16 May 2012

Declutter for Civilization's Sake

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
In the years since William Morris first delivered his “The Beauty of Life” lecture in 1880, this quotation has taken on a life of its own. People put it on their bulletin boards, transcribe it in their diaries, and tweet about it on Twitter.

For many, it also helps them to change their lives. “The William Morris Project”, on a blog called “Pancakes and French Fries”, was created by a former lawyer named Jules, who found herself disturbed by the death of her friend's parents in 2011, and the things they had left behind. Instead of a carefully curated collection of objects that could have told volumes about their lives, they had left a white noise of designer handbags, eighties clothes, and redundant kitchen utensils.

With Morris's quotation as her guide, Jules set out to escape the fate of her friend's parents. Naturally, her project focused on de-cluttering her home, keeping only useful or beautiful things. Her project is still going today, and has a large following—it's even inspired others to follow suit.

At first, it may seem that the people involved in the project are overlooking Morris's depth by focusing on a piece of interior decorating advice, but Morris wouldn't think so. He dubbed his quotation “a golden rule that will fit everybody”, calling upon people to follow it not just for their own well being, but to help revive true art, and to save Society from the oblivion of consumption. At least, that's the message he brought to his Birmingham audience in 1880:

“that message is, in short, to call on you to face the latest danger which civilisation is threatened with, a danger of her own breeding : that men in struggling towards the complete attainment of all the luxuries of life for the strongest portion of their race should deprive their whole race of all the beauty of life...”

By forgoing lots of silly luxury items in favor of a few useful and beautiful things, Morris's followers would be resisting the tide of Victorian Capitalism, and they would become the saviors of Society. Perhaps Jules and her followers are the same: tidying up our culture of excess, one drawer at a time.


Pamela said...

So pleased you've recognized the inspiration and beauty Jules is bringing to her audience with her William Morris project. She's definitely helped raise awareness -- at least with me -- about this great thinker.

Alana in Canada said...

Thank you so much for your support of the Project.

I had not realised that Morris's famous remark was made in the context of promoting anti-consumerism, but I'm pleased and not at all surprised.

If all that is in your home is both beautiful and useful, and everything is there because you have allowed it, then contentment must be the result. And contentment is the antidote to consumerism.

I try to participate in the project every week, scouring my home to make it more useful and more beautiful without spending a dime. It really is a transformative excercise. I highly recommend it.

Tiffany @ No Ordinary Homestead said...

For most of us doing the William Morris Project (as we call it), it's about far more than just sprucing up our homes. It's about making them into something we love -- and learning the difference between things we need and things we just have around.

I personally have been one of those people that had more space than I knew what to do with, and we just let things collect over the years. Now we're moving across Germany, from a huge farmhouse into a small apartment. It's a major downsizing operation that would make a lot of people crazy in the process. But thanks to Jules' great project, I was already in a mindset to purge and keep only the things I use and/or love -- otherwise I probably would not have made it this far already.

Antonella said...

Lovely put!
I'm sure trying to apply this golden rule myself.
thank you for the remind.

Veritate said...

Is it 'useful or beautiful' or is it 'useful and beautiful'?
Which is the better advice?