Op/Ed

Jessie Raymond: Less is more… annoying

I recently came across an unusual YouTube video on decluttering, a task I enjoy vicariously, if not in real life. A cheerful woman with a spotless, almost empty kitchen opened the cupboards to show that each family member had only two cups, two plates, and two bowls. The kitchen, she explained, could never pile up with dirty dishes because there were so few dishes to begin with.

Her entire channel, I soon learned, was devoted to minimalism.

I was intrigued.

She had found that her house was easier to maintain when it wasn’t littered with knick-knacks and mementoes and family pets and such, and she had created a series of videos to teach others her hardcore “less is more” approach.

Her home now contained almost nothing personal or nonessential, other than her husband and her children, of whom she had four (leading me to think minimalism was a relatively recent discovery of hers). I watched her video on how to declutter a spare room, and I was impressed. It went from looking like an overstuffed consignment shop to a room at the Comfort Inn. What it lacked in charm it made up for in neatness.

As I watched more of her videos, however, I started to grow suspicious. In one episode, she advised viewers to avoid pieces that provided horizontal space, such as tables or shelves, because “people will put things on them.”

I was confused. As I understood it, the whole point of tables and shelves was so people could put things on them. Her sister’s family even joked about how when visiting — because she didn’t have a coffee table or any end tables in her living room — they had to hold their drinks between their knees. “It’s so unpleasant,” they said, laughing.

The woman filmed another video from her bedroom, which at first glance looked like a peaceful, spacious retreat. There were no distracting houseplants or throw pillows or laundry hampers. There wasn’t even a pile of loose change on the dresser, primarily because there was no dresser — just a bed. She gushed about how easy it was to keep the room clean, since there was no place to put anything down.

Again, I wasn’t sure how this worked. She implied that she had given up her alarm clock, books, phone, lamp, water glass, reading glasses, and tissues altogether, and not just taken to setting them on the floor next to the bed, as I would have done. I couldn’t picture myself going thirsty all night for the sake of a perpetually Zen bedroom.

Where did it end? Would she eventually toss her kitchen table and make the family eat standing up? (“The best part is we don’t have to clear the table when we’re done!”)

I can see the calming qualities of uncluttered space, but there’s a line. And in the next video, this woman crossed it. I had to rewind to be sure I was hearing her correctly.

Yup, there it was: “Give up your hobbies.”

She argued that not only do quilting and scrapbooking supplies, for example, occupy physical space, but the guilt you feel about projects you aren’t ever going to finish is a mental burden. Not having hobbies, therefore, is a win-win.

Maybe in her sad, empty world.

Sure, I could free up a few hundred cubic feet around the house if I ditched all my fiber and needle crafts. But those things bring me joy.

It made me wonder what she did for fun. I bet after the kids were in bed she spent her evenings on the couch, looking approvingly around her sterile home while drinking wine out of one of her two cups and holding her legs out in midair, right where a coffee table would be, if she had one.

I get it: Her hobby — and her YouTube brand — is promoting minimalism. Where I’d happily spend a Saturday afternoon picking burdocks out of a sheep fleece at my kitchen table, she might use that time to film herself paring down the medicine cabinet to two Tylenol caplets per family member. Different strokes.

Embracing “less is more” is one way to go through life. Another is kicking back on the sofa with your feet up on the coffee table, knitting, with your dog sleeping by your side.

I like my way better.

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