Tip #180: Less and good enough.
The famous Dieter Rams quote, and title of his 1995 book, “Less, but better,” gets used a lot in minimalist circles. (Full disclosure, I used it myself in my book.) Like so many pithy quotes, it’s often taken out of context, or construed to mean something different than originally intended. A designer, Rams was no doubt referring to his own pared down design aesthetic, but also referencing the impact of that design and the notion that simpler design allows, in some measure at least, for simpler lives. In recent interpretations, I often see the phrase used as a kind of consumer mantra—a guiding principle for how one might shop. Choosing the one hand-hewn stool, for instance, instead of three mass-produced ones, is to choose less, but better.
The folks at Portland, Oregon-based, Schoolhouse Electric, produce a poster designed by Anthony Burrill with a more overtly covetous message: “Want Better, Not More.” In their words, the poster is meant to convey a “new spin on the age-old adage ‘quality over quantity.'” In a world filled to brimming with mass-produced, cheap, and easily discarded goods, it’s no doubt a healthy habit for wallet and planet and mind to rein in some of that consumption and halt the frenzied, impulse buying. I’d contend we’d all benefit from a slower, more deliberate approach to furnishing our homes or dressing ourselves or giving gifts.
In my line of work, I’m often asked for my opinions on stuff. It’s why I started my Simple Stuff series, an homage to the hardworking items that help make my home tick. And it’s why I began to write my series on Growing a Minimalist Wardrobe, too. In all kinds of ways, my work attempts to answer the question: What’s better? What’s best?
It can make for a whole lot of consternation. Whether I’m pondering t-shirts or couches or humidifiers, I’m presented with a hundred competing options and asked to make a value judgement. What makes something better? How it’s made? Where it’s made? With what it’s made? Who made it? How well it functions? How beautiful it looks? All of the above? It’s a lot of pressure to put on a pepper grinder, or a pillow, or a pair of socks. No wonder folks come asking for help.
I’m currently writing a post about tea strainers, of all things, and my quest to replace my two insufficient and damaged strainers with something, well, better. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask for one strainer that will adequately do its job of keeping leaves from floating in my tea. And yet, of course, what’s so wrong with a few stray tea leaves?
I sometimes wonder how well these superlatives, and our quest for the best of something, end up serving us. What about the possibility of replacing better or best with good enough? The reality of my own day-to-day life is that living simply and keeping a pared down collection of well-loved items often isn’t about having the best. It’s about making the best of what I already have.
In yesterday’s post, Rose Pearlman showed us how to use takeout restaurant chopsticks as knitting needles. Her point in using chopsticks is not to say that chopsticks are the same as a pair of lovingly handmade or precision machine-made knitting needles. Her point is that in a pinch, or, if needed, forever, they can serve just as well.
Likewise, a cot is not a couch, but it can stand in for one. A handmade baby gym is a little quirky and certainly less stable than one that’s professionally made. A bed in the middle of the apartment does not a sanctuary of a bedroom make, and yet there we sleep, soundly.
Less and good enough.