Celebrity Minimalist: Vincent Kartheiser from Mad Men

Let me preface this post by saying I have very little interest in celebrities. I don’t care what they do, what they buy, how they dress, where they live, what they drive, or what they eat, and could never understand pop culture’s obsession with them. (I’d much rather read the bio of a scientist or humanitarian than an actress or professional athlete.)

So you can imagine how puzzled I was when my husband forwarded me this interview with Vincent Kartheiser (the actor who plays Pete Campbell in Mad Men) from the Guardian. “Trust me,” he said, “just read about halfway down.”

I dutifully skimmed the article, and was surprised and delighted to read the following:

Some of the ways that Kartheiser has chosen to do this are unconventional, at least among Hollywood TV stars. He has, for example, in the city of cheap gas and freeways, given up on a car.

“I go on the bus, I walk. A friend left his car recently at my house and I took it out one day just for 15 minutes and it was terrible. You know why? I felt like I was back in LA again. Four or five years ago, when I had a car and I had been out of the city I wouldn’t feel I was back until I got in the car, you know. But now I feel off the grid. I feel that I am not part of the culture. And because I don’t have a car I don’t really go anywhere to buy things. In fact, I have been in a slow process of selling and giving away everything I own.”

He has? Like what?

“Like, I don’t have a toilet at the moment. My house is just a wooden box. I mean I am planning to get a toilet at some point. But for now I have to go to the neighbours. I threw it all out.”

(As he says this, I’m wondering whether this is just another of the parts Kartheiser might be trying on for size, but to prove the point he later takes me back to his house, which really is an empty wooden box, a small one-room bungalow on a nondescript Hollywood street and indeed it has no lavatory.) Is that a Buddhist thing, I wonder, or an early midlife crisis thing?

“It started a couple of years ago,” he says. “It was in response to going to these Golden Globe type events and they just give you stuff. You don’t want it. You don’t use it. And then Mad Men started to become a success on a popular level and people started sending me stuff, just boxes of shit. Gifts for every holiday, clothes. One day, I looked around and thought ‘I don’t want this stuff, I didn’t ask for it’. So I started giving it to friends or charity stores, or if it is still in its box I might sell it for a hundred bucks. I liked it so I didn’t stop.”

How refreshing! Instead of bragging about a garage full of luxury cars, he talks about the joy of not owning one; instead of giving a house tour of a thirty-bedroom mansion, he shows off his one-room bungalow; and instead of accumulating designer clothes and other swag, he sells or gives everything away.

How wonderful would it be if actors like Vincent Kartheiser became Hollywood’s new role models? Instead of impressing the masses with what they own, they could inspire them by what they don’t own. Perhaps conspicuous consumption would fall out of favor, and be replaced by a popular interest in minimalist living… (I can dream!)

I wanted to share this because I suspect that many of you (like me) would never have tripped across this on your own. I think it’s wonderful to have a minimalist in the public spotlight, and hope that it introduces more people to this fabulous lifestyle.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this — and wonder if anyone knows of other minimalist celebrities?

{If you’d like to read more about minimalist living, please consider subscribing to my RSS feed, or signing up to receive new articles by email.}

31 comments to Celebrity Minimalist: Vincent Kartheiser from Mad Men

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  • That is wonderful! I had NO idea.

    The only other celeb I know that is really eco-friendly, but not a minimalist, is Larry Hagman from the TV series Dallas.

    He outfitted his entire home with solar panels, paying $13/year for electricity, down from $13,000 or something crazy like that.

    Other than that, this is the first I’ve heard of an actual claim-to-fame celeb who is doing something so off the grid.

    I am not sold on the no toilet thing, but.. I love it :)

    • miss minimalist

      Hi FB! That’s interesting about Larry Hagman, I didn’t know that. I’ve always admired Ed Begley Jr. for his eco-friendly lifestyle.

  • Heather

    This is lovely and refreshing. I think it brings in the reality that celebrities are just poster children in a carefully driven ship that is totally unattainable for 99% of the rest of the world. I don’t know if I could go without a toilet, but his perspective is fun and truly goes against the grain of a typical Hollywood type. He probably has a little gypsy and noamd in him..that I can understand. : )

  • What a great interview. I’m so surprised. I don’t know of any other celebrities that live like this. I think this is really going to throw a lot of people b/c we don’t, as a society think of wealth and minimalism as going together. We understand people who don’t have money and choose to live without a lot of things but people with money? No way, they have to be surrounded by things, right? WRONG. I’m quite inspired by this post. Thanks for sharing it.

