A Meditation on Less Being More

The Snark Zone: Letters From the Editors
Theryn “Beaver” Fleming

When I was young, my parents were always fixing up the houses we lived in, painting and wallpapering, building fences and decks, tearing up fugly shag carpet, and paneling rooms in knotty pine (hey, you can always paint it white!). They bought furniture at secondhand stores and refinished it; my dad built furniture from scratch. My mom knit and sewed and crocheted and did embroidery and needlepoint and macramé. We always had a garden (complete with compost), and consequently a freezer full of fruits and veggies, as well as a cold room packed with canning and jam. We held garage sales for stuff we didn’t use anymore. Most of the zillions of books I read were either from the library or the used bookstore where I traded stacks of just-finished books for new-to-me ones.

I never thought much about this at the time, but in retrospect it’s interesting. Because, well, all this stuff is the new nerdy-cool. Now, if you grow your own food, compost, refinish secondhand furniture, make crafts… you’re not just thrifty, you’re green! And while that’s awesome, I can’t help thinking: wait. What’s new about this? Why doesn’t anyone else know how to freeze blackberries (that they picked themselves) or hem a pair of pants or prep a piece of furniture for painting? It made me realize that, while all these things seemed normal in the context of time and place, I guess it wasn’t really an average childhood experience.

It has always puzzled me that one of the biggest problems on design shows seems to be people’s inability to imagine things in a configuration other than the one they are already in. This has never been an issue for me; I’m always rearranging stuff in my head (aren’t all writers? hey you! go there now!). Now I’m thinking that perhaps my facility with that—both in real and fictional worlds—can perhaps be traced back to my childhood of making things and repurposing things and deciding what to hang onto and what to trade for something new. It was an experience that has not only gifted me with the ability to do stuff myself (which is infinitely useful) but also seems to have made me a creative thinker.

Lately, I’ve had to reconfigure my (very small) apartment and in the midst of this, it occurred to me that all this rearranging, repurposing, and removing is a lot like the writing process. Although it has left me with fewer things, what’s left is more representative of me—I’ve kept what I love and/or need, and have let go of stuff I’ve kept simply because I had it for a long time. A small space is like working within the confines of a word limit; it makes you think carefully about adding anything new. Do I love this? Will it work in this space? All the time knowing that if you do find something you love (or something that just works better), adding it might mean letting go of something else. Just as sometimes you have to murder your darlings in order for the piece you’re working on to be the best it can be.

It can be hard to make do with less, but less can sometimes be more. Just as a tiny suite can be a jewel of design, while a McMansion might be spacious but have no soul, a flash piece of 500 words might leave you reeling while a 500-page novel leaves you flat. You don’t always need more words to say what you want to say. You just need to choose the right ones, and arrange them in the right way—and know when to stop.

E-mail: beaver[at]toasted-cheese.com

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