vein, the moments that people recorded as their happiest were when they were surrounded by beauty: while at a concert or an art exhibit, for example.

Minimalists, who care about preserving both the environment, their finances and the space in their houses, might feel they are limited in their access to beauty. Unless they follow Richard Proenneke's wisdom and find it in nature and simple things: 

About nature:

"The sun shining on the green lake ice was so beautiful I had to stop work now and then to just look at it."

About the relativity of pleasure:

"Most people don't work hard enough physically anymore, and comfort is not easy to find. It is surprising how comfortable a hard bunk can be after you come down off a mountain."

"I see grown men pick at food. They can't be hungry in the first place. Or maybe their food has been too fancy and with all the choices they've had, they don't really know what they enjoy anymore."

And my favourite, about simple things:

"I have found that some of the simplest things have given me the most pleasure. They didn't cost me a lot of money either. They just worked on my senses. Did you ever pick large blueberries after a summer rain? Walked through a grove of cottonwoods, open like a park, and see the blue sky beyond the shimmering gold of the leaves? Pull on dry woolen socks after you've peeled off the wet ones? Come in out of the subzero and shiver yourself warm in front of a wood fire? The world is full of such things."

How do you find and keep beauty in your life?


This week I feel like I might have "cheated", especially considering the cost of the item I purchased, but it did fulfill a need. For the first time in our relationship, D and I will own two cars. Not bad when you consider we have been together for 17 years, and that our oldest child will soon turn 12! Speaking of children, they were the main reason we had to acquire a second car. They both play organized basketball, and both made Tier 1 in their respective category, which means numerous practices, games and tournaments, usually in different places at sensibly the same time, which already proved complicated and frustrating enough last year with only one car. Two cars will mean less waiting time, but also less wasting gas going in all kinds of directions. It will also be nice to not need to constantly ask for a ride when I go out with my friends, and I do plan to use the car to go to work on those hurricane/heavy rain or minus 20 ° days (up to now I always walked).

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...

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  1. Resisted, that's what we did this weekend on a travel adventure. My son and I took a 3 day trip up north. We live in Minnesota and the beauty around needs to be enjoyed. We spent $200.00 total for those 3 days and $135.00 went for gas. We drove 650 miles. We ate out of the cooler for breakfast and lunch and had a big dinner. We wanted a motel for one of those nights but resisted and slept in the truck and washed up in the lakes. It was 31* Friday morning and 28* Saturday morning. I have to say it was one of the best adventures we've had yet.
    I also have been going through the closets yet again and decided I am never, ever going to fit a few of the items I have kept saving. But this donate wasn't to a thrift store charity, it went to my friends church closet for ladies going back to work and in the need of the nicer things.
    I am terrible though also, I aquired two new to me vases that I did not need but fell in love with. They are perfect for the coming holidays. I paid .25 for them both but am thinking of recyling them after a bit of altercation for a itched Christmas gift. We will see.
    Keep up the great work. Enjoy the two cars...life will be easier and better for it in time with the family.

    1. My favourite part of this is when you say it was one of the best adventures you've had yet! :-) Thank you for commenting.

  2. Well, I may ramble a bit here :-) To be the contrarian, this whole minimalist movement sometimes strikes me as rich kids playing a game. I say this because, as I mentioned before, my grandparents were true minimalists because they were dirt poor. My mom couldn't have much outside of very basic necessities as they were "foolishness." My parents had some of this value as I remember as a kid. I wanted this pair of cowboy boots SO MUCH but no, "foolishness."

    I have a car. It's beautiful, a work of art. It's twenty years old next year. It still turns heads, easily. Yeah, that car cost a lot, but it runs perfectly after TWENTY years, and the maintenance has been very low. Sometimes it really pays in the long run to buy the expensive thing, especially if it makes you happy just sitting in the garage.

    Also, if your kids ever want a pair of cowboy boots, trust me, buy them!

    1. That's why this minimalist movement is also called "voluntary simplicity". It's a choice one makes to simplify. I guess you could call it a game. I like to think it's a game that benefits the environment. :-) I do agree that buying quality usually pays off in the long run. As for the cowboy boots... we'll see! :-)

  3. Love this post! And I really like the quotes (the quotes other than mine I mean haha)
    There is so much to ponder about on this topic. And I feel like it is something I will never completely "solve" for myself.