Minimalism and Hygge and Albert Einstein

Once you wade through all the Obama videos and Trump Tweets on Facebook, you’ll see an ocean of posts about Hygge and Minimalism.  These are two seemingly contradictory lifestyle trends that have caught our nation’s domestic fancy. Hygge is the Danish lifestyle concept centered on warmth and coziness. Rooms can be hygge, activities can be hygge, people can be hygge. Think cookies and cuddling, fluffy pillows and roaring fires. The minimalism we refer to here is not the music of Steve Reich or the paintings of Frank Stella (well, maybe one painting), but to the beautiful, almost Zen austerity of sparse living that has become very popular in Japan (and in some of the more well-swept corners of the US).

The new minimalism is like Marie Kondo’s Tidying-Up on steroids. Where Kondo advocates finding the spark of joy in the things you own, Minimalism suggests finding it in the things you do not. Think John Lennon’s “Imagine no possessions,” and you’re getting close. The new lifestyle minimalists find joy in nothing. There’s more space to breathe, without shopping or cleaning there is more time to simply be. It sounds kind of magical.

We started wondering if the less-is-more and the more-comfy-is-more concepts can coexist – and even keep house together (gasp!). Einstein immediately came to mind. Albert Einstein is famous for having a messy, cluttered desk (for other things too, of course). He was proud of it: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” But he also was said to have worn the same suit every day (not the same suit, he had several in the style, of the same fabric and size). This is not exactly true, his second wife, Elsa, made sure of it. But later in life, after her death, he loved wearing cotton sweatshirts. Presumably, his wardrobe reflected his passion for simplicity.

His statement: “It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience,” sure sounds like a kind of Zen minimalism. In other words, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

It can certainly be said that most of us (in the States anyway) have more than we need to survive. We may very well be happier with less. The benefits of a minimalist lifestyle include more space, more time; less stuff equals (or can equal) more money. Ideally, when you live minimally, you’ll have more energy for things besides things. Again this sounds magical.

I took a search online for cozy minimalism and found lots of sparse apartments decorated with fur throws, baroque oversized picture frames, and over-stuffed chairs. They looked lovely but did not quite embody a kind of philosophy as do Hygge and Minimalism. Perhaps coziness and austerity can coexist, but not online and you might have to be a genius to pull it off.