Jan. 1, 2 a.m. For a few of us, the new year began with a vision: Jane K., floating down the sidewalk in a silky column of black - a plain dress with cut-in shoulders - puddling the ground and crowned by a swath of hot pink pashmina (descending from long white neck in a cubist triangle).

Study natural forms. Discover the beauty in restraint.

I"ve seen vases that pretty, but few living things. She was the most elegant lady in the world that night. Right up there (5-foot-10, 5-foot-11?) with Audrey Hepburn, Dominique from the Fountainhead, Julia Roberts in vintage Valentino. Of course, the ever-practical Jane "got that dress for a song a couple of years ago at Jacobson"s." God love "er. This vision, Jane, floating all winter long against a wide, white blanket of snow. What is it saying? Simple is beautiful. Elegant. Simple erases a multitude of sins. And every once in a while it can transport us to another realm. The Shakers understood the power of simplicity. They believed that we could know a little bit of heaven here on earth if we just learned to live simply, purely. Shaker-made objects are plain yet shapely, artfully crafted, elegant in their efficiency. Don"t see how anyone could find redemption in a pair of Louis XIV chairs, but a good Shaker rocking chair, just maybe. "Free of the unnecessary but full of joy," say the writers of Chic Simple, Home. Isn"t that how most holy people live? Look at every smiling Tibetan monk you ever met. Rumi, Siddhartha, Joan of Arc. The path to enlightenment has been paved with simplicity for a long time, it appears. (Even Martha, the self-appointed matron saint of simple, has inspired us to celebrate our simple agrarian roots.) Then there"s feng shui. The Chinese believe that clutter in a home blocks chi, the life force and source of all good things. Which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense. Don"t you think better when your desktop is clear? "Once any space becomes overdressed and clutter finds a foothold, the clutter-breeds-clutter syndrome begins to take over," says the Wabi Sabi book. "The only way to protect oneself is to prepare the mind in advance to say no." Try this at work, at home or at the mall: If you can"t make up your mind, choose the thing that looks simplest. Open up some white space. Let it snow. Stop adding on and take away instead. Make visual haiku. If you"re looking for retailers who get simple right, put Crate and Barrel near the top of the list. Smith and Hawken is pretty good, too. With it"s love of natural forms, Mod Pod has plenty that"s simple. And form + function is a temple of simplicity; we should worship there often whether we can afford their stuff or not. For clothes, there"s Banana Republic, J. Crew, even the Gap. Old Navy is mostly too trendy. Ann Taylor and Talbots are worth a quick scan, but often boring and graceless. Same for Pottery Barn if you ask me. J. Jill (have you noticed?) tries too hard, and falls short on quality. Restoration Hardware is a great place to find simple, perfect things, but so is Ace. There"s a little Sasaki and Adler buried among the curlicues at Houseworks. I"ve never been to Scandinavian Comfort, but you gotta bet the Scandinavians have simple down pat - look at all the snow they get. Any store - even Michaels - can be a place to find simple objects at a great price - so long as you know how to edit. It must be something essentially human, this tendency toward complexity and disorder. Else why would we clutter our lives with pointless knick-knacks, unnecessary meetings, messy relationships, layers of media and mindless activity? But we humans also have a little of the godly inside us. Maybe by stripping away some of the extraneous, and learning to dress like Jane, we"ll find more of it.

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