The Power Of Quiet

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As I’ve found myself enjoying a slower pace this year, I’ve noticed a few surprising benefits in my daily routine. Somehow, the act of blogging slower and with more focus has trickled into other areas of my life: I savor meals rather than voraciously shoveling spoonfuls into my mouth, hunched over my desk. I pause before speaking, taking note of the weight my words might hold. It’s almost as if I’ve taken my brain off autopilot and back into manual mode, experiencing all five senses again. And at the risk of sounding very made-for-TV-educational-movie, it’s a welcome change. Still, I’m noticing something else…

de-branded headphones

Our world is noisy. Cell phones ringing, dogs barking, motors revving. And that’s not all – there’s a noisier, louder, stronger force at work in most of our homes and communities: visual pollution. We see it every day, whether in the form of highway billboards or apartment building flyers. And with every trip to the grocery store, we bring home the loudest speakers of all and display them on our bathroom shelves: branded products.

de-branded paper bag

It never occurred to me to take stock of the endless slew of labels and brands that exist in my own home until I sat down to write this and quickly surveyed my office. My desk is fairly brand-free, but I couldn’t help but focus on the passive clutter that each bold, busy label (and admittedly, the objects themselves) brought into my work space. (I’m quite sure my mother is saying “I told you so” at this very moment, reminding me of her favorite adage: ‘A cluttered desk is a cluttered mind.‘)

de-branded products

It’s the very reason I cheered when I spotted “De-Branded Design” as part of London department store Selfridges’ No Noise campaign – the removal of all branding from some of today’s most popular products. Imagine label-free ketchup, lotion – even paper bags, all available for purchase alongside “The Quiet Edit,” a curated selection of minimal items for your closet. The premise is simple enough: “We invite you to celebrate the power of quiet, see the beauty in function and find calm among the crowds.”

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But for Selfridges, it’s not just about retail. In an effort to practice what they preach, the department store opened a Silence Room as a space to decompress from fast-paced, frenzied lifestyles. (The room has an online version, of course, in the form of Headspace, meditative podcasts for shoppers to download.) “It is about taking a moment; about having the chance to sit and think without so much outside interference,” Selfridges spokeswoman Annette Cremin says. “It is a chance to turn the volume down on London. It is an experiment to see how people react when they are taken away from their gadgets and forced to be silent.”

de-branded lotion

It’s a lofty goal, but an important one. Adding white space to your day (and home) is the muffler that just might promise a quieter morning. And sure, brand-free baked beans is a minimal step toward a calmer, less-frenzied future. But in a big, busy world, perhaps minimal is just what we need.

Image Credits: Selfridges

p.s. Illustrator Keri Smith takes de-branding a step further by personally branding her home’s products. Take a peek!
p.p.s. Just for fun: Minimalist nail polish, quiet interiors and why I quit magazines two years ago.
  • Oh, this is so interesting. I would definitely be interested in buying de-branded products. I already prefer products that don’t have a logo emblazoned on every inch of the material.

    Can I also add that I hate billboards so much? I’m from Salt Lake City and the billboards off the freeway totally distract from the gorgeous view of the mountains. It’s such a shame.

  • Although their products can be expensive, I always enjoyed purchasing soaps & shampoos from Lush because many of their items aren’t packaged. You can purchase a block of soap by weight and once you remove the paper bag at home, there are no other labels on it.

    I try to live a pretty minimalist life but hadn’t thought about labels in this way. I’m going to take a good look at what labels “pollute” my apartment. I love the idea of personal labels but am not sure I’d take it that far.

    • @Leslie – I love your thoughts, and I never realized that about Lush, but I do love that about their products, too. The shopping experience itself feels so very “farmer’s market afternoon,” doesn’t it? Cheers for retail shops and brands embracing this trend!

  • My mom was very concious of this, and I didn’t appreciate it till later. She would not allow any labels/brands on the outside of our clothing (horror of all horrors growing up int he 80s, no Guess? t-shirts allowed). She tried to tell us she didn’t want us to be walking billboards, but teen me hated her for it sometimes. She also didn’t allow for commercial-influenced toy buying (care bears, my little pony, etc were also off-limits—resulting in kid meltdowns). My pet label peeve is the bathroom. I’d love to find some pretty, affordable and reusable packaging for my hair and beauty products.

    • @Jenni – Wow, what a forward-thinking mama!!! That’s super refreshing to hear, but wow, I would’ve hated that as a kid, too. ;)

  • Hooray for retail giants like Selfridges battling visual noise! One of my favorite things about making my own stuff is picking the right label-free packaging. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but perhaps the popularity of minimalist, considered blogs like your own are influencing the noisy retail world.

  • Erin,

    Thank you so much for your posts and, more specifically, your original post on slowing down. You’ve put into words what I have been thinking. And with trying to keep up with the latest and not wanting to miss anything, I’ve noticed my attention span isn’t what it used to be or what it should be.