  • ami

    Wonderful to know some celebrities understand that they can choose NOT to live the Hollywood lifestyle. I loved this – Vincent’s choices make me re-consider whether we’re doing all we can to minimize the complexity of our lives. thanks for the post.

    • miss minimalist

      So true, ami — he’s a great example of how we can make our lives as simple as we want (without worrying about society’s expectations).

  • Deb J

    I’m with you when it comes to celebrities so was pleased to read about one who is different. He’s probably one in a million with money who lives this way. Good for him. thanks for sharing.

  • Julia

    This is great – and it’s so true that if you don’t have a car you don’t buy as much! Sometimes when I’m out on foot I think about buying something I ‘need’ and then I think that I don’t want to carry it round with me all day so I’ll buy it later. Usually by the time ‘later’ comes I’ve forgotten and whatever it was stays in the shop – and my money stays in the bank!

    I’m sure I read somewhere that a few celebrities have taken part in the 100 things challenge, but I think they were grouping quite a few items as one thing eg one yacht, one second home, one closet full of designer shoes :-) I know we should never judge each other’s take on minimalism…

    • miss minimalist

      Julia, I’m the same way — I do most of my shopping on foot, and have passed over many a purchase because I didn’t want to drag it around. Great for the wallet!

  • I love that this was included in the interview. I found out about this post and the original article thanks to your tweet :) (I’d have read it in the RSS feed later on but wanted you to know your tweeting got my attention faster)

    I read another short article a while back about Robert Pattinson:
    http://www.gossipcenter.com/robert-pattinson/robert-pattinson’s-minimalist-lifestyle-449551

    • miss minimalist

      Craig, I’m glad you saw my tweet! :-) And thanks for the info on Robert Pattinson — hope to see more minimalist celebrities come out of the woodwork.

  • Refreshing indeed. As a former Angeleno who is more than a little cynical about Hollywood and Malibu stars telling everyone to live more responsibly and sustainably from the steps of their 10,000 sq ft mansions, I am happy to see that even ONE actor sees the futility of chasing stuff.

  • Anne

    I was with him until he mentioned trying to steal a rock to make a sink… then I quit reading. Seems more actor then minimalist to me.

  • [...] Celebrity Minimalist: Vincent Kartheiser from Mad Men [...]

  • Sandy

    Jackson Brown lives totally off the grid and has for many years.

  • I agree with you that celebrity worship can be extreme but it is certainly a very positive thing to have celebrities walking the talk to help spread the word about charitable causes and different lifestyles. Personally his “no toilet” thing is too extreme for me. But I think that is an important thing to remember in minimalism that it’s about listening to what you are comfortable with and applying the aspects where you want or need them. I’m not ashamed to say that I like having a toilet!!

  • Dee

    Apparently that toilet comment is untrue as Vincent Kartheiser had stated in another article the fact that people think he doesn’t have one is sad. Great that he living life in the minimal but he owns a toilet! knowing what he says sometimes he could be just pulling people’s legs for fun.

  • Love this post! Thanks for re-sharing it a year later. He plays such a skanky character on Mad Men. Who knew he was such an admirable person in real life?

    I’m in the same pool as you are when it comes to celebrity worship, but this one is worthy of our admiration.

  • Abby

    Nice post, very interesting, but I bet he’s not married, and if he has a girlfriend, he spends his time at her house!

    Another notorious celebrity living the minimalist way is of course Ralph Nader.

  • How interesting to hear of a Hollywood star doing Positive things! I’d be curious to hear what he’s up to a year later…

  • Kate

    One of the richest men in this world is frugal, namely Warren Buffett. Considering his wealth you might call his lifestyle minimalist although it’s not in a true sense.
    You can read up on his lifestyle in the following article. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Warren-Buffetts-Frugal-So-Why-investopedia-1012408202.html?x=0

    One of his quotes : “your standard of living is not equal to your cost of living” sums it up nicely.

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