In late 1993, when I was still living in Boston, I was avoiding the rain by strolling through the mall at Copley Place. At the time, Crabtree & Evelyn had a store there, into which I meandered to mindlessly peruse the men’s grooming offerings to kill time. After whiffing a couple that didn’t grab me, my nose was struck by a cologne unlike any I had ever smelled. Continue reading
For the most part, men’s fashion shows or collection look books seem to cater to men in a rock band or to rich, club kid, fashion-slave pop tarts who might as well complete the look with a Michael Kors-branded lunchbox and a Molly-flavored lollipop. Personally, I’m interested in the more grown-up aesthetic that can actually be worn by a confident adult man over thirty-five without trying to recapture lost youth – a filter that really narrows the playing field. Continue reading
How to go casual is not a problem with men. I never feel a compulsion to write about hoodies, jeans, sweatpants and sneakers because “As-Casually-As-Humanly-Possible” is a powerful and overwhelming chorus that doesn’t need another voice, no matter how many respected designers and luxury brands send them down the runway. As Bill Maher inimitably put it, our country won’t stop until we can hit the mall in Crocs and a diaper.
Put a guy in a situation like a beach, a gym or a JAY Z concert, and he can demonstrate uncanny sartorial appropriateness – even if he’s nowhere near a beach, a gym or a JAY Z concert. But send a guy an invitation to a black tie event and it’s like watching a dog walk on its hind legs. Continue reading
This past weekend, I was visiting friends (a couple) who live in a good sized one-bedroom apartment here in Manhattan. Their apartment features a nicely-sized bedroom, a perfectly efficient bathroom, a great living room with ample space for a nice dining area, a full kitchen with one of those wall-through countertops perfect for bar stools on the other side, and a balcony. They also have a huge closet in the bedroom and two other closets in the small hall outside their bedroom. With all of this, they have accumulated enough clothes, furniture, appliances and general “stuff” to fill a small house.
In their living room, there were several bags and packages of stuff. I asked if they were donating goods to Housing Works or some other charitable thrift. “No, it’s our winter stuff. We’re taking it to our storage space later.” Like many New Yorkers (and people elsewhere, too), they’ve designed a lifestyle that transcends the constraint of their space.
New York City apartments are famously small and especially skimpy on closet space, particularly in older buildings. And now, we as consumers seem to require than ever: more clothes, more shoes, more gadgets, more furniture, more books, more space, more, more, more. Consequently, storage is a booming business.
Does all of this “more” bring more happiness with it? Articles on studies about this actually suggest the opposite, pointing to the stress of managing all of it, which requires more space, more time, more energy and more money. More more.
For me, a key to negotiating all of this is the design principle of one of my idols: Dieter Rams. His iconic designs for Braun defined how we understand and interact with many of the modern personal and home electronics we use today, especially from Apple. The German design legend applied his ethos not just to gadgetry but to living in general. Rams’ motto is “less but better.”
For seven years, I rented a storage space, throwing away an additional $100 each month on top of my rent and other expenses to accommodate my lack of restraint, my inability to edit my life, and my refusal to accept the constraints of the space in which I lived. In those seven years, I spent over $8,000 holding onto furniture I never missed, clothes I never wore, books I would never re-read, and technology that became obsolete.
When I moved into the 450 square foot studio I now occupy, I made a decision. I looked at my then new empty apartment, assessed all of my possessions, and heard the words of Tim Gunn from Project Runway: “Make it work.” With the exception of two extra Eames plastic shell chairs, I got rid of all the contents of the storage space, selling some and donating most. And after three months in the new apartment, I even ended up selling the extra Eames chairs. As much as I loved them, they couldn’t work in the space.
As I type this missive, I have two side tables and two bookcases posted on Craigslist. I’ve struggled to find a purpose and a place for them in my apartment, but to no avail. Yes, they’re great-looking, but they don’t fit in my humble home or in my life. Because of that, they go.
After many years (and many dollars) living in a way that aspired to a home and a lifestyle that I hoped to have instead of accepting the home and lifestyle that I actually had, it now makes much more sense to design my life around the present, not the past or the future. In doing that, I make it a habit to regularly refine and pare down even more. At least once each month, I make a trip to Housing Works with a bag of stuff – sometimes a big bag, sometimes a very small one. If I haven’t worn it it a year, I get rid of it.