    De-branding is a fabulous idea! As far as billboards go…I agree…and what’s the deal with the blinking and animated ones?!

    • @Summer – OH man, the blinking ones. YES. Also, I’ve noticed my attention span declining as well. The kicker for me was when my Internet was moving at a glacial pace and I felt like a crazy person complaining that my email took 2 minutes to load. 2 minutes to receive messages from all over the world? That’s amazing. :)

  • Such a great idea! Would love this; I often transfer beauty products into containers that are plain and more appeasing to look at. Only downside? I would worry that I would forget where I got something from! Or what kind/shade/scent it was :)

    • @Kiki – That’s the downside, yes! I usually de-label my products to make them prettier for photos and then I forget what they are. Ha. Guilty!

  • Yes! Thanks so much for sharing this Erin, I’ve recently become obsessed with how many ads I see in a day (from the sides of buses, to billboards, to the endless stream online and in my offline reading material). Branded products hadn’t really occurred to me, but they should have. I buy a lot of bulk goods, but I never thought about why I dump non-bulk items into glass containers too. Branded packaging contributes to the world feeling like a giant ad and keeps us in a constant consumer mindset.

    • @Elisabeth – It’s funny, isn’t it? We’re so desensitized until we stop and think about it. To be honest, I didn’t realize just how bold most labels were until we took Bee to the pet store and she was more fascinated with the colors and labels of the dog food than the dogs themselves! :)

  • Thanks for sharing- this is such a refreshing concept, especially in an environment where brands are thrown at you just to see what sticks. I have also made an effort to slow down a bit this year. I became v. overwhelmed last week when covering fashion week for a freelance job, working full-time and worrying about having fresh content on my personal lifestyle blog. Instead of forcing myself to post half-heartedly, I decided to take a week-long break. It really helped in re-inspiring me and allowing me to refocus on all of the reasons why I actually started to blog in the first place!

  • What a great blog post! It reminds me of an NPR feature on recycling and trash. So much of what we purchase is accompanied by packaging (and the like) that we immediately discard. In a way, we are also spending money on waste. Lots and lots of refuse.

    • @Wendy – “In a way, we are also spending money on waste.” Eek! Smartly said, and scary!

  • What a fascinating post! I have been making an effort to sit in silence and we have no TV nights at our house, but I didn’t consider visual pollution. We’re planning a big clutter clean out this Sunday so I think we’ll get rid of some of it. A great way to decrease the visual pollution is to put store bought goods into pretty containers. Like q-tips into glass jars or pasta noodles into a see through container.

    • @Katie – We do this in our bathroom! Q-tips and cotton balls in glass jars. And my girlfriend moves her kid’s cereal into tupperware pitchers they can pour with – it’s less messy, AND the kids aren’t bombarded with cartoon characters and busy visuals.

  • I have complained about what I call noise pollution for the past few years. Car alarms, cell phones, even the click, click of keyboard keys, everywhere you go there is noise. I just wish I was in London so I could enjoy their quiet room on a regular basis! Thanks for an interesting idea

  • I am a compulsive freak who must remove as many labels as possible as soon as they come into the house, though some shampoo bottles (damn you!) thwart me. The ones the bug me the MOST are labels on fruit. Aside from that we too put bathroom stuff and dry goods in glass containers, though in part b/c we’re so strapped for storage space (NYC’ers) that lots of stuff is out on open shelving. Ah glass Ikea containers, you make everyone think we’re so fancy.

  • Agreed! With all of it! My husband and I are expecting our first child next month and the amount of warning labels permanently added to things is just appalling. There are multiple ones on almost every larger travel item we got, and in very visible places, and multiple languages making them double in size. It’s going to lead to a lot of wanting to photoshop them out.

    • @Karin – Ha, I’m with you there! (Congratulations, by the way!) Our car seat has like a bajillion warning stickers, too. :)

  • I could write a super long and thought out comment about why I enjoyed this post and how i feel about brands, materialsm and clutter. But instead i will choose to de-clutter this comment and just say “thank you erin, i really enjoyed this post”

  • Love this post. We are all so overstimulated on a daily basis that it’s important to recognize that power of quiet!

  • I’ve been thinking a lot about this kind of thing lately – slowing down, being overstimulated, too much noise, etc. Have any of you noticed being more sensitive to noise than you used to be? I’m noticing it all the time. I have trouble focusing on conversations if I’m at loud restaurants or having dinner with more than a couple of people. Sounds seem louder than they used to. I’m wondering if any of this has to do with spending a lot of time online being engrossed in our virtual worlds. Is it possible that we’re becoming so accustomed to virtual interaction that real world interaction is just too much for our senses?

    P.S. I’m copying and pasting part of this comment for my post about this stuff on Monday. I can steal my own work, right? :)

    • @Melanie – Ooooh, that is a very very good conversation, yes. I totally want to read your post!!! I think you’re on to something. :)

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