Minimum Viable Home

A new home can, at times, seem like a vacuous hole that sucks up endless amounts of money and creates mostly excessive amounts of packaging for you to discard.

There are even more costs and acquisitions than usual when you transition from owning only what you can easily carry on a plane, to what you need to stock a fully-functioning home.

But with every dollar spent to this end, with every new acquisition, I tense up a little.

I’m squeamish about these expenditures because I remember how my homes have been in the past. I remember the feeling of looking around at all the stuff I’d purchased, each item catalyzing that momentary thrill of having bought something new, before becoming just another thing I owned and never used.

Some of those possessions were legitimately practical, but most of them were essentially useless for me and my priorities.

They were expensive decorations that weren’t even particularly beautiful. Furniture that went un-sat-upon, gadgets that remained un-utilized, kitchen tools that were forever un-cooked-with; all serving the same function as art, but without the art part.

If you purchase a couch that is beautiful and, to you, worth the cost and space required to acquire and keep it in your home, just for its aesthetics, then it’s still a worthwhile purchase.

I’ve owned many such showpieces that, in retrospect, weren’t carrying their own weight. The money and space could have been better spent on other things, but were instead wasted on these un-sat-upon bits of furniture that I owned out of cultural habit; homes have couches. Homes have kitchen tables. Homes have x, y, and z.

This new home of mine was a blank canvas. An empty space I could fill with whatever the hell. It only seemed natural, having lived the way I’ve lived for so long, to stick to the essentials.

But what are the essentials, for me? How can I know what I’ll need, living this kind of lifestyle, in this kind of space, if seven years have passed since I’ve last experience something similar? Since I’ve last purchased furniture, paid electric bills, received my mail at a given address with any regularity?

There’s a term in the tech world that I’ve found myself thinking about a lot lately: minimum viable product, or MVP.

The idea behind an MVP is that if you’re building an app for a smartphone, you build the most minimal, streamlined, stripped-down version of that app you possibly can, because you don’t know what you don’t know, yet.

It may be that you shovel tons of time and money into the thing, making it beautiful and complete, only to discover there’s something fundamentally wrong with it after you’ve expended all that time and effort and money. Building an MVP first allows you to make sure the core functionality works, and works well, before you add any gloss and before you invest too much time or resources on it.

I’ve been thinking of my home in this same way.

I didn’t know what I wanted in a home, but I did know what I’d need to do the work I enjoy doing. I decided to start there.

I have my lights and tripods and such to produce my YouTube show, and I have my microphone for my podcast. I knew I’d need a desk and a chair. And ideally, another, more comfortable chair, where I could lounge for long periods. This would ideally be a rocking chair, because in my mind, if there’s a heaven, it’s filled with all the books in the world and a rocking chair where I can sit while I read them.

I wanted to make learning to cook a key component of my lifestyle here, so I purchased a cast iron combo cooker, a decent chef’s knife, and a cutting board.

I’d also need a bed, and a few bed-related accouterment.

And that’s…it.

I mean, aside from consumables like toilet paper and soap and trash bags. But for the rest, even other seemingly infrastructural items, I wanted to make sure I actually needed them first. Before making any further purchases, I wanted to make sure I was buying things I would use.

No more couches for the sake of couches. No more gadgets because I have room to store them.

I bought my bed and a mattress. A few pillows, a duvet, and some sheets. A simple desk, a simple chair. A kick-ass rocking chair (it’s heavenly).

I set up my lights and tripod. There’s a corner in my living room that’s dedicated to shooting videos; a corner that would normally contain a couch and coffee table, I think.

From there, I decided to use the space and the things I bought before purchasing anything else. To use the minimum viable home before deciding what to change, what’s missing, what to add.

By living here and seeing what I need as I go about my day, I can slowly fill my home with exactly the things I’ll use and appreciate, and nothing else. I can keep this place practical and functional without succumbing to clutter. I can determine what I actually need, rather than what I theoretically need based on the idea of an archetypical ‘home’ that may or may not fulfill my specific needs.

A minimum viable home, an MVH, is a place you live, experience, try out, before filling with stuff.

Then, as you need things, very intentionally and slowly, you acquire them.

It’s a bit like a packing party in reverse: instead of packing up what you’ve already got and pulling out things as you need them, you avoid buying them in the first place, adding to your home only when you find yourself needing something, and not before.

As a result, this is obviously not something you can easily do if you’re already moved-in and huddled amongst your things in a well-stocked house or apartment. But if and when you do have the opportunity to move into a new space, consider starting from scratch, or near-scratch, so that you can build something you-shaped from the foundation, outward.

The specifics of each home will be different, of course, since we all have different needs. That’s the case with minimalism in general (focusing on the vital stuff and eschewing the superfluous), and it’s the case with incremental, intentional home-making, as well.

For many of us, the result will be something that looks less like a catalog-clipping of a ‘home,’ and more like a physical embodiment of what each of us as an individual thinks is important.