As regular readers will know, I am keen to frequent my local library. So, when I found a brand new copy of Dominque Loreau’s L’art de la Simplicité there, it was a chance to discover a new take on minimalism.
French by birth, Loreau has imbibed oriental philosophies, having lived in Japan for many years. I was very interested to see what she had to say about a topic that’s been close to my heart for a long time, but I have mixed feelings about this book.
What I liked about it
As you would expect, Loreau promotes the idea that less is more. Outer order, she argues, equals inner calm. In the early part of the book, she rehearses the key tenets of minimalism: your stuff owns you; say no to clutter and embrace simplicity with style.
Loreau does a really comprehensive job, as she covers not only the outwardly visible elements of one’s life, but also the inner, personal aspects of mind, body and spirit (including one’s diet). I admire this approach, as it provides a holistic, well-rounded manifesto for someone looking to make changes.
Where she lost me
Where Loreau lost me was in her highly prescriptive approach to what we should – or shouldn’t – own.
For me, the joy of minimalism is that it’s entirely up to you as to how you approach it: what works for you may not work for me, but we can still share a minimalist mindset.
A set of rules
In particular, I was bemused when I realised how rule-driven Loreau’s philosophy was. For example, one’s bag had to have certain characteristics and should contain – amongst other things – a personalised monogrammed handkerchief! With a 16-bullet-point ‘handbag checklist’, I was left feeling a little overwhelmed and glad that my second-hand tiny cross-body bag and backpack serve me just nicely, thank you very much.
Echoes of another best-seller
The author’s didactic tone had echoes of Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat, so if you read that and liked it, you may enjoy this little book.
Even better, if you are able to enjoy this work in its original form, I suspect it may be a better read. The translation into English created a great many short sentences, which read like a series of disconnected soundbites.
Authenticity over perfectionism
What I felt most strongly was that Loreau was promoting an almost unreachable ideal. Instead of encouraging the reader to enjoy minimalism in its many different forms, she promotes her own perfectionist ideals.
This reminded me of Brené Brown’s: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Personally, I’d much rather strive towards letting go of others’ ideals than to go after the perfectionism that Brown calls an “emotional shield.”
Minimalism is what ever you want it to be
During her visit to the UK, I was delighted to spend some time with the lovely Cait Flanders. Cait and I were discussing different approaches to minimalism and simple living. We resolved that, since everyone’s circumstances are unique, there simply cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
For example, scanning and letting go of physical photographs (aka The Minimalists) may be right up your street. But if you’re like me and you have around a dozen carefully-made albums (with sticky pages onto which your precious only copies sit), you’re unlikely to want to risk peeling them off the page.
My take on simple living
As you may have read in my previous post, I’ve discovered a number of ways to simplify my life. But what I found helpful may not be right for you. I would argue that, whilst we can take inspiration from those who espouse a particular philosophy, it’s always good to take a step back before we rush wholeheartedly into a new way of living.
Trying to emulate how someone else lives their minimalist lifestyle could end up becoming some form of reverse ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. Someone else’s bid for perfection may end up being a straight-jacket for you.
Write your own prescription
Going back to Loreau’s prescription for the ideal bag, I was listening to the Happier podcast yesterday. Presenter, Liz Craft, had been on a quest to find her own ‘perfect black purse’ as part of her “18 for 2018” personal ‘to-do list.’ Listeners had helpfully sent in lots of lovely suggestions, but none of them felt right. It was only when she realised that what she had been looking at wasn’t really “her” that she fell upon exactly the right bag.
So, write your own simplicity prescription and maybe you’ll be an inspiration to others without imposing unattainable ideals. After all, being authentic is so much better than aiming for perfection.
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