In order to enjoy a simpler lifestyle design, I acknowledge my constraints, accept them and surrender to them. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more. But as a culture, we’re constantly bombarded with messages, advertisements and other influencers that suggest we need more – more to fit in, more to feel complete, more to be beautiful, more to be happy. It can be very easy to give in. In terms of what material goods I allow into my life under my current constraints, some rigorous editing, filtering and discernment is required. The needs must override the wants. I’m someone who embraces constraints, since they force me to be more resourceful.
My simple rule for bringing anything new into my apartment is that it must fit. And by “fit,” I mean more than just space. It must physically, functionally and aesthetically add to the value of my experience in my home. If it’s going to crowd or clutter in any way, I skip it. In other words: if it doesn’t fit in my apartment, it doesn’t fit in my life.
I’d love to get a juicer, a blender and a toaster oven, but, unless I want my kitchen to look and feel like an overstocked mess, there is no space for it. I can think of ten more suits and eight more pairs of shoes I’d love to have, but they simply wouldn’t fit in my closet. A king size bed or a Florence Knoll sofa would be fabulous, but they ain’t happening in my compact studio.
One of the perks of our digital age is the ability to access more media than ever without physically possessing it and requiring more space to store it in a precious sliver of real estate. I once had a collection of hundreds of CDs. They’re all gone. Little by little, over the course of about six months, I digitized every album I owned and stored them in the cloud. I’m now starting the process of unloading the hundreds of DVDs I also have. Books? Magazines? The New York Times? Unless it’s a collector’s item coffee table book that will look impressive to visitors, I read all books, magazines and newspapers on my iPad. I’ve even started to resent the catalogs that come in the mail. They take up space and give me yet more physical “stuff” to throw out, recycle or deal with in general. I’ve heard friends rationalize over and over, refusing to let go of the physical stuff, arguing “I need to feel and touch the album/CD/newspaper in my hands.” I can’t be bothered. (And I’m not one of the thirteen people outside of the recording industry who can hear the difference between a lossless audio file and a CD.)
As for my own winter clothes, it all fits neatly in my luggage, which is in my closet. I don’t need three topcoats. I need (and have) one. And when autumn comes, out come the boots, gloves, hats, coats and woolens as the shorts, polos and linen retire into the luggage until spring or a trip to tropical climes.
In my efficient little bathroom, I try to practice the principle of less but better with a minimum of products. The only (and I mean only) bottle in my shower is Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Castile Soap, and the rest of my toilette consists of a minimum of product and fuss.
Do I feel like I’m compromising or giving up anything? Absolutely not. Just the opposite. It feels like shedding dead skin, buzzing my hair or getting my braces off. It’s a liberating relief, and I love it.
As we go through life, we turn into virtual lint rollers, mindlessly accumulating more and more stuff as the years go on. It’s as if we’re collecting props, costumes and set pieces for a play different from the one we’re in. Why? What for? I’m more interested in rewriting that script, taking things in a different direction, traveling light and getting on with the business of living. This may sound weird, but… part of me feels that when my life is over, I don’t want to leave a pile of crap that my loved ones have to go through and contend with. It seems like a rude and selfish burden to drop on my survivors. The time to start practicing “less but better” is now.
In my 450 square foot situation, I have two closets, handsome custom wood floor-to-ceiling wall units with more storage than I need, a small kitchen with an under-counter bar fridge, a stove top and a convection oven. My one out-of-apartment storage indulgence is the $17/month I pay to keep my bicycle in the garage in my building. All things considered, I’m good. Really good. I love the sheer simplicity and efficiency of it. If my income grows, granting me the power to get a bigger apartment or a country home, I presume I’ll be able to also afford the furniture to fill it then, instead of living beyond my current spatial constraints with the burden of a storage space and crossing my fingers for a winning lottery ticket. And if a prophet appeared before me and told me that I’d be living with 450 square feet for the rest of my life, I would perfectly happy with that, too. Seriously.
This is my design for living. It’s a work-in-progress that’s working better all the time. If all goes well, this design for living will be neither defined by stuff nor encumbered with it. Less but better.
For an inspiring perspective on living better with less stuff, read about Everything That Remains, the new book by “The Minimalists” in Slate.
And to see my dream studio, check out the unbelievable 420 square foot LifeEdited apartment here in New York City. It’s eight rooms in one.
At the annual glam-a-palooza that is the Cannes Film Festival, The Hollywood Reporter was expectedly on hand to photograph some film industry notables posing on the Croisette. In the original gallery published on THR, a handful of really handsome images of some of the guys caught my eye. I’m sharing them here. The photos were shot by Fabrizio Maltese.