Charlie's Blog: March 2021


Blue Collar Simplicity

 Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

I would not make it as an interior designer. The primary reason for this is that I am heterosexual. Decorating is an effeminate domain, and I am not made for that sort of thing. Yet, the realm of aesthetics is inescapable. A farmer who buys a tractor or a pickup truck still has to pick a color. Likewise, your lifestyle and choices are going to reflect aesthetic decisions and a philosophy even if everything you own is a chaos of bad taste and clutter. If I gave a name to my own aesthetic sensibility, it would be "blue collar simplicity."

Currently, there is a tug of war between the aesthetic gluttons known as maximalists and the aesthetic anorexics known as minimalists. Maximalists believe that more is more, and their lifestyles and decor reflect this. They pack as many trinkets and eye candy as they can find into their living spaces. Or, they are just clutterbugs and hoarders justifying having way too much stuff. On the other extreme end of this continuum are the minimalists who believe that less is more, and this gets reflected in their spartan apartments and monochromatic lifeless color schemes. Both of these extremes represent the binge and purge of modern consumerist culture.

I do not believe in maximalism or minimalism. I do not believe that more is more or less is more. I believe simple is better. My blue collar simplicity design and lifestyle philosophy reflects this motto. What does blue collar simplicity look like? Essentially, it has the same aim for fewer things as minimalism but without the aesthetic tyranny. I will explain.

I cannot be a minimalist. I considered myself a minimalist at one time in my life until the term took on a different meaning over the following decade. When I was into minimalism, it just meant having few possessions. I suspected that minimalism would die when economic hard times ended. Instead, it evolved into buying more elegant looking things. Minimalism went from simplicity to perfection. That's when I stepped off the train.

There is a primary reason I cannot be a minimalist. I can't afford it. Minimalism is expensive because you end up throwing away perfectly good and functional products and furniture to buy less functional and more expensive products and furniture because they look sleeker and more minimal. An example of this would be getting rid of your cheap and ugly but exquisitely functional $300 Dell laptop to purchase a $1000 Macbook. I am the guy who keeps the Dell and mocks the Apple products as being form over function.

The problem with minimalism is obvious. It values aesthetics to the exclusion of all other values such as durability, utility, thrift, and modesty. It eschews the conspicuous consumption of maximalism but conspicuously posts endless Instagram pictures of the minimalist decor. I don't care for any of that garbage.

The tenets of blue collar simplicity are twofold--modesty and functionality. That's it. The modesty is reflected in having fewer things that are inexpensive and not flashy. The functionality is reflected in having durable things that get the job done. Those are the only two things I consider when buying an item. As far as looks go, I will opt for brown, blue, and black over cherry red or hot pink. And when I declutter, I trade out for items that are more modest and more functional. I don't get hung up on what a thing looks like.

The freedom of blue collar simplicity comes from having fewer things like the minimalists but the option of buying those things from Walmart or the thrift store. And like the maximalists, I am OK if things don't match and tend towards the eclectic. I also like electronics and appliances that have buttons and features instead of sleek designs.

Blue collar simplicity is not pretty. It has a grittiness that comes from a low tolerance for the frivolous and the useless. I think there are places and spaces for pretty things like churches and museums. I don't care to live in a museum. Some places are inherently ugly like garages, workshops, and factories. I don't care to live in those places either. I pick the middle place of simplicity. I want a space where I can live, but I like having a potted plant and a picture on the wall. I just let my wife handle those details that bring warmth to a simple home.

Blue collar simplicity is a tough sell because there's nothing to sell. Basically, you get rid of things you don't need and keep things you do need and probably own already. Then, you maintain this simplicity with regular decluttering and avoidance of recluttering. If you declutter one item daily and never buy things you don't need, you will end up living as simply as possible but no simpler. Decluttering is not a destination but a regular practice like brushing your teeth. As for stress, perfectionism causes as much turmoil as chaos. It is enough to live a simple life.