The New Minimalism

This is a blatant slurp: an excellent post written for TreeHugger by Graham Hill.  Read it here or … there.

I have mixed feelings about the kind of pared down black and white austerity represented in the LifeEdited project (although I did live in a nearly achromatic bedroom for several years during my angsty teen period – black trim around the windows and doors) but I do really appreciate the sentiment that living with less the most environmentally friendly thing you can do.  I’ll have more of my own thoughts on getting rid of “stuff” and living with less in an upcoming post.  I’ve also waxed philosophical on the subject in the past here.  Meanwhile enjoy Hill’s thoughts on the subject.

Graham Hill/CC BY-SA 2.0
The first LifeEdited apartment, configured for a dinner party. Scroll down to see it in sleeping mode.

When I started TreeHugger in 2004, the stereotypical “environmentalist” wore torn bellbottoms, drank out of mason jars and smelled faintly of patchouli oil. Don’t get me wrong, this was not a fair description, nor would there be anything wrong if it were. But it was a stereotype lodged in the collective consciousness that kept environmentalism fringy.

Meanwhile, I sensed a growing population concerned about the environment, but did not identify with the stereotypical environmentalist. The new green didn’t renounce worldly possessions, technology or the trappings of the 21st century. The new green wanted to temper traditional wisdom with current knowledge. I wanted to provide a place for them to rally and grow in numbers.

I can proudly say that in the 8 years since TreeHugger began, the term environmentalist no longer carries the baggage it did before. The environmentalist has shed his/her uniform (and that aroma, wink wink). Environmentalism has gone mainstream — helped greatly by Al Gore and impossible-to-ignore climatic shifts.

Mission accomplished!

Well…not really. We’re still racing toward a very precarious environmental future. There are still infinite social and political changes required to avoid a global environmental meltdown — like yesterday!

The success is that people are no longer thought strange for caring about the environment. Sure, there are still deniers, but the fact that they are defensive proves our power. You don’t defend against something you don’t find threatening.

Living area wide open/ Graham Hill/CC BY 2.0
The LifeEdited apartment. With the beds hidden, the room opens up for daily use.

Taking the next step

So we changed hearts and minds about the environmentalist and environmentalism. But now what? What’s next?

I think the environmental issue often focuses on cause/effect and problem/solution — in other words, there’s a strong emphasis on WHAT we’re protecting and HOW, but not always WHY.

To get at WHY, we need to look beyond what’s wrong and how to fix it. We need to look at what matters to us — what makes us happy. The “what’s next,” I believe, is a world designed around the answers to those questions.

Graham Hill/CC BY-SA 2.0
The LifeEdited apartment, in sleeping mode. The design makes it easy to do both in a pretty small space.

My latest venture, LifeEdited, is seeking to do just that. We are designing a world around what really matters to us…and nothing else.

I actually don’t think it takes much to make most people happy. We want to live in a healthy environment, enjoy good physical health, have great relationships, have time for recreation and live in peace.

On the other hand, happiness often requires removal. Many of us could stand to scale back on our possessions, space, debt and activities. Most of us have found that the things we thought would make us happy actually stress us out and can make us miserable.

So “editing” means removing all that detracts from our happiness. This is not a passive act; as Blaise Pascal put it, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” Editing takes effort.

Nothing is the next big thing

I also envision a world where people love the stuff they include. Architect Mies Van Der Rohe said “Less is more.” Inspired by designer Dieter Rams, I say, “Less, but better.” What if we were in love with everything we included in our lives–whether it was a home, an object or an activity?

Our first project is my 420 sq ft apartment, pictured above and at the top of the post, which is designed around these principles. Every object in the apartment was chosen for its great, timeless design and ability to maximize utility in minimal space. Less, but better.

We have a blog, at that gives tips, design ideas and links to resources that support the less, but better way of life.

So when I say “nothing” is the next big thing, I mean humankind’s next step involves less addition and more subtraction. I believe that when we edit out all that doesn’t contribute to our happiness — and leave in great, better stuff that does — a happier, healthier world will emerge.

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