I have a fascination with the idea of minimal and nomadic lifestyles.  There are various web memes regarding these subjects, such as the one of living with only 50 or 75 or 100 possessions (those numbers exclude furniture and shared items such as kitchen tools) or spending one’s life in a nomadic fashion, through perpetual camping, couch-surfing, or RV-ing.

The irony is, of course, that I spend my life making physical objects.  I look around at the tools of my trade: a cutting table that’s 6×12 feet, a few sewing machines that easily weigh 150 pounds apiece, and the rolls of fabric.  all the notions that allow the making of garments: thread, buttons, zippers.  typically I buy in bulk because it’s cheaper-  so I have, say, a hundred black 18″ invisible zippers.

Then there’s the locational commitment.  I’m two-thirds of the way through a three year lease on two retail locations in the downtown of Portland.

I sometimes (often) fantasize about giving it all up and traveling.  The problem, of course, is that I like making things.  I could (and do) earn money in other ways, and I can find a level of satisfaction in building websites.  But I don’t think it would satisfy my need to sew clothing, as artistic expression.

Ten years ago in college, I made the very conscious decision to discontinue making art objects and only make clothing.  It satisfied the functional aspect of minimalism, while still permitting the making.

Generally speaking, my personal tendency is towards non-extreme minimalism.  When I’m not at work, I wear the same thing every day.  Shopping is not something I do for fun. I usually only buy clothing if I’m stranded away from home and cold. I don’t buy art or have it on my walls. Most of the clothes I have I made.  I even keep my computer desktop a flat, neutral color, usually pale lavender.

I do indulge in technology, and have, um, a few computers (less than I used to though!)  I tend to buy books, not borrow them. I have tons of exotic kitchen equipment from the raw food days.  Since writing is the primary way I learn, I have piles of notebooks filled with language studies or other thoughts.

but I also love to make lists of the things I would keep were I to give up the making-stuff business and just live with 100 items. and I love to read other people’s lists. (here are two from far beyond the stars and exile lifestyle )

And I love the make lists of the places I would go and the languages I will learn.

The thing, however, is that I love making clothing, and I feel pretty good at it now.  I would and do miss my sewing room whenever I travel for more than a week.  I’m trying to come up with an alternative minimalism that encompasses an art-making practice, one where the aesthetic isn’t particularly minimal either.

Some ideas:

1. have only 50 personal possessions, excluding things I made (one way I promote my work is, of course, by wearing my designs. So I don’t really want to limit the ownership of clothing I made.)

2. books don’t count.  notebooks don’t count. furniture and cooking tools don’t count.  food doesn’t count. underwear and socks count as groups.

3.  create a separate count for the tools of my trade: sewing machines, cutting tables, scissors, notchers, etc.  Not counted are raw materials: fabric, thread, buttons.  Also not counted, or counted in groups: things like clothing hangers, pricetags, etc required to sell the clothing.

4. really, seriously consider any purchases for the clothing business and how to avoid them.  I am already doing this to a certain extent.  Over the past year my fabric & notion purchases have dropped dramatically, as I focus on creatively using that which I already own…which is a lot. yes, it’s good for the bottom line, but it’s also in-line with a sustainable practice.  One sort-of unexpected outcome has been that I am happier with the designs being created-  they are more one of a kind, often incorporating unusual piecing techniques to reduce fabric waste-  but I don’t really know how to sell one-of-a-kind things wholesale…so haven’t been doing that at all.

Posted by:Brook DeLorme

3 replies on “minimalism vs making

  1. I love this post. I’m thinking through a lot of the same issues now, though I’m not an artist, because I’m planning a year off from work and playing with the idea of travelling.

    I’m something of a minimalist too, at least that’s my aesthetic, for every object, line on the page, there needs to be a certain amount of space, usually white. I live in black yoga pants or slouchy jeans and some sort of comfy/sexy t-shirt. I don’t have much in the way of things. Just TONS of books and shelves to hold them. Minimal furniture. I probably have fewer than fifty things excluding your categories above. And clothes. Though compared to most, I have very few. Everything fits in a 1960’s sized closet.

    My problem is that even with the small amount of stuff I do have, I can’t move it around from one living space to the other, for much under $1000. An out of state move might cost a bunch more. Darn books …

    Maybe if I could drive a truck … but I don’t even have a driver’s license!

    What I’m realizing, for the first time, is that my stuff is limiting me. I’m “anchored” as a result of it. Being anchored is a not always bad thing. Sometimes it’s a good thing. To put down roots, so to speak.

    I’m realizing that I need a mooring. I love the idea of travel, but I love equally having a roost. A place to call home. Not a storage unit. If I were to travel, I’d like to go and come. And when I come, I’d like all my books to be there.

    Alas! A mooring is not cheap. And I’m not independently wealthy, I don’t really have passive income streams, etc. So I can’t really pay rent AND travel. If I want to travel, I have to give up my apartment. A few people have suggested it, saying how sad it would be to not travel. But the thought of putting everything into storage … living on the road … I can’t bear it.

  2. hi Elizabeth…I understand :) after writing this post, I went home and started tearing apart my closets, sorting out what I can give away. Where you have your books, I have my sewing machines. They need to be around when upon return from travels…I wish I knew the solution. Keep me posted on your decisions- and your travel plans, sounds like a great journey. :)

  3. I identify with this, too, as I love to sew my own clothes but have to move a lot. It’s a constant balancing act–how much do I need with me (fabric, supplies, machines, patterns) to feel like I can create freely, and how much do I need to keep myself from acquiring so it’s not a complete pain to pack up the car and move on to the next place? Sometimes it just gets so frustrating that I stow my stuff at someone else’s house so I won’t have to break down yet another sewing setup and instead work solely on hand projects. When I do this, though, I miss the stimulation and creative flow of churning out garments, so it’s not a long-term solution. Hmm…Guess I’ll just have to keep feeling it out.

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