A Not Coincidentally Timed Profile In Minimalism – Sarah Bogart Cooney

Mrs. Sarah  Cooney

 

“I don’t come here for this,” he said.  Or she said.  Or they said.  Or just about everyone was saying when we took over the Facebook Group.   So we curated.

These are not the days for curation.  Curation implies providence, and there is precious little providence to be had.  Even issues where there is some providence, there is providential consequence.  So much talk on the one hand of personal freedom, on the other hand of social obligation,  an unwinnable argument the fulcrum of which is whether or not personal choice is a thing, and if it is, to what degree.

Not an argument to be had here, and probably not an argument to be had in many places because along with providence the other dwindling resource in the Traditional Lifestyle or any other for that matter is the paucity of plain good thinking.  The skill of thought, one of the tenants of Ivy, has atrophied to the point where even the trained have lost their chops.

We aren’t ready for answers.  We’ve lost the way to get to answers.

So let’s work backwards.  How to train ourselves to think again?

Here’s an academy on it for you.  Mrs. Sarah Cooney, a reader here and a member on the Facebook Group, has created a minimalist blog aptly called Fewer And Better.  Sarah (I can call her that now that we have messaged each other for what to her must have seemed like forever) has spent a lot of time thinking about curating her life and refining her decision making processes, and the result is a visually interesting really good read where you learn stuff.  Her premise is something you can clean from the title, but like most universal truths you can sum it up in a sentence and then spend the rest of your life trying to get it right.   Sarah argues for curated consumption and editing at every level, the purchase of higher quality and lower volume.

I picked her brain on this for some time, and this is what I got.  I gave her my life story first, then asked her hers.

“I was born in Manhattan (East Village) and lived there until I was four. My dad was in the Army, so when he went back on active duty we moved, living in Maryland, Colorado, and Texas. I went to an all-girls’ boarding school in Maryland and then Boulder for college, where I studied anthropology. After college, I lived in DC for five years, working at a Harvard-owned research institution and later an academic publisher. I met my husband and moved back to Manhattan. We later moved to the North Shore of Long Island, where my father’s family has been for a long time. We have a toddler, and I work full-time as the director of  a historical and genealogical society. I also write the blog “Fewer & Better,” which I began during the pandemic.”

Sarah in her “City Uniform.”

The reconciliation between fashion, style and reservation of impulse and resource is an art form, and Sarah doesn’t look like she is cutting any corners.  “Where does that come from?” I asked.

“So I suppose the minimalism thing is less “minimalism” and more leading an edited life,” she said.  “One part of it is a timing thing–I’m a mom and I run a nonprofit, so it’s definitely easier every day to have a smaller selection of things to choose from. That was, I suppose, the catalyst for actually starting to edit things down, not spend time/money shopping for things that really aren’t going to pull their weight. But more than that, it’s about seeing the value in things, and cherishing that. Not the economic value, or the cost of an item, but what value it has to me. Life is short. That is an obvious statement, but I really realized that after my mom passed away at the age of 58. I want the things that I surround myself with, whether it’s clothing or books or even my teacups to have value to me. Not everything has to have some deep backstory, but I like the things that I have to have some meaning. In a world where you can order anything with the click of a button, I’m finding much more pleasure in being a careful shopper instead of just buying endless amounts of stuff.”

Sarah has a very practical approach to her discipline.  I, on the other hand, do not.   So I tossed a challenge into the ring, and I used my iPad instead of my laptop to do it just because I have both and can.   “If everyone curated their life with the criteria that everything has to have value beyond its function, would we all wind up minimalist do you think?” I wrote.

“Hmm, that’s a good question. I think that some people truly value many more things than others. I think our lives as a society would certainly be less full, but I’m not sure if minimalism would look the same for everyone. I do think the value-to-me filter should be applied by as many people as possible.
I studied anthropology in school, both in high school and then in college, and one of the first cultures I read about were the Trobriand Islanders. Bronislaw Malinowski wrote a really interesting ethnography about the kula, which is essentially a trading network where men trade different pieces of jewelry. The value of the jewelry is not in the materials, but in the way each piece is imbued by the spirit of the people who have owned them before. That’s similar to what I feel about the things that I own, whether they are things that I’ve purchased myself or things that have been passed down to me. And that’s a question that I ask myself before I purchase something new–is this something I want to be associated with?
It sounds a little out there, and obviously I don’t think that way about every item, but in general, that’s a question I do try to pose.”
Sarah with her grandfather whom she lost on Thanksgiving and writes about beautifully in a study of rites of passage here on her blog.

