“Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful; but if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.”

The Shaker Design Philosophy

Imagine, if you will, a world where everything we owned was a bit like my Thanksgiving tur-duck-hen: an ambitious, somewhat bewildering concoction that’s part turkey, part duck, part chicken, and entirely emblematic of excess. In such a world, finding something that’s both necessary and useful would be as rare and surprising as discovering your tur-duck-hen could fly.

This, in its essence, is the heart song of the Shaker Design Philosophy, crooning to us through the noise of our maximalist lives with a melody that hums, “Maybe, just maybe, simplicity isn’t so bad.”

Let’s face it: we live in a world that often mistakes complexity for sophistication and clutter for coziness. We buy gadgets with buttons we’ll never use and clothes with pockets that aren’t really pockets. Into this maelstrom of superfluity, the Shaker mantra emerges as a lighthouse of sanity, guiding us toward the shores of “enough.”

But let’s not be too hasty in our decluttering zeal. The Shakers weren’t advocating for a life stripped of joy or beauty. Far from it. They were, in their own way, the original Marie Kondos, urging us to hold onto those things that spark joy—not just through their utility but through their aesthetics as well. It’s as if they were saying, “By all means, keep your grandmother’s quilt. Just maybe not the plastic singing fish.”

So, how does one apply this centuries-old wisdom in the modern era? Start by looking around your home. See that gadget you bought during a late-night online shopping spree? The one that promised to turn your life around by chopping, dicing, and possibly even doing your taxes? Ask yourself: “Is it necessary? Is it useful?” If it’s gathering dust next to the exercise bike/clothes rack, you have your answer.

But here’s where the real magic happens. When you do find something that is both necessary and useful—a perfect pen, a comfortable chair, a teapot that pours without dripping—cherish it. And if you’re in the position to create something, whether it’s a meal, a piece of art, or a spreadsheet—strive to make it beautiful. Because in a world of clutter, a little beauty goes a long way.

In this moment of clarity, as we teeter, let’s channel our inner Shaker. Imagine them, in their unadorned rooms, shaking their heads at my tur-duck-hen tendencies, their simple wooden furniture practically sighing in relief at not being smothered under layers of unnecessary adornment.

Let’s fill our lives not with the culinary equivalents of a Swiss Army knife when all we really need is a simple, sharp blade. Let’s opt for the roast chicken, seasoned to perfection, its golden skin crackling with promise, over the tur-duck-hen. Because sometimes, the most profound joy is found not in the complexity of three birds stitched together but in the simple perfection of one, cooked just right.

In the end, it’s about finding beauty in the basics, about realizing that a well-made chair can bring more joy than a room full of gaudy trinkets. It’s about understanding that sometimes, the best way to make our lives truly beautiful is by subtracting rather than adding, by embracing the elegance of simplicity.

And who knows? In doing so, we might just find that the space we’ve cleared by setting aside our metaphorical tur-duck-hens is the perfect spot for something truly beautiful to land.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Product + Content Marketing at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.