Tag Archives: Atlas Shrugged

Why (Selfish) Minimalism?

I thought I’d share a bit about why I became particularly interested in minimalism.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I admire the minimalist aesthetic described in Ayn Rand’s novels (find sample passages in my earlier posts). For most of my early life (before reading Rand) I was a minimalist of necessity, for three reasons:

(1) I was an army brat, so we moved frequently. Each time we moved, my mother pared down our possessions. (Unfortunately, I don’t recall playing a role in the paring-down process. That would have helped me a lot, but I can understand how it would be difficult to have the time and patience to sort through a daughter’s possessions with her—especially when you have three daughters, as my mother did!)

(2) We grew up “house poor”—my parents bought houses that were so expensive, they could not afford much else, including material gifts for us.

(3) My mother was, as I would have described her, a “neat freak.” I was very torn about this because, on the one hand, it often interfered with my having fun and relaxing; however, on the other hand, I have fond memories of being able to dust shelves perfectly because I needed only to remove¬†and replace a few objects.

As a college student and, later, as a law student, I still could not afford to accumulate much stuff. But I accumulated and hung on to what I could and, more importantly, had no idea about how methodically to review what I did own with respect to its relevance. My mother died at the beginning of my law school career, and only after law school was I even in a position to start accumulating possessions and setting down roots. Once I got married and also had an income of my own, I was able for the first time to start buying all sorts of things I could not have considered earlier, and I went a bit crazy with it (no doubt reacting to my “house poor” childhood and protracted years as a “starving student”). Still, no idea about how methodically to review what I owned and systematically discard what was no longer relevant. Then, when I got divorced over a decade later, I moved into a much smaller space and took way too much of the stuff with me. (Another factor during all this time was that I accumulated not only too many things, but also too many activities, so that I would tell myself that I would sort through all that stuff at the end of the semester or, after that big dog agility competition, or after I finished writing that chapter or article, or after that great overseas trip, etc.) The last straw was when my grandmother and great aunt died a few years ago, and I wasn’t able to find the time to sort through all their stuff. What did I do? Packed it up and moved it to my already-stuffed-to-the-gills house and garage.

So, for the last few years I’ve been very slowly, too slowly, paring down this massive accumulation of possessions, periodically looking at images of the spacious interiors in Dwell Magazine for inspiration. (I love the aesthetic of much that is featured in Dwell, even though I could do without the “green” slant that seems to go along with it these days.) More recently, I came across the minimalist movement and have been working to separate the life-improving wheat from the altruist/”green”/ascetic chaff.

So, just as many people make a specialized study of diet when they are in the process of achieving their goals with respect to health or weight, I have been making a specialized study of minimalism because I am in the process of achieving my goals with respect to, in effect, curating my possessions.

That’s my story. If you’d like, I’d love to hear yours in the comments.

“Selection, Not Accumulation”

HT to Joe Maurone for this find from p. 736 of Atlas Shrugged:

There was an air of luxury about the room, but it was the luxury of expert simplicity; she noted the costly furniture, carefully chosen for comfort, bought somewhere at a time when luxury had still been an art. There were no superfluous objects, but she noticed a small canvas by a great master of the Renaissance, worth a fortune, she noticed an Oriental rug of a texture and color that belonged under glass in a museum. This was Mulligan’s concept of wealth, she thought—the wealth of selection, not of accumulation.

Dagny Taggart’s Apartment

From pages 66-67 of Atlas Shrugged:

Her apartment was two rooms on the top floor of a skyscraper. The sheets of glass in the corner window of her living room made it looks like the prow of a ship in motion, and the lights of the city were like phosphorescent sparks on the black waves of steel and stone. When she turned on a lamp, long triangles of shadow cut the bare walls, in a geometrical pattern of light rays broken by a few angular pieces of furniture. She stood in the middle of the room, alone between city and sky.