This week’s minimalist reading is sort of mixed a blessing: Dominique Loreau introduces different ideas of minimalism from ‘oriental’ (as she calls it), European and American backgrounds. Born in France, she lived in England and the US and traveled through Canada, Mexico, and Central America before settling in Japan, where she has been living for over 30 years. Therefore, her experiences vary from other authors in the field, many of whom started their minimalist journey because they wanted to simplify their overburdened Western lives – without first-hand knowledge about the minimalist ways of life in other communities all over the world. Dominique, on the other hand, seems to have seen and experienced a lot of different mentalities, practices, and people, gradually finding her home in Japan, with its customs and mindsets that are so different from Western European and American ways of thinking and living life. Bringing together all these diverse ideas of living with less in her book results in a nonetheless intriguing and very eclectic mix. Even though some parts can be rather irritating, to say the least.
Let me show you what I mean …
The good …
The book is divided into three parts, “Materialism and Minimalism”, “Body”, and “Mind”. Overall, this makes sense and supports a well-structured reading experience. Especially in Part one, she doesn’t necessarily add anything new and completely unheard of to the discussion, at least for those who have read their fair share of minimalism and declutter authors like Kondo, Becker, Fields Milburn & Nicodemus, Carver, Jay … Her insights into Japanese living and thinking though are interesting and true gems, for instance:
Yang Soetsu, the Japanese philosopher and collector of folk art, reminded us that just as a good worker is strong and healthy, so an object destined for daily use should be robust and made to last
If we are to age better, to tread more lightly as we go forward, we should take inspiration from the Japanese and their customs, and adopt a lifestyle focused on strict essentials, but embracing comfort and refinement.
These are things you may have read in various books or blogs on minimalism, but Dominique provides a context for where this is coming from. Getting a better understanding of some of the ideas I like and work with – as it is with Marie Kondo and Shintoism – not only opens new horizons but also allows me to do some research if I want to find out more.
Moreover, apart from interesting and inspiring references to the Japanese and Chinese mentalities Dominique includes important ideas and suggestions on how to live well with less. As so often, these ideas might not work for everyone, but they are still worth considering, such as:
Promise yourself to keep only the things you love. The rest is meaningless. Don’t let your world become filled by the past, or by objects you find mediocre. Own little, but the best of everything.
This sounds like a brilliant idea, of course. But in real life, things might be a bit different. Just like a wooden spoon isn’t an object that ‘sparks joy’, there are countless other household items that we don’t really ‘love’ but just need. As always with ideas like this, it sounds wonderful in theory and it makes sense regarding a lot of items and things we own. But when you find yourself decluttering your kitchen and you start asking yourself if you truly love every pot and pan you own, you might feel a bit stupid. At least I do.
But let’s move on to some debatable aspects of the book.
…the bad …
Because we live in a world that is full of cliches, there are also some regarding French women: they don’t age, they share a very unique sense of style, drink champagne all day, and they are thin. Dominique too lives up to these cliches when, regarding personal possessions, she recommends:
Swap your battered armchairs for a really comfortable, good-quality sofa, your silver for impeccable, stainless steel […], and your therapy sessions for a case of fine champagne!
First of all, I’m a huge fan of armchairs and up-cycling – so in my book, if you have battered armchairs your really love, treat them with new upholstery and coverings and voila they will feel brand-new. Second, I was lucky enough to find a good therapist and enjoyed helpful and important therapy sessions for more than four years of my life. Even if this is just a little joke, in general, Dominique takes herself and her suggestions VERY seriously, so I find it absurd and questionable to include such a bit of stupid advice. You should never stop therapy if you need and want help, and never ever ever swap it for alcohol. Please don’t ever do that…!
But the stereotypes won’t end here. When writing about what and how much you should pack when traveling, Dominique emphasizes the importance of a “priceless, essential vanity case”. Because
Your vanity case is the first thing you open in your hotel room and your ally for a clean and tidy bathroom. Hunting for your toothbrush at the bottom of your suitcase after a fifteen-hour flight is never fun, not forgetting the space all your essentials for personal comfort and grooming can take up in a handbag or suitcase – those little bottles, your hairdryer and curlers, slipper, sewing and nail kits.
Don’t get me wrong but this comes from a woman who recommends buying a high-quality pashmina shawl to keep you warm in bed, be decorative around the house, and which can also be taken to the car and on a plane (…?). Suddenly we need to bring our own hairdryer, curlers, and slippers to a hotel? Who needs these things anyway – at least on the road? Even the most basic hotels usually provide a hairdryer, sometimes even slippers. Also, why wear slippers when you can wear socks with and without shoes? In the context of her writing, she sometimes contradicts herself, though in this case, I’m nitpicking, I know …
What I find more problematic than contradicting arguments are her remarks and recommendations regarding food, eating, and fasting – another stereotype she fulfills. Being thin is important and she considers this from various perspectives, using mainly health- but also fitness- and beauty-related arguments. The only time she shares affirmations in her book – that also contains chapters on mental health and mental well-being, two topics that could use some supportive affirmations – is in regard to eating, shedding some weight, and fasting. From page 153 to page 159 she shares such gems as
An empty stomach clears the head, cleanses the spirit, and feels pleasant.
