With interiors whitewashed to laboratory standard and monochrome making yet another comeback, the minimalist aesthetic is very much en vogue – but what if we could style our thoughts with the same restraint, clarity and calm? The Japanese have had ‘less is more’ mastered for centuries, rendering their living rooms (and headspaces) Spartan in the name of Zen.
As the practice goes, one should rid their life of anything not relevant, or contributing, to their immediate needs, leaving them happy, empowered and wide open to new ideas. Simple, yes? Not in a world rampant with excessive consumption, temptation, too much choice (and Instagram), it’s not.
In pursuit of simplicity, both material and spiritual, French author Dominique Loreau penned international bestseller L’art de la Simplicité – a take-no-prisoners guide to having more with less, sprung from her 30 years of living in Japan.
We’ve made like a minimalist and pulled out our favourite takeaways on what to… take away from your own life to make space for more important things:
OWN LESS. Traditional Zen monks were fiercely frugal – to the point that they could carry all their worldly possessions around their neck. Dominique spruiks a more modern (and achievable) logic: “If you only have one nail file, you’ll always know where to find it.” Lighten your load and collect knowledge and experiences rather than things.
DON’T TREASURE YOUR TRASH. Minimalists don’t do ornaments – or what Dominique calls, “dust traps”. She proposes this experiment: for just one week, put all your sentimental knick-knacks away, out of sight, and see just how much you don’t miss them. “Remember: living in the past, for memories alone, means overlooking the present and closing the doors to the future.”
KEEP IT CLEAN. Cleanliness is next to godliness in a life simplified, so Dominique deems housework as vital as brushing your teeth. She outlines three maxims to live by: “A place for everything and everything in its place; tidiness saves time and frees the memory; and good work begins with clean and tidy surroundings.” Start with little things like wiping down your sink after you use it and giving your crusty saucepans a good scrub.
IF IT’S BROKE, FIX IT. The toilet that persistently trickles, the cupboard door that hangs eternally ajar or the long dead lightbulb. A minimalist-in-the-making should eliminate the “many tiny annoyances that pollute our everyday lives”, even if it means getting an electrician to whisk your wires behind a skirting board.
GO AU NATURALE. Choose “living” materials – wood, wool, cotton, silk – over synthetic. Dominique’s trick is to shop with your eyes closed and go by feel. A cashmere throw is costly but will keep you warmer than a pile of cheap blankets. And that mahogany chest of drawers will look a hell of a lot prettier than Ikea’s offering in a few years’ time. In addition, things that you’ve invested in will feel more special than anything that’s purchased on a whim – if it took you a minute to buy it, it will probably take you less than a year to get rid of.
WORN OUT? DON’T WEAR IT OUT. When it comes to the wardrobe, be ruthless. “Staring at a dress you detest, hanging in your wardrobe day after day, is far more harmful than getting rid of it once and for all.” Turf anything that doesn’t fit or is worn out. Classic styles are keepers and Dominique favours the rule of seven: seven “outdoor” pieces (jackets, coats and the like), seven tops, seven “other” items (trousers, jeans, skirts, dresses), seven pairs of shoes and a few accessories should cover it (and you) all year round.
PAY MIND TO YOUR MONEY. “We waste too much on useless items and short-term treats. Big ticket investments are not a drain on our financial resources, but the thousands of small items we’ve bought, and then forgotten about, are.” Yep, that’s your fast fashion obsession she’s talking about. Don’t frit away your finances on impulsive or compulsive buys, and beware the ‘bargain’ purchase.
THINK POSITIVE. A clear mind is no place for anxiety. Quash negative thoughts by introducing new energy – go for a walk, change your outfit or do some yoga. If a problem demands your attention, lose the ‘woe is me’ wallow and think only on the simple details. “Whatever we focus on grows in importance. The more we focus on things we don’t want to think about, the more power they will have over us.”
TAKE TIME. When seeking a simpler life, embrace idleness. “People want more time, then kill time,” says Dominique, who fills her quieter moments with “rituals” such as writing, taking a bath, shopping for fresh food or arranging flowers. Multitasking is not the minimalist way, so be choosy with what, and who, you spend your time and energy on. “‘Having time’ is not important in itself: the quality of the moment is what matters.”