Being a child of the 1970s, a lot of my memories revolved around the television. Not necessarily what was on the TV, but the remarkable piece of furniture televisions were back then. We had a Zenith. It was a gigantic block of wood with intricate carvings and columns surrounding a massive cathode-ray tube of a screen. On more occasions than I care to count, I was reminded not to horse around by this behemoth with sharp corners, and on more occasions, than I care to remember, the television reminded me rather painfully why I should have listened.
The furniture in the rest of the house was also substantial, but the one piece of furniture that I can point to as an illustration of the kind of workmanship I’m talking about is the large dressers in my parent’s bedroom. Dad had an upright dresser with four drawers, and then a kind of double-doored cabinet at the top. It was a heavy red wood, which matched the long rectangular dresser that belonged to Mom. A great many drawers on this beast, with a large mirror along the top that was at least four feet high from the top of the dresser. The design of these pieces was called Federal, as I recall. Very ornate, with carvings, and intricate handles all over these giants.
It’s these pieces of furniture that I think of when I hear people talk about minimalism, strangely enough. I suppose I may have a different opinion about what minimalism is, but here’s what I do know for certain: I don’t remember a time when those two dressers were not in their bedroom, and those two pieces of furniture outlived them. They both passed away in 2014, and I remember those being around as far back as 1976. I’m sure they are being reliably used by whoever bought them in the estate sale. How often can you say that about anything you buy today?
Over the past thirty or forty years, I think we have moved from that kind of quality to things that are quickly and cheaply made. As a result, they don’t last very long, and we have to buy new things to replace them. This has consequences. We’re running out of room to put all the trash we generate throwing our cheap and broken stuff away. We’re using resources to make new cheap stuff, oftentimes polluting ourselves to do so. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. There are many ways we are poisoning ourselves, and I think this is just one of them. That is why I think Minimalism is just a new and hip way to describe buying the stuff you need that lasts more than a couple of years.
About two years ago, I decided to start that process with the things I use every day. Things like a wallet, key holder, winter jacket, and the bag I carry to work. None of these things I bought were cheap, and more than once I questioned the sanity of buying a leather(ish) wallet that cost 80 bucks, or a leather(ish) bag that cost…well, you don’t want to know. However, I would have had to replace at least one of those things by now, and I haven’t. I don’t expect to for quite some time, because they were made well, and they were made to last. The more I think about it, the bag may outlive me. That’s kind of my goal with replacing the things little by little in my house and my life. I want to look for things that stand up to everyday use well and have a high probability of never having to be bought again.
That’s my definition of Minimalism, and in at least one way, conservation.