A Case for the Simple Life : Philosophies of lifestyle design...

A Case for the Simple Life : Philosophies of lifestyle design...


It is really true that "when the student is ready, the teacher shall appear". Ever since deciding to embark on this new creative journey of refining the design of my life through this blog and related design pursuits, it seems as though all the information I need to progress has begun to be made manifest through the miracle of serendipity.

In preparation for this journey I have been filling my mind with many thoughts: thoughts of others, and my own; exploring modes of living from the lavish to the austere. Personally, my desired mode of living is decidedly luxurious, but I've been forced to redefine what I consider luxury to be due to the assessment of my resources (financial and otherwise) and also due to a radical paradigm shift that was sparked by intense feelings of overwhelm. Specifically, I knew that I valued beauty and serenity in all areas of my life, but I found myself being pushed toward certain interpretations of those things that were largely dictated by society, and not necessarily by own convictions. Now don't get me wrong...It's not that I felt straight-jacketed by a lack of funds, necessarily. In my line of work I design lush environments for others on a daily basis. However, I think an honest look at my life left me feeling as though the things that I valued weren't quite as obvious as more square footage, or shinier finishes. Having parameters within which to work meant that I had to be more judicious in my editing of my "wants" list. As I began to edit, I actually realized that I was beginning to feel TRUER to myself. In a quest to discover whether there were others who felt similarly, I stumbled across several motivations for what I would term "the simple life" that have helped to shape my direction in my lifestyle design, and also the content that will grace this blog in the future.


Philosophies of "The Simple Life"

A touch of Transcendentalism


Recently I randomly stumbled across "The Innermost House" - a veritably prestigious tiny house in Williamsburg, Virginia. I had no intentions of becoming too absorbed in the actual physical aesthetic and design of the chic shack, since one notable critique of the Caribbean design landscape is that, too often, we get our inspirations "from foreign" instead of our own context. What moved me to pay further attention to the Innermost House project, however, was the philosophy behind the 144sf bungalow. 

The Innermost House is one of the built environments that came out of the Transcendentalism movement in 19th century New England. It's proponents like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were intensely invested in exploring Utopian ideals which would emerge out of encouraging Individualistic thought, community living, and synergy with the natural environment. Austere homes like this were built as experiments to test the practicality of the Transcendentalist lifestyle, which was in direct rebellion to the push toward industrialization that was happening at the time (which was usually also linked with dehumanization and materialism.) 

Exterior photo of "The Innermost House" as provided by the its occupant: Diana Lorence

Exterior photo of "The Innermost House" as provided by the its occupant: Diana Lorence

Innermost House is described as a place dedicated to "the practical ideal of simple living, high thinking and fellow feeling at the foundations of modern life". I mean...can I just press the pause button and bask in the profundity of that statement?

Simple Living: Stripping the living environment and functional life to the bare necessities, to focus the mind on what is truly important, and to also free up energy for "higher" pursuits of intellectual and spiritual merit

High Thinking: Space (especially the home) being seen as an environment for quiet chats on weighty matters; knowledge transfer- through literature and conversation, and a storehouse of wisdom beyond what is easily accessible via digital doorways.

Fellow feeling: Turning the attention toward community life, noting how intimate space can facilitate the fostering of richer, closer relationships- disconnecting us from STUFF and reconnecting us with EACH OTHER.

I cannot help but be inspired to curiosity by these ideals. I was driven to begin my personal life exploration because I was frustrated with how expensive construction prices were, and how demanding my career had become, yet leaving me with little hope of accessing a high standard of living (or so I thought). I had convinced myself that what I desired was out of my reach; that is, until I turned the spotlight on what I really wanted. I had to ask myself the hard question: "What is informing your desires?"

Minimalist photograph by Alex (@worthyofelegance)

Minimalist photograph by Alex (@worthyofelegance)


Fast forward to the present, and another movement: MINIMALISM has taken the world by storm. The original minimalists: Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, describe the goal of Minimalism as follows: "Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom." Again we see this thought of stripping life down to its meaningful essentials in an attempt to gain greater access to its higher virtues.  In a convicting article on the The Minimalists Blog entitled "Who am I buying this for?" a very familiar modern scenario is described. Milburn and Nicodemus pen the following: 


"The things we own don’t tell the world who we are, but, sadly, they often communicate who we want to be. When this happens, we mistakenly let our possessions shape our identity.
The logoed shirts.
The luxury vehicles.
The stacks of unread books.
The up-to-date smartphones.
The drawers brimming with cosmetics.
The mementos from our last vacation.
We spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t know.
What a cycle."

I couldn't have identified the source of my angst in a more concise way. I looked at my life and realized that I had been trying to afford a lifestyle was entirely inauthentic to my deepest values. 

The Mandate of Faith

Curiously, the words of Jesus echo a similar refrain to that above: "“Watch out!  against every form of greed, for a man’s  life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions"- Luke 12:15. I had to confront the fact that some of the things that I was clamoring for didn't even line up with my faith! Having solidified this dissonance in my heart, I sent forth to redesign my life: motivations and their manifestations, and "Built without Hands" was born.


Interestingly, though, unlike what the above suggests, I am not necessarily expecting that the outcome of designing my life will be barren, or puritanical in any way. I am no transcendentalist, neither am I minimalist, but I do like the concept of being willing to let go in order to gain. I do not think that tiny homes are the answer, rather I believe that what works for each individual, extraneous to societal pressures, is a path worth exploring. I am open to seeing what the process of critical thinking, intelligent individualism, lifestyle curation, and removal of excess will deliver to my life. I am hoping the entire process will lead me to a clearer understanding of what I believe about design, and about what is important. I hope that necessity will be the mother of invention, and that I will find a deep contentment by rediscovering the simple luxuries that can be afforded with the resources I already have. An additional layer to this, is exploring how being from the Caribbean- both geographically and culturally, influences all of this. I will leave you all with a few words that have tickled my heart today:

"To live content with small means. To seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion. To be worthy not respectable, and wealthy not rich. To study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars, birds, babes, and sages with open heart, to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony."
- William Henry Channing
How do you want to live?