(Moving toward Thanksgiving, November 28, 2013)
This phrase, “less is more” appeared in a love poem (line78) in 1855 by Robert Browning , “Andrea del Sarto” called The Faultless Painter. The phrase was adopted by Mies van der Rohe, an architect whom I studied briefly in an undergraduate course called “The House.” He, along with a number of others, including Frank Lloyd Wright, were leaders in the minimalist movement that tried to scale things down rather than up, clean lines, good design.
Since then that phrase “less is more” has been popularized by all kinds of movements and people from philosophers to musicans. Most notable among these are St. Francis, Ghandi, Albert Schweizer, Henry David Thoreau, and more recently, E. F. Schumacher in his 1973 work, Small is Beautiful, a study of economics as if people mattered. Two musicians known for their work in this genre are Steve Reich and John Cage. There are numerous others from many fields, some in the environmental movement.
Living a more simple life has been espoused by various religious and secular groups, including the Quakers. Related notions such as self-sufficiency, conspicuous consumption, sustainability, downsizing, intentional community, and the slow movement are all expressions from those who do not necessarily agree with the economics of a culture where GNP is the measure of success. There are many people who believe that there are other values that could contribute to a meaningful and productive life so that that we do not base our worth on the market value of goods and services produced in one year.
What if we looked at a quality of life based not on how much we have but how much we can give? What if the measure of a man or woman at the end of their lives was not how much they had accumulated but how much they had been able to give away? Then we might have a bumper sticker that says the one who ends up with the least wins instead of the one who ends up with the most toys wins. It seems to be true that simplicity and clarity which lead to good design applies to much more than objects. How about designing our lives around simple and clear rather than complicated and cluttered?
The small house movement has gained in popularity the past few years as more and more people discover how efficient and economical it is to live in fewer square feet. There is even a small house society whose tag line is “better living through simplicity.” (http://smallhousesociety.net/) Thas is quite different from better living through chemistry!
You can find many people who live full time on boats of various sizes all over the world and we have met many fellow travelers on the road whose only residence is their RV or recreational vehicle. These range in size and kind from small to large and ones that you pull behind a truck or that are self propelled by their own gas or diesel engines. Most are self contained and are able to provide adequate and comfortable space along with the necessary functions of heat, light, cooking, bathing and even connectivity with the rest of the world.
We are taking a step in that direction ourselves. We put our house and six acres on the market. It’s currently under contract and we are planning to live for awhile in a house on wheels, read motor home, even if it doesn’t sell. Gypsies, someone said. No house or apartment, just wandering here and there, working and living on the road. Our theme song could be Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TD_pSeNelU
That is but one illustration that affords a level of freedom, independence and a significant reduction in possessions, equipment and property that must be cared for, maintained and supported. More importantly perhaps is asking this question. What would improve the quality of your life that is within your reach? The answer may or may not have to do with “living space” but chances are at some point you will arrive at a time of transition and then you can design the change and make the choice.