The Rich Life On a Budget

Madame Minimaliste

Béa Johnson is a 35 year-old French woman living in Mill Valley, California with her husband and two boys.

Béa Johnson (Credit)

The Johnson family takes minimalism to a new level. Here are just a few of the minimalist and eco-friendly choices they have made:

  • Avoid buying items in packaging, accumulating only a few handfuls of garbage every year (yep, handfuls).
  • No art or photos anywhere in sight.
  • Q-tips, tissue and cotton balls are not used. Handkerchiefs are substituted. 
  • The family owns one television and they only watch Netflix movies. (Béa puts the removable strip on the return envelope inside the with the DVD and sends it back to Netflix in an effort to convince them to use totally recycled packaging). 
  • Use compostable toothbrushes from Australia.
  • Each family member keeps just one box for his or her mementos. Béa believes it would be easier to have fewer items kept in one place in the event of a fire. 
  • Keep photos of children’s artwork and crafts instead of the actual pieces.
  • Takes glass jars to the market to have butchers and fromagers fill them with meats and cheeses.
  • Each person has a set number of items in his or her wardrobe. Béa owns 6 pairs of shoes, 7 pants, 7 tops, and 2 skirts. She shops twice a year at thrift stores to replace items (not add). 
    Béa and her family take an annual trip to France to visit relatives, which they feel is a regression. I realize that air travel is wasteful and damaging to the environment, but come on! Travel is one of the great joys in life! I would be miserable without travel, or its prospect. And I’m confused about how their stance on air travel works with having compostable toothbrushes shipped from Australia. 
    That being said, I do want to adopt a less extreme version of some of Béa’s ideas and habits: 

    1) I have already incorporated re-useable grocery bags into my shopping routine. But I am lazy about produce bags. From now on, I will re-use bags and bring them with me to shop (sorry Béa, I’m not ready to tote glass jars).

    2) I will pay more attention to packaging when purchasing any item. Buying and consuming whole foods that don’t come in wrappers or packaging will make me thinner, better complected and healthier!

    3) I never considered the waste that my toothbrush creates until I read about the compostable brushes Béa uses. I did some research and  the found these sold at Whole Foods. Preserve toothbrushes come in a reuseable packages that you can drop off at Whole Foods for recycling or mail back to the company, postage paid. At $2.99, they are inexpensive, come in fun colors and have a dentist-recommended slanted angle (which took a little getting used to, but I like it).

    I chose a baby blue color

    4)  Keeping meaningful mementos in one central place is a good idea. Being married to a fireman, I know fire can happen to any of us at any time. Right now, I can think of at least four different places where LOTS of photos are kept. Purging and organizing them will be my first project of the year.

    5) When the Christmas decorations are put away in a couple of days (yipee!) and the pictures, artwork and chotchkies come out of hiding, I’m donating what I no longer want and displaying only about half of what’s normally out. The other half will be stored, then rotated every quarter to keep things fresh. I’m putting a reminder on my calendar to rotate April 1st.

    My favorite quote from Béa is, “The less I have, the richer I feel. Stuff weighs you down.” Love it!

    Bringing some minimalist behavior into our home will be a positive change for our us and the environment. And although I find some of Béa’s methods too radical for me, she has given me new found motivation to purge the excess and re-evaluate my needs and wants.

    You can read more about Béa Johnson here and she has a blog. Or pick up an issue of January’s Sunset Magazine…just remember to put it in your recycling bin when you’re finished with it!

    23 thoughts on “Madame Minimaliste

    1. Aesthetic Alterations

      This is great! And inspiring! I’m certainly getting those toothbrushes. As a photographer, however, I can’t imagine living without my boxes of prints or the art hanging on my wall! OR the mountains of equipment that come with it. Béa gives some leeway for professional (real or hopeful) occupation, no?

      Alas, photography *I know* is an environmentally non-friendly art form, whether in digital or non-digital form.

    2. steppingmywaytobliss

      Thank you for the great post and links, Adrienne. I am adding this to my cache of inspiring minimalists. I would love to see myself living as Bea does–and she has inspired me to edit my closet again. I am completely in awe! (I started my mementos/photos purging this past Monday–it is hard but one full trash bag has exited the house with hopefully more to follow.)

    3. Mademoiselle L.

      I totally agree with living green and ecology, but I also think that we shouldn’t go to the extremes! I think that the world’s industrial progress should go hand in hand with the environmental progress. It’s a shame it isn’t. I will never abandon all my pictures and paintings from the wall, but I will take a photo of them – or maybe a scan in some cases. I was watching a TV programme (sort of de-clutter your life) and there was a single mom covered with children’s paintings, crafts etc. It was suggested that she takes a scan of them – it worked! :)
      I highly recommend using re-usable grocery bags! We’ve been using them for at least 3 years now and we always try to keep at least one in a car in case we have some emergency shopping. Growing up in post-communist Poland I was thaught by my grandmother that during communism everything was in shortage (even toilet paper!), so a plastic bag was a luxury – they’ve used re-usable ones for years and years. And it’s true – my aunts and grandmother still use re-usable bags – it’s just something to get used to. :) x

    4. BODECI body

      A,
      This post spoke to me! I love organization, but to couple it with minimalist flare is even more appealing! I have made a note to purge, store and rotate.
      I am with you on the Australian tootebrushes, but she definitely has me thinking.
      2011 will be lighter and freer for me too!

