Piles of gifts and crumpled wrapping paper will clutter many a home on Christmas Day. Mike and Amanda Sayre’s living room won’t be one of them. They’re what you might call minimalist design disciples.
A sign in their home reads like a mantra of their lifestyle: “I make myself rich by making my wants few.”
Amanda, an elementary school art teacher, and Mike, co-owner of Easy, Tiger, pass by this timeless message from Henry David Thoreau daily, a gentle reminder in their staircase landing.
The couple take the words to heart and work to reduce clutter in their Brookside house, redecorate with things they already own and try not to buy new stuff. Amanda posts photos and blogs on how to lead a simpler lifestyle at Cashmere and Clover. She covers the gamut from editing your wardrobe to going plastic-free for your pets.
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“I’m into minimalism, “ Amanda says. “The less stuff you have, the less you have to store, clean or deal with … and the more time you have for experiences.”
Even the fresh Christmas tree in the young couple’s living room is decorated simply with strands of colored lights and nothing else.
For holiday gifts, Amanda headed to online marketplace Etsy to find handmade goods that have meaning and whose purchase supports artisans.
She commissioned an artist on Etsy to paint a picture of her in-laws’ ice cream shop, which is a home built in 1850 in Ohio. And for her own parents, who are animal lovers, she subscribed to RescueBox, which ships a box of treats and toys to their dogs every month. And part of the proceeds go to providing shelter pets with food and vaccinations.
As for the gifts she and Mike might receive? She asks that they bring homemade dish or bottle of wine.
Mike teases Amanda that if thieves looked in their home’s windows, they might think no one lived there. That’s because there are no TV or electronics, expensive rugs or art, or bling of any kind. The Sayres’ belongings are limited to a select few that are principally vintage, thrifted or handmade.
While there isn’t a lot of “stuff, “ the couple do own objects they love: a ukulele that doubles as decor on the wall, a collection of ceramic wares, an original letterpress and Amanda’s grandmother’s piano.
“I like how things in our home have a story; it’s not a bunch of big, mass-produced stuff, “ Amanda says.
She credits the “KonMari” method, from the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, “ for helping them pare down to the essentials and things that bring them joy, although the decluttering concept has been around forever, and Amanda suspects she’s a born minimalist, not just someone who has jumped on the trendy bandwagon.
“Over time, I’ve become more simplistic, “ she says. “I continue to get rid of things all the time.”
One category the couple don’t have less of is pets. They own two cats and two dogs — the limit in Missouri, Amanda notes; otherwise they’d welcome more.
This mixed family of six lives in a house built in 1922. It has provided shelter for whole families for generations; still, recent owners finished the attic with a master bedroom and bathroom. By today’s standards, it’s not a large house, but there are rooms the Sayres don’t even use: a breakfast nook that Amanda says is too dark; a third bedroom with nothing in it but a rug and kitty console.
The Sayres’ favorite place to be is in the master suite, with their animals at their feet and computers on their laps. Sometimes they watch the only TV in the house, a small flat screen affixed to the wall, in bed. “I could be doing so many more productive things with my life than watching the latest shows, “ Amanda says.
Mike spends most of his free time reconstructing the upstairs to better suit the couple’s needs. He has added bookshelves to the stair landing, installed a three-sided fireplace in their bedroom and is undertaking a full-scale bathroom remodel. “He’s a handy guy. He does everything around here, “ Amanda says.
Elsewhere in the house, the couple exert their vintage minimalist design talents.
In the dining room, a giant chalkboard the Sayres picked up from Habitat ReStore makes a statement without a single word written on it. “I got it during that phase when everyone was doing chalk paint, but I don’t use it, I just like the look, “ Amanda says.
In the kitchen, the counters are clear of stuff, partly because the cats get into anything left out and partly because Amanda doesn’t feel the need to show off small appliances. “I like to cook, but I don’t need a stand mixer, “ she says.
To further open up the space, Mike removed the upper cabinets because the storage space was unnecessary. “It gives more light to the whole house; we can see the windows from the living room, “ Amanda says.
Her favorite touch is the prisms in the windows that refract light around the room in mini rainbows.
It’s a simple pleasure at the core of her definition of minimalism: It’s not a lifestyle of less; rather a honed selection of prized possessions.
“There’s a misconception about minimalism, “ Amanda says. “People think it’s about getting rid of everything, but it’s really about keeping just the things you love.”
Cynthia Billhartz Gregorian contributed to this story, which first appeared in Ink Magazine.