Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Best wishes for 2013 and thank you for reading "The Thoughtful Consumer!"

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Uncluttering: Stuff vs. Art

One of my new, small drawings: graphs created from
significant numbers in someone's life or numbers
derived from musical patterns in favorite songs.

Anyone who's attempted to unclutter understands that our relationship with our stuff is complicated. But too often uncluttering is misunderstood as a process that leaves one bereft of possessions, forced to live an uncomfortable, minimalist existence. Of course, that's not the case at all. Uncluttering just means letting go of things that no longer serve a purpose in your life. Defining what's necessary and unnecessary is a personal, often difficult, decision.

Sometimes having very little is the correct choice for some people. "Vagabond minimalist" Andrew Hyde has chosen the ultra-minimalist route. You may have heard about him last year when he was being publicized frequently as "the guy who owns only fifteen things." Most of us wouldn't be comfortable trying to live with so little and, in fact, I wonder if Andrew might have had a stash of at least a few items awaiting his return from the road. But he certainly seemed content living with his stripped-down-to-the-bone possessions.

But what if you have a huge collection of stuff? It's not just "stuff," and it's certainly not clutter, if it's really a collection, if you display it proudly, if you enjoy it and want to share that joy with others. Jacinta, true collector, has some 5,000 snowmen figures that she cheerfully displays every holiday season. In this video, we see that there's nothing cluttered about her home. Crowded, yes, but cluttered, no! She obviously adores her collection, so even though it may seem a bit much to most of us, if it's affordable for her family, why not continue to celebrate it?

Sometimes people redefine their relationship with "stuff" in a way that minimizes clutter. If you're fed up with our consumer culture, you think long and hard about what you need before you make a purchase. That alone would make accumulating clutter difficult. Katy Wolk-Stanley, who bills herself as The Non-Consumer Advocate, has particularly stringent requirements: she's vowed not to buy anything new. It began when she heard about The Compact, a social and environmental movement that started in 2006 in San Francisco when ten friends promised not to buy anything new for a year. Katy adopted the plan in 2007, but decided to continue -- indefinitely. It's been five years. Again, not everyone would be comfortable making this kind of commitment, but it works for Katy.

Now let's talk about clutter and art. Most artists I know (myself included) have an uneasy relationship with clutter. One major challenge is that almost everything we see has creative potential. Heaven help the poor artist who specializes in collage -- the most extreme example of someone who sees potential art everywhere, even in stuff that's been discarded, often for good reason!

You might think that the very fact that I make art, which is "stuff," is a contradiction: on one hand, I advocate getting rid of stuff and, on the other, I make it. But I never advocate getting rid of something that you find useful or beautiful (to borrow the classic explanation from William Morriss of how to choose what things to have in your home). I can't imagine living without art, so if you find it an important part of your life, I understand completely. That's why I continue to make art and that's also why I've decided once again to have a holiday sale of my original work. If you're interested, click here to go to my art blog for more information.

As we approach the end of the year and that time when we make New Year's resolutions, maybe this year we don't need to resolve (again) to unclutter. Maybe we need to resolve to work on understanding our relationship to our possessions and finally figuring out what we need and love. Then we can apply that understanding not only to what we have now but also to what we buy in the future. Let's start by asking ourselves, about everything that we own: Is it beautiful? Is it useful? If it is, let's be grateful that we have it; if it isn't, let's gratefully let it go.