Food is only a problem when it’s not chosen and eaten correctly. Rice, pasta or bread once a day is enough.
I can be slim, even if I have never been slim before.
I can be as beautiful and slim as I wish.
Fasting is an art to be cultivated.
I don’t need dozens of outfits. I need a slim body.
Of course, she also adds platitudes like “I like myself the way I am, and I always will”, which is nice, but the overall message clearly shows that being thin should be our main goal. And while it’s clear that being overweight is not healthy and can lead to a lot of issues the older (and/or heavier) you get, being thin is not the holy grail to omit all evil. We already live in a culture that hypes certain slender/thin body types above all else; adding to this distorted image in a book that has no need to focus on weight more than necessary seems pointless and troublesome. At least to me. Also, she shares some advice on fasting while not really giving thorough information regarding how to do it. This could be dangerous for people who follow her suggestions on a whim without informing themselves properly.
These are my key points of criticism regarding Dominique’s book. She is doing her best to cover a wide array of topics, so it’s no surprise some things don’t work out as well. Besides, books like these should inspire you and present you with some new ideas you may consider adapting as you need it. This should not serve as a guidebook you have to follow to the t – enjoy the parts that truly ‘speak’ to you and ignore the rest. In the end, it’s still an interesting and inspiring read, as I will show you in the last paragraph.
…and the golden
As stated before, Dominique does not reinvent the wheel and there’s no need for that. What she does instead is adding a Japanese/Chinese/Korean twist to the common knowledge of the minimalism universe. This enhances what many of us have already heard and read very often. In many cases, these references are obvious only in small details, when she mentions the importance of the little things, gestures, and actions for ourselves and our lives. When it becomes clear that a slow, quiet, and peaceful life may be more worthwhile than seeking fame and fortune (so to say).
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you must do whatever you want straight away, before it’s too late. Whatever you do now will prepare you for the things you will do in the future. Everything you do is cumulative.
This refers to a certain sense of mindfulness in our being and our everyday life. With a slower pace and an awareness for the fleeting of time, one may never waste one’s time, even when doing nothing at all. I find this thought both reassuring and inspiring at the same time because even though I might not always spend my time doing things I SHOULD do, this does not mean I waste it …
We are powerless in the face of disease, death and nightmares, but our tidy cupboards stand as proof that we can and do control our own tiny corner of the universe.
When we create an ordered environment, we order our inner selves, too. Every drawer full of clutter emptied, every cupboard tidied, every productive effort of organisation and simplification reaffirms our sense of control over our own lives.
This would be perfect for my gran, who is the epitome of OCD Anonymous. Therefore, I know that this idea might be dangerous for some because they take it quite literally. But overall I find some truth in it, especially since I started my own minimalism and decluttering journey nearly three years ago. When I feel down and anxious about what lies ahead, I find great comfort in decluttering and cleaning out my closet, the bathroom, my bookshelves, or something else. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and security to tidy my little corner of the world. I like living in a clean and tidy setting, though I still have more than enough stuff – it’s just less than a few years earlier. And it might be even less two years from now. Living with less improves my focus on what’s important for me and helps me calm down. It’s also great for all my ADHD-related issues. So I’m with Dominique on that.
Each time you feel the onset of anxiety, each time you feel lost, alone, depressed, full of bitterness, negativity or anger, take up an interesting book, put on a different outfit and do whatever you can to make your surroundings brighter and more cheerful: buy flowers, put on music, light incense, or a scented candle. You might make time for yoga, a few gym exercises, to write in your diary, take a bath or go out for a walk. The important thing is to stop the flow of negative thoughts until new energy replaces what was there before.
I absolutely love this quote. Don’t get me wrong, of course, it’s not always that easy to calm the anxious or depressed mind – otherwise, thousands of therapists would be out of their jobs. But more often than not it’s important to do something, anything, to refocus, distract your mind, and find some better place to take your thoughts to. If I’m anxious and can’t find any peace of mind, I like to write in my diary, note all my fears and thoughts and usually, this improves my mood and state of mind massively. I also like to clean and tidy up or do some yoga.
Would I recommend this book? Yes. Even though Dominique sounds rather rigorous – at certain times you feel like one should not own more than a futon, a pashmina shawl and a “priceless” vanity case – I like the mix of Eastern and Western philosophies and mindsets she introduces and blends in her arguments. Though my review lacks a clear example of this – I couldn’t find an appropriate quote that I find important enough – this is an important feature of this book.
Take it with a grain of salt though. You can be happy and healthy and NOT be slim. You don’t need to own a vanity case or discard your beloved battered armchairs. Go see your therapist and drink some champagne afterward, if you feel like it. And more than anything: love yourself, and love your life 🙂
Until next time, take care & stay safe!