Thursday, September 4, 2014

When less is just less

As an occasional fan of minimalism, Shiv Malik's article, "Plants in offices increase happiness and productivity," in The Guardian, (August 31, 2014) attracted my attention.

An Exeter University researcher, Dr. Chris Knight, and his colleagues compared workers' productivity in offices devoid of all decoration (this included personal items, posters, plants, etc.) with the productivity of workers in offices with a green plant per square meter. Performance on tests of memory retention and other basic skills improved considerably after the placement of the plants. Knight speculates that other human touches (e.g., photographs or pleasant smells) might also improve performance.

Ironically, companies spend significant sums to achieve an allegedly elegant but bare appearance in modern offices, a look theoretically designed to maximize worker focus and productivity.

Conversely, I have visited offices so filled with clutter that personnel wasted time trying to find items; I strongly suspect that workers' productivity diminishes because the clutter (or excessive display of personal items) sometimes diverts attention from work.

Similarly, I have visited Spartan-like homes and homes clutter impeded moving from room to room, or even within a room.

My guess is that the path to greatest happiness lies in striking an appropriate balance. This means, on the one hand, decorating and equipping rooms we inhabit with items that evoke positive sensory experiences, remind us of those we love, and connect us to the natural world. On the other hand, this means leaving enough space, literally and figuratively, to permit one to focus on what needs doing while having the required resources/items for those tasks and the catalysts requisite for facilitating creativity, self-awareness, and the pondering the transcendent.

Although the theme of moderation is part of many religious traditions (including Christianity), the Confucian tradition especially highlights and emphasizes the practice of moderation. Possessions and d├ęcor are means to an end, not ends in themselves.

Are you a minimalist or a pack rat? When is less simply less? When is more also less?

What items in the rooms you utilize both at home and at work give you pleasure? Do you have plants or other items that help you to connect the natural world? Do you have art that inspires creativity and encourages reflection? Do you have items that prompt you to think more clearly, more deeply?

If you are a minimalist, what plants, art, or other items might you add?

If you are a pack rat, what items evoke mental or emotional distress? What items are, if you are honest, simply trash or unwanted or unused clutter?

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