Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Obsession with white

**Today's post is more of a thought experiment than anything.  I blame my time in academia for my focus on definitions and meeting people where they are.  Proceed with caution.**

Minimalism, for me, is about emphasizing increasing the amount of joy that I have in my everyday life.  I do this by decreasing my dependence on consumerism and working towards valuing the things that I already own.  This does not mean that I eschew owning things.  Rather, I (try to) only own things that add value to my life.  I think that minimalism gets a bad wrap because many people seem to conflate the meaning of minimalism with other "isms" including modernism, environmentalism, anti-consumerism, etc...  To complicate matters further, in trying to make minimalism palatable to a wider audience, many minimalist bloggers and authors write about "how to be a minimalist" and create lists and rules to live by.  While usually helpful for the beginning or budding minimalist, these how-to guides tend to force a certain amount of rigidity on the idea of minimalism and seem to forget that minimalism might mean something different for everyone.  I am more than happy to talk with people about my ideas about minimalism and the blogs/books that I have read about the topic, but encourage those interested to come to their own conclusions.

One common theme that I have noticed lately in the minimalist movement is an obsession, or deification, of the color white.  Some advocates of minimalism have encouraged readers to paint their walls white, own white belongings, etc...  I find this to be interesting for several reasons.  First, those who equate minimalism with environmentalism (M-E) might reject the color white as it rarely appears in nature and imposes a sterile feeling (instead of a natural feeling) to a room.  On the other hand, those who equate minimalism with modernism (M-M) might embrace the color white because it fits in with that overall aesthetic.  Second, advocating for owning white belongings seems contradictory because it doesn't meet people where they are. Essentially, encouraging people to replace what they already own in order to achieve a particular look.  The anti-consumerist minimalists might certainly have something to say about this.

Further, and perhaps more convolutedly, the color white as I have been referring to it is not really a color at all.  White, depending on the angle you take, either indicates complete color saturation (think about the white spots you see when you look at the sun) or complete absence of color.  If one takes the saturation point of view, striving to achieve complete white seems to imply striving for more ownership.  Taking the opposite point of view of absence, white seems to imply owning nothing.  I think that minimalism falls somewhere in between.

For me, owning white belongings and/or having white walls goes against my brand of minimalism.  It offends my anti-consumerist tendency because in order to comply with this rule or achieve this standard I would need to get rid of the majority of my belongings and start again.  Also, white belongings tend to show wear and stains more readily than other colors.  Thus defeating the pristine aesthetic and necessitating additional consumption.  My environmentalist tendency is against this standard because white doesn't occur often in nature.  Consider the rarity of albinos for most mammals, the varieties of flowers that are white, etc...  I am more likely to embrace a more natural color scheme rather than a white one.  I tend to decorate in earth tones with the occasional pop of color.  I am also a fan of un-dyed linen.  In the end, I think the over-reliance on modernism is what leads to this "rule" of white.  I do not necessarily identify with this component and thus I struggle with being the best minimalist that I can be.

Maybe I have over thought this obsession a little bit.  What do you think?


  1. When I think of minimalism, I think "simple". I think "Scandanavian".

    I don't believe you've over-thought it at all. I think it's just about trying to find how the minimalistic lifestyle will fit for you. I think there is nothing more beautiful than an unscathed wall. Could I live with white? Yes, I could. Actually, I have absolutely no preference for wall color. I think sometimes I'm missing an important gene that every other woman in the world got. When I'm asked if I like this color or that, I truly have no opinion.

    1. White walls make me a little crazy to be quite honest. Maybe I need more meditative time to come to grips with blank, white walls.

      White stuff also makes me a little crazy because of the upkeep required to keep things white. I love hubby, but he can be a bit messy and white doesn't go with messy.

      But, like you, I don't really have an opinion about most colors. It really just depends on the context.

  2. Less is less I feel and color is not in my picture. You really make good reading here for me. While I do not commet on all I do read them. Love how you make me think. I am not into really a minimalistic person but I do need to downsize more. I have the past 2 years cut my ...crap...over 3/4 down. Got a long way to go but a lifetime of stuff is attached in someways. Care to come out here and clean house for me. I am sure I can do with less.

    1. Minimalism isn't for every body and I am certainly not preaching that people should just give up all of their stuff and live like a monk. :)

      For me, it's about wanting the things I have and not cluttering my life with things that don't make me happy. I think it's neat that you were able to par down so much stuff. I'm down to making the cut on a bunch of stuff that laden with emotions. I think that is the hardest clutter to move through because in addition to the actual thing we have to deal with the mental clutter too.

      I'll have to pass on cleaning your space though. :) I have a hard enough time keeping our tiny apartment clean!

    2. Take a picture of the stuff that you have emotional ties with.

      I had a clarinet from high school that dad insisted he bring all the way from Alaska to give to me. While I appreciate the sentiment, I hadn't played that horn in over 30 years and it needed $600 worth of work. I know, because I sent it over to Seattle to have it looked at. It cost me $15 to find that out. I ended up selling to a nice grandma in my yard sale for $5. I never missed it the 20 years it had been sitting in my dad's garage and I don't miss it now.

      I do have a few sentimental items that I won't discard. They are small items that don't take up too much space. I'd say if you have really strong emotional ties to certain things, hang on to them a little longer.

      To Nancy, I'll come clean your space if you'll clean mine! I actually love to clean other people's space ... mine, not so much. I don't know why that is.

  3. I just wanted to add that I find 'coordinating' a household to be counter to my own brand of minimalism, a belief I suppose falls in line with the whole 'letting go' mindset. Taking things as they come versus holding on to the idea that if we just expend enough energy our lives can fit in nice, neat color-coordinated boxes. :)