    5. Beth - In My World...

      Definitely getting those toothbrushes. We have been composting for two years now, have chickens, and purchase items in recyclable containers. However, I am no where even close to Bea. I was proud of a half-bag of trash a week; a few handfuls a year seems out of my league! I agree with you about the Christmas clean-up/purge. I am on a mission to pare down considerably – less clutter=less stress. Let me know how you’re doing and I’ll let you know how I progress!

    6. Julia

      Adrienne,
      Interesting post. I feel like I have actually become progressivly more minimalist as I have gotten older. I would have a hard time with some of the measures. I like it though that we can all do something to make this world a better place.
      I am also looking forward to “undecorating” for Christmas. Ahhhhh.

    7. LRS4AMANDA

      Hi Adrienne,

      I saw the article on this family is the Jan. issue of Sunset magazine. Although they are the extreme, what we could learn from this family… this is what jump started me into my New Years resolution. I’m already starting to clean out stuff.

      I live next door to the opposite of the Johnsons, they don’t recycle and leave their outside lights (including Christmas lights) on day and night. It really bugs the crap out of me!

      Linda

      Linda

    8. Adrienne

      Aesthetic,

      I can’t imagine living without my photos either and I only dabble in photography! I would never want to live in a home without photos, art and such about. But Béa has caused to me take notice of my surroundings and realize I need to weed out some stale decor.

      Stephanie,

      I hope you are well. It’s wonderful to hear from you!

      The way the Johnson family lives is worth exploring. To me it’s extreme, but aspects of it make sense for the way I want to live.

      Bliss,

      I knew you would like Béa. I, too, went through my closet and drawers again yesterday – right after I posted. I donated almost every t-shirt I own, a 12 year old ski jacket, four handbags and numerous other items that have been lurking around my wardrobe for years. It felt great!

      I’m going to get to those photos of mine the first week of 2011. I’m sure I will still have loads of photos, even after a purge, but at least they will be in one place with some form of organization.
      Good luck with your continued photo sorting! (and thank you for the darling card, by the way)

      Adrienne

    9. Adrienne

      Hostess,

      I thought her quote was great too…simple and to the point!

      FB,

      I did not know what a Diva Cup was until now. I wonder if I could get my teenage girls to use them….hmmmm.

      I have looked at your blog and am impressed with how diligently and creatively you paid off debt and became a minimalist.

      La Vie,

      I couldn’t live without my pretty things either. And I wouldn’t want to even try to go completely without art, photos, and other treasures. But I do want to take it down a few notches and keep the things that truly mean something to me. I’m finding it’s easier said than done!

    10. Adrienne

      Annushka,

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting! I love me some comments!

      Mademoiselle L.,

      How interesting about your family in Poland seeing that there is value and usefulness in a plastic bag beyond the first use. It drives me crazy to see people leave the market with loads and loads of plastic bags – sometimes doubled. Some counties in California – like San Francisco, for example – have banned the use of plastic grocery bags. I wish they would do that in my county.
      I had to train myself to bring re-useable bags to the market with me. I would constantly leave them in my car. Eventually, I realized that if I make myself go back to the parking lot and get them, it would become a habit and it did!

      I agree with you 100% that we shouldn’t go to extremes. It’s great to minimize waste and live simply, but not if it makes you miserable.

      Debra,

      It seems that there may be a purging, rotating, organizing frenzy going on our street in 2011!

    11. Adrienne

      Jill,

      I can’t throw out my stepkids’ artwork and crafts either. There is something about holding, examining and displaying it (for a time). You just can’t do that with a photo.

      Someday, I will ask my stepkids if they want to keep any of their creations from their childhood for themselves.

      Beth,

      I’m really liking my new recyclable toothbrush (mine isn’t compostable, but at least it can be recycled – and it’s made out of yogurt cups. Isn’t that great?)

      I am getting excited about tossing/donating xmas stuff and organizing photos….and yes, I will be blogging about it, I’m sure!

      Julia,

      Having lots of things about can become burdensome and downright annoying (like xmas stuff!). I’m like you…the older I get the less “stuff” I want. I want quality, not quantity.

      Linda Linda,

      (just kidding!)

      You are so hilarious! I know those darn neighbors of yours – the anti-Johnsons – drive you crazy. They sound very annoying. Do they leave their xmas lights up on their house year round too?
      Isn’t it against the law in CA to not recycle? If so, maybe you could anonymously report them.

    12. LRS4AMANDA

      Yes, they are the most annoying neighbors and the whole neighborhood is in agreement. Their lights are regular white lights and he puts them on every night. He has a dumpster at his business (he is a contractor) and bags everything up and hauls it off in his truck. They have FREQUENT parties so you know how much trash and bottles/cans that generates! I would report him but he would probably know it was me.

      And of course they are having a New Years party. And I have guests coming over for brunch tomorrow. I have my ear plugs handy and Benadryl to knock me out.

      Happy New Year!

      Linda

    13. Adrienne

      Linda,

      Lucky you that they’re doing their partying elsewhere (poor hotel). They really sound like pains in the arse to live next to….
      Maybe if you rallied your neighbors to complain anonymously, you won’t be singled out. It sounds like a stressful environment.

      At least you can enjoy your brunch tomorrow with a good nights sleep tonight!

    14. Cherie

      I am always looking for ways to (reasonably) cut waste out of my life. My son recently commented on how little trash we generate in our house, which made me feel good, but I can always improve. I’ve never heard of Bea but will look for more info on her and her family.

    15. Lisa

      Instead of using the plastic bags for fruits/vegetables at the store I use mesh lingerie bags. They have a zippered top and can be found in the laundry section of Wal-marts, Target etc.

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