Can simplicity and refraining from buying things have enough appeal to sustain a TV audience? Seems unlikely to me. The whole idea of not buying things is so contrary to our fundamental cultural norms. Yet, various sorts of "freak shows" seem popular - the kind where the appeal seems to be "Can you believe that guy?"
The odd thing about the article is that the focus seems to be not just on simplicity but simplicity and style. I guess we always need to have style.
DAN HO likes to get rid of things. For the past eight years he has committed himself to a project of aggressive divestment, letting go of houses, sofas, refectory tables, electric mixers, Georg Jensen silverware and a collection of ceramics. Earlier this year, a failed marriage behind him, Mr. Ho, 40, decided to reduce the sum of his possessions and eventually winnowed them down to about 55. Motivated neither by debt nor by environmentalism but simply by a compulsion to unburden himself, he moved from a 1,200-square-foot house in Portland, Me., to a rented apartment one-quarter the size in Greenwich Village, where he now lives with two roommates (one of them a retired judge who sells purses), 47 items of clothing and a backpack, suitcase, television, computer, bath towel, single set of sheets, toothbrush and bottle of witch hazel.
. . .
“When people say they want red walls, do they really want red walls?” Mr. Ho asked rhetorically over coffee one afternoon recently. “Do they really want red walls, or do they want impact? Chances are, what they really want is recognition and what they’re really, really looking for is recognition from themselves.”
Mr. Ho delivers his message in Vreelandesque aphorism. “Perfection is a cheap caricature of style,” he writes. “Candles don’t set a mood, people do.” The index to his book contains an entry headed “Myths, enslaving.” One of them, he thinks, is the idea that you should always be ready for drop-in guests. “No, you shouldn’t,” he counters, “unless you’re running a bed-and-breakfast.”
At the core of his philosophy is the belief that our relentless attention to renovation and reorganizing, to building and rebuilding, distracts us from the more demanding work of becoming better partners, caretakers and friends. . . .
“What I hate is our whole culture of trade-ups-manship,” Mr. Ho said. “No one ever seems to be happy in the house they actually buy. You visit someone’s new place and you say, ‘wow, this is great,’ and inevitably they’ll say ‘well, it’s O.K. for now.’ And that drives me absolutely crazy. . . .
. . .
I once bought a $3,600 cedar tree because, you know, I needed something for the corner to create a transition from the oak tree to the anemone because the sedum on the brick walk just wasn’t going to cut it. People think like that, and I did.”
. . .
IN Portland, he was considered an eccentric. “When I met him, my first impression was that he was utterly certifiable,” said Monica Wendel, a friend who worked with Mr. Ho on the magazine until he folded it to work on his book and television projects. “Everybody says be yourself, be fearless, but I’d never met anyone who actually lived that way.”
. . .
What he disavows is inauthentic simplicity. From his perspective, no one should go out and buy drawer dividers to better organize their socks; they should have fewer socks and throw them in a drawer with enough room to distinguish the black ones from the navy ones.
Mr. Ho’s elevation of restraint is cheeky and moralizing at the same time. He calls to mind the preeminent Victorian Isabella Beeton, whose popular book of household management held in high regard Samuel Johnson’s idea that frugality is the parent of liberty.
Saul Alinsky gave advice similar to Dr. Johnson's but directed to activist groups: Low overhead = great independence. (Or something close to that.)