I asked about price, and the impact that has on her curating:

“I try not to include price in my criteria, in that I don’t limit myself looking for only lower-budget or only higher-end items. A lot of items that are on the more expensive end of the spectrum aren’t well-made any longer; you’re paying for the brand. I’m not interested in flashing logos. I do a lot of research on clothing, and I often find that mid-range items from smaller retailers work the best. I’m happy to pay a little more if I’m supporting a small or growing business. If there’s something that I really want but can’t justify the price tag for my budget, I do a lot of searching online for the same item at a lower price, either on eBay or TheRealReal or Poshmark. I’ve found great deals that way, even for new items. I am also happy to wait for sales, or wait to buy something when I have a gift card. If it’s something I really want, I’ve considered it for a long time, and because I’m not interested in trends, I know that it will be a worthwhile and lifelong purchase.
So I’m willing to spend more money if I have to on an item, because I know that I’ll have it for my lifetime. However, I have been lucky in that I’ve inherited many beautiful pieces that would now cost me the earth to purchase again, even if the quality now was the same as it was thirty years ago–my mother’s Burberry trench coat, a sizeable collection of Stubbs & Woottons from my grandmother, and a beautiful Brooks Brothers herringbone tweed overcoat from my mother, among others. I take care of those items–resoling the shoes, having the coats carefully cleaned, etc.–so they still look good decades after they were originally purchased.”
We got into it further.  How far does this minimalism thing go?  Can you do it with people?
“That’s a tough question. I value the connections I have with my friends, and naturally there are relationships that are stronger and ones that are more on the acquaintance level. For anyone, that shifts throughout life. I think the pandemic has also forced a re-evaluation of relationships as well. I’ve found myself reconnecting with old friends and losing touch with others. I think that managing relationships, for me, is more difficult, because I really don’t like losing touch with people, especially people who had a very important role in my life at some point. So for me, there’s always a bit of pain involved when lives diverge.
Even if it’s for natural reasons, like we’re no longer working at the same place. It’s just part of life, but still sad!”
Totally.  So do you apply that same value standard to relationships, with the idea that few, quality is better?
“I suppose that I do. I have a small group of very close friends, two of whom I’ve known all my life (and our parents are/grandparents were friends as well!) and one whom I met in high school–that’s my core “group”, and we have a group text that is constantly active, even though we all live in different cities now. I also have a handful of other close friends, like my son’s godmother, and a friend of mine who lives in France. I’d say I have about ten extremely close friends overall, and I realize what a blessing that is. But I also find that there is a lot of value in friendships and acquaintanceships that don’t necessarily delve into the deepest and most difficult moments of a life as well!”

Parenting?

“I think so, to a certain extent. I went to Montessori school for kindergarten until sixth grade, so I definitely try to implement Montessori practices at home. A lot of that is making things accessible and fostering independence–making sure snacks are within reach, books are easily accessible, you put things away when you’re done with that activity, etc. I think it’s a really great way both to parent and to exist in the world as an adult. Keeping things streamlined is part of that. I cycle in toys and books so that things feel new. That being said, as we don’t go into the library to check out books any longer, we do support our wonderful local bookstore more than we likely would have if we were still using the library. Books are so important!”

I could keep going, and maybe I can talk Sarah into an advice column here in addition to her blog.   Or Etiquette.  Or both.  For example, there is a great piece on her blog about thank you notes and how to do them.  I know, you are grown, you think you can write your own.  Bet you don’t, though.

To write thank you notes, you have to actually have thank you notes.

Fewer And Better is a great blog from a deep thinker who happens to have tremendous Ivy Style.   Take a look.

JB

 

 

20 Comments on "A Not Coincidentally Timed Profile In Minimalism – Sarah Bogart Cooney"

  1. Thank you so much for interviewing me, John! I feel very honored to be included!!

    The interview was the easy part. Not sounding dumb next to you was the hard part. And this counts as your thank you note so you nailed the 3 days. – JB

  2. So this kind of tags onto Zoe’s post a week or two ago. I scanned the F&B blog and noticed the navy blue pumps with the bows. I find those to be very nice looking. There is plenty of advise online for maintaining, even restoring men’s vintage shoes. Vintage men’s shoes are of much higher quality, (made in USA), for half the price of new shoes. Are women’s shoes of a high enough quality leather that they can be maintained at home? Is there such a thing as shoes trees for women’s shoes? Sarah also mentions satin shoes. I’ll never need to know, but out of curiousity, how on earth does one maintain satin shoes?
    And BTW, I agree with Sarah’s basic philosophy. Although not a minimalist, I would be thrice as happy with a third of the stuff.

  3. Oh, and I like the wallpaper, too.

  4. I’d be very interested to read Mrs. Cooney’s suggestions with regard to men’s clothing/wardrobe.

  5. @Hardbopper–I would say that the shoes that I own that are leather are high-quality enough to be maintained at home (including the pair you mentioned, which are vintage). That being said, most of them are shoes I’ve inherited from my mother and grandmother, and I’m not sure that the same shoe would be now. Yes, there are shoe trees for some women’s shoes, but I’ve only found cedar shoe trees that work for more “standard” styles of shoes, like loafers, as opposed to evening shoes or shoes with any sort of heel.

    For satin shoes, I have my one pair of evening shoes and they were my grandmother’s; they’re at least thirty years old and still look pristine. I treat them VERY carefully and don’t wear them outdoors, even from a cab into a building, unless the ground is dry and there’s no salt on the sidewalks in the winter. Otherwise I will wear different shoes and change into the satin shoes inside. After wearing, I dust them off carefully with a lint-free cloth and store them in a shoebox or shoebag.

    Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you had a lovely holiday!

  6. @Boston Bean: Thank you! I do think the classics are the best, and my specific list of must-haves is probably a bit too long for a comment. Perhaps an idea for an upcoming post! 🙂 I hope you had a great holiday season!

  7. Excellent post here and blog! I will follow future posts with great interest.

    Kind Regards and Season’s Greetings,

    Heinz-Ulrich

  8. @Heinz-Ulrich thank you so much! Happy holidays to you as well!

  9. Randy Ventgen | December 27, 2021 at 5:15 pm |

    What an odd comment. The main post here I think is the heart of traditional style.

    Agreed – JB (and thanks. I tried to provide young BC with some insights. We’ll see.

    Additional edit – I removed the comment. It had nothing to do with the post, turns out. Onward.

  10. JB

    Of course, this is now your blog to do with what you wish but I think it is a shame to remove comments unless they are vulgar or full of profanity.

    Cheers,

    Will

    Totally agree. Since taking over the site this is the very first comment I have removed that wasn’t vulgar or full of profanity. Here was my course of action. First, please remember that the comment disparaged a NAMED PERSON who was kind/brave enough to be so, and it was made by an ANONYMOUS person. I emailed the individual first. Privately. They emailed me back and relayed that their disparagement had nothing to do with the individual themselves, rather an unrelated “beef” with an adjacent third party. I suggested that that wasn’t fair, and the commentor suggested that I remove the comment. THEN the commentor proceeded to make several sexist statements (I am no lightweight in this department, I call my daughter The Package on my FB page with over 3500 followers and eat S for it all the time) that I feared would make their way to the site. Then the commentor threatened me personally. At that point, I decided not to give the commentor any more visibility than they already had. And it kills me too, because I had responded to the comment with some good material. I HATE wasting good material. But I try really hard to create a space here where dignity rules, and no one needs anonymous abuse because of some perceived slight their next door neighbor may have made a decade ago (that’s an allegory). Criticism is fair ball absolutely. This wasn’t that. – JB

  11. Totally agree. Since taking over the site this is the very first comment I have removed that wasn’t vulgar or full of profanity. Here was my course of action. First, please remember that the comment disparaged a NAMED PERSON who was kind/brave enough to be so, and it was made by an ANONYMOUS person. I emailed the individual first. Privately. They emailed me back and relayed that their disparagement had nothing to do with the individual themselves, rather an unrelated “beef” with an adjacent third party. I suggested that that wasn’t fair, and the commentor suggested that I remove the comment. THEN the commentor proceeded to make several sexist statements (I am no lightweight in this department, I call my daughter The Package on my FB page with over 3500 followers and eat S for it all the time) that I feared would make their way to the site. Then the commentor threatened me personally. At that point, I decided not to give the commentor any more visibility than they already had. And it kills me too, because I had responded to the comment with some good material. I HATE wasting good material. But I try really hard to create a space here where dignity rules, and no one needs anonymous abuse because of some perceived slight their next door neighbor may have made a decade ago (that’s an allegory). Criticism is fair ball absolutely. This wasn’t that. – JB

  12. JB

    Fair enough. I’d have done the same.

    Will

  13. I fully agree with Boston Bean that Mrs. Cooney could bring a different perspective on menswear to this blog, and I urge her to give serious thought to a post.

  14. If Ivy-Style is our bag, minimalism is theirs!

    Minimalists.com

  15. @Philly Trad: Thank you! I am certainly considering it!

  16. I’m so glad to read this back-and-forth with “Sarah @ Fewer & Better.” I’d seen that name in comments elsewhere and appreciated the concise clarity of sentiment expressed in something so simple as an online name. Great blog, too. I find Fewer & Better (and of course I-S) an ongoing and aspirational reminder to be present in the moment. In the end it’s all about making conscious and thoughtful choices about how you want to live and what kinds of things you truly value in life. John Burton has mentioned Buddhism in other posts or comments, and there is definitely a link there with the pursuit of present moment awareness. As Sarah Bogart-Cooney mentions above, It’s so easy to chase the dopamine hits that easy online “retail therapy” can provide with a few clicks or taps. But I find that the things I purchase with longer thought and consideration are the things I value more and actually end up keeping.

  17. Thanks man. It doesn’t happen very often at all, I am really lucky that way. We have such good people here. – JB

  18. @Nevada: Thank you so much for your kind words! I wasn’t certain if I should respond in the comments section but I did want to 🙂 I hope you’ve had a wonderful holiday season and that you have a kind start to 2022!

  19. Randy Ventgen | December 28, 2021 at 5:06 pm |

    I’ve just added Fewer & Better to my Home Screen (next to IS); I rarely find something I can add that’s similar to my interests and approach, although I’m always looking.

  20. @Randy: Thank you so much, that is very kind of you! Have a wonderful new year!

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