5 Must-See Tales of Zen & Minimal Living

Table Talks
November 4, 2020
Wilfrid Chan

Understanding design is an ever-moving voyage. Trends can become staples, and timeless impression are ripe for reimagination. This narrative is something that captures each of us at Living In Design. In this series of articles, we’ll continue to share what captures us most in the world of design.

Our creative team has shared their favourite pieces works surrounding the world of minimalism and the art of zen. It is good to note that while the philosophy of zen is intrinsically linked with Japanese culture, it is actually a remnant of the Song Dynasty in China and part of the Buddhism belief system. Zen refers to sitting still in meditation, letting the world be. It also helps instil a natural appreciation for life, the idea that you cannot control it. Whilst zen can manifest in interior design; it is best observed as a way of life.

The works below embrace such teachings and explore every facet of zen living. Each has in some ways contributed to the tenets we lead by. See for yourself below.

The Art of Simple Living

In a time of alarmist news and addiction to notifications, we are taught to continually strive for more and to win big. When we don’t achieve that goal we inevitably feel that we have fallen short. Instead of following the pattern of celebrating greed and choosing a hectic lifestyle, The Art of Simple Living teaches us to adopt practices that bring simple joys.

Whether you listen in audio form or enjoy a good paperback, it is a lesson that focuses you on things that matter most. Centred around zen, the ideas behind wabi-sabi and creating a permanent sense of wellbeing, it offers thoughtful scenarios that allow you to reflect on how you exist. Like how we often feel good about the breadth of our social networks rather than the depth of those relationships. Or how a simple lifestyle doesn’t mean a frugal one, instead a life where you appreciate the things you have with greater gratitude.


Written by the outstanding philanthropist and entrepreneur Kazuo Inamori, Heart is a journey through Zen Buddhism. Inamori himself a zen priest, he has demonstrated that business and kindness can be one. Most notably, after building up a few Fortune 500 companies, he retired and gave most of his shares to his employees. He leads by example, do good and be kind.

This biography of his life, peppered with practical teachings that speak to the zen attitude he had adopted many years ago. These simple truths can transform the way in which you live, work, interact and even eat.

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

A foray into the intricacies of minimalist living is Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. It showcases minimalism in all walks of life, particularly how families can adapt slowly and in their own way. It speaks of how you can build happiness and satisfaction by merely being aware of the sensation of breathing.

After watching, you’ll quickly reflect and question your own space. This especially rang true to those of us who have children, minimalism seemed out of the question. However, after watching the documentary, it begs you to consider how minimalism can manifest for you and how to create value in your home. This method of thinking has helped declutter many a room.

In Praise of Shadows

From architecture to cuisine, lighting and more, In Praise of Shadows is a vivid epic on Japanese culture complete with stunning illustrations. It is a gentle reminder that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Tanizaki demonstrates this idea with the notion of light, often associated with clarification and safety, the dark often dreary and to be feared.

It heads a strong message, that perfection is empty, and how light can obscure the natural world. The dark too can be admired, think of unpolished metal or organic materials. Were it not for such things; there would be no such thing as beauty.

Simple Matters: Living with Less and Ending Up with More

The fundamentals of conscious consumption and how it makes us happier. Ideal for those looking to declutter, organize, and simplify, this pragmatic collection of essays and advice creates a more sustainable way of life. It turns out that making do with less doesn’t mean less fulfilment. Instead, it means more of the right things, more time for ourselves and with loved ones, more savings for experiences and more beauty to be admired.

Images via Netflix, Amazon, Penguin, Good Reads and Audible.