Is it time to consider a more minimalist way of living?

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Moving house recently has given Tanya Weaver some food for thought. Perhaps it’s time to shift the ‘stuff ’ and consider a more sustainable and minimalist way of living. After all, less does equal more
My life has been in upheaval recently. They don’t lie when they say that moving house is the third most stressful life event after death and divorce.

At least I wasn’t moving very far – I wasn’t moving counties, towns or even streets. Yep, my new house was quite literally across the road. I haven’t counted how many steps from door to door but I’ll guess about 15.

Apart from a few aching muscles and bruises, myself, my husband and Jess the cat survived moving day relatively unscathed. I now feel pretty much settled in although in some ways it still feels like I’m living in someone else’s house but all my stuff is here.

And that’s just the thing — all my stuff . I have an incredible amount of it and a lot that I’ve accumulated over the years. This is especially astounding because when I moved to the UK 12 years ago I came over with just one suitcase and now I have a house full of stuff .

I’ve also bought new stuff to replace some of the old stuff I had bagged up and given to the charity shop before the move.

I was contemplating all this and remembered a fantastic talk I’d watched on TED Talks from the founder of Treehugger a year or so ago about just this topic — Less stuff , more happiness. Type in ‘Graham Hill TED’ in your search engine and the video should be at the top of the list. It’s just six minutes and well worth a watch.

Hill, a Canadian with qualifi cations in architecture and industrial design, founded the now famous sustainability website TreeHugger in 2004. He is also the CEO of LifeEdited, a project devoted to living well with less.

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His argument is that as we accumulate more and more stuff it leads to more debt, a huge environmental footprint and doesn’t necessarily make us any happier. His solution is <=> less equals more.

When he embarked on his Life Edited journey he set himself the challenge of fitting out a 420 square foot New York apartment with everything he’d want in a beautiful, comfortable and functional home — a home office, sit down dinner for ten, room for two guests and storage for all his kite boarding kit.

He roped in some help from fellow designers and architects who applied smart sustainable design and technology solutions to create LifeEdited Apartment #1.

It became such a hit with wannabe ‘life editors’ that Hill set up Life Edited as a company and is now in discussions with architects and developers in several cities around the world about apartment buildings based on its concepts.

Although I didn’t want to relocate to a 420 square foot space (I’m staying put for awhile thank you!), I was interested in Hill’s approach to a life edited. Here’s my thoughts on his three main stipulations:

1. Edit ruthlessly — Stuff that lurks in corners and cupboards that we never use or wear, chuck it out. As Hill rather eloquently puts it: “Cut the extraneous out of our lives and learn to stem the inflow.”

2. Think small — Although I’m onboard with space efficient products, those that stack and nest like Joseph Joseph’s nesting bowls, I’m not onboard with his idea of “making books disappear” by digitising them. Although getting rid of books around will free up space, having them around adds to my general happiness.

3. Make multi-functional — In the Life Edited apartment a dining table becomes a bed and a white cupboard becomes a projector screen. However, my favourite multi-functional product is the toilet with a combined sink and toilet bowl so that when you wash your hands in the sink above, the water flows down and is used for flushing. Genius.

Hill has even designed a space saving product himself — the Thinbike. As many cyclists will appreciate, bike storage can be a hassle in small spaces. Hill’s solution features fold-up pedals and a quick release stem to lie the handlebars flush with the rest of the frame.

In doing this, the bike is transformed from a portly 21-inches wide to just six. German bike manufacturer Schindelhauer has recently put this lightweight, one-speed design into production.

Of course there are other designers and companies that promote this minimalist way of living. Muji springs to mind immediately — a Japanese retail firm that sells a wide variety of household and consumer goods.

According to the company, at the heart of Muji design is the Japanese concept of ‘Kanketsu’, that of simplicity. A stand out product and now possibly a design classic, is the ultra minimal wall-mounted cd player that Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa designed for the brand in 1999.

Industrial Facility, a London-based design consultancy, has also designed simple yet beautiful products for Muji including the Coff ee Maker and ‘Second Phone’. In fact, some of its new products for the brand feature in the Muji Xmas 2013 Catalogue.

Of course, we can’t discuss minimalism without mentioning one of my favourite industrial designers Dieter Rams, whose design philosophy is ‘Less, but better’.

Rams created some beautiful products for Braun and Vitsoe, many of which still look contemporary despite being 40 years old. He is well known for his ‘Ten Principles of Good Design’ and the tenth is particular relevant here: Good design is as little design as possible.

However, the sad truth is that many of us, particularly in the western world, love our stuff and love being surrounded by as much of it as possible. But I for one will be considering a life edit and will really think before I buy. In the words of another famous designer, William Morris, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

I guess the cat’s had it then.

Tanya Weaver contemplates living a ‘life edited’
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