Here is the full transcript of screenwriter Maura Malloy’s TEDx Talk: The Masterpiece of a Simple Life at TEDxIndianapolis conference. This This event took place on October 20, 2015 at Indianapolis, Indiana.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: The masterpiece of a simple life by Maura Malloy at TEDxIndianapolis
William Morris once said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
These are words I live by for two reasons: I love being surrounded by beauty, and my physical surroundings directly affect my person. I can meditate and do yoga till the cows come home, but if I’m surrounded by a mess or just excess stuff in general, I am unable to focus, to work or to relax. A serene space is a requirement for my sanity’s sake, both professionally and personally.
Clear countertops, an empty sink, clothes put away, an empty desk to write on. That thought alone both focuses and calms me, but the world I live in doesn’t readily meet my needs for simplicity. There are more products available to us than ever before.
The 1950s-era supermarket contained 3,000 different items, but by the 1990s, there were 30,000 items.
Let’s take a look at a swanky Fifth Avenue apartment in 1943. Notice the lack of clutter, the negative space, the simplicity of it all. This is no longer the ideal, or, even if it is to some people, it’s nearly impossible to achieve. We, as a society, are accumulating more than ever before, much of which can be traced back 25 years ago, to when imports to America increased exponentially, allowing huge amounts of cheap toys, clothes, and electronics to come our way.
As a result of this accumulation, 1 in 11 American households spends over a thousand dollars a year to rent self-storage space. One quarter of households that have two car garages have so much stuff in there, they can’t park a car. And although US consumers make up 3% of the world’s children, we buy 40% of the world’s toys.
So, while I find this New York apartment to be the ideal for serenity, it wasn’t necessarily attractive to me always. I remember coveting my collections as a little girl. There was the Berenstain Bear book collection, the pencil collection — I don’t understand — the Teddy Bear collection, and most importantly, my dolls. I wanted more of all of it. I was a child of the 80s and 90s. More equaled better, which equaled a happier, more fulfilling life, right?
All I have to say is, thank God for curiosity, because at 19, wanting to see the world, I traveled abroad to India, where I spent a good deal of time with a bunch of joyous children that lived nearby me. They were happy and fulfilled, but they had none of the collections I had as a little girl. A broken bicycle tire could entertain them. And, when I say “entertain”, I’m talking unquenchable joy emanating from their beings for hours at a time.
What’s more, my stuff was limited on that semester. Due to weight restrictions on Indian flights, I was only allotted 40 pounds in my backpack for the entire four months away, and that doesn’t add up too much. Yet, I felt unencumbered. Life got simpler. It was freeing, and my days became filled with experiences, and not stuff.
So, a seed was planted, but it wasn’t enough for me to change my habits. I judged American consumerism, but I bought tons of trinkets on that semester abroad. Many were for friends and family, but many were for me.
I shipped a huge box of tourist gear back to my parent’s house. But this was a unique circumstance, right? Possessions equal memories, right? That box was proof that my life had forever changed. It was proof that I was an adventurer, a world traveler.
How I came to believe otherwise has been an eye-opening experience. I became a minimalist when my passions and my goals became more important than my possessions.
Seven years ago, I started writing in earnest. It took me by surprise. For the better part of my life, I had dreamed about and pursued acting, and here I was, rolling out of bed, planting myself at my desk, beyond motivated, beyond fulfilled. It was a passion I never knew I had. And I was willing to go to any lengths to continue doing it for as long as I was around.
I was living in New York at the time, sharing an apartment with two roommates, living paycheck to paycheck, but I never felt lacking. After all, India had taught me the value of the experience.
But the more I wrote, the more I needed space, to daydream, to brainstorm, to create. So, here’s the thing about necessity being the mother of invention. My bedroom walls weren’t going to magically expand. I had to create space within the confines I was given, and it was a small bedroom, packed with furniture, tons of books, and pages upon pages of files from my graduate school years, proof that I had earned my master’s in Fine Arts.