Monday, August 09, 2010

Minimalism in sepia

From as best I can tell, there are two warring factions out there when it comes to stuff and owning it.

The first faction that I'm most familiar with advocates the acquisition of said stuff until one's home is virtually busting at the seams and the stuff is practically demanding to be brought to Goodwill so someone else can add it to their own stuff pile.

Stuff is supposed to make you look grown up and like you know what you're doing. Successful. You're not messing around. After all, look at all of your stuff! With all that stuff, you are prepared for anything. Natural disasters of the worst kind. Construction emergencies. Lightbulb outtage emergencies. Having-company-over emergencies. I own only two platters! Must acquire more platters! Imagine how long it would take a group of movers to move all of your stuff. Cripes!

The second faction is growing, and has been growing for quite some time, but in typical fashion, I am just now hearing about it. They are the minimalists. At their most extreme, they advocate owning 100 items, tops. Even down to a roll of toilet paper. I was sitting in my family room while I read an article about these people who own 100 things and I said to my husband: There are more than 100 things in this room.

Frankly, there are more than 100 things under my bathroom sink. There are more than 100 things on the desk at which I am sitting.

These people own, like, four plates, two pairs of shoes, two shirts. A bowl. A fork. No TV. No cars.

They are hippies, to be sure, in a new way -- a way I actually have been hearing about for a little while. They converge with another group that advocates working less and enjoying yourself more. Realizing just how little money it takes to be happy and support yourself.

But traditionally, what you're supposed to do is buy a house and be in debt for the rest of your life. This is supposed to make you happy. Because you get to keep throwing money at the house. Which shelters you and your brood. And which costs lots of money every month. Which means you have to work lots, probably more than you'd like.

If we all became nomads and lived in tents and pooped in the dirt we would probably be happier, but the economy would collapse and the government would implode and Home Depot would go out of business and you wouldn't be able to watch the Bachelorette.

We've certainly gone too far to turn back to nature. At least, we can't all do it. My living room needs paint and I need a lot more stuff before I will be satisfied with this house that costs so much money every month. I could take the other path, but first, I would need to do something with all this stuff.

I envy these 100-pieces-of-stuff people to a degree. Life is simple. They ride a bike to a volunteer yoga job. They eat rice from their bowl. They walk to the beach. When their one roll of toilet paper is finished, they go buy another one.

And it's understandable that I would feel this envy, as I stack and unstack boxes of stuff acquired by people who are dead now. I remove a piece of stuff from a box and it bewilders me. What is this dusty item? Should I keep it? Am I dishonoring the memory of my loved one if I sell it or give it away?

We, in our home, are so overwhelmed by this stuff, when our natural inclination is to live with clean lines and open doors and fresh scents, that we have been tempted to cart all of the stuff to the curb and label it "FREE." To take it to a storage locker and close the door and never look at it again. To just take the whole kit and caboodle to a second-hand store.

Guilt will not allow it. I stack, unstack, rearrange, open boxes, close boxes, close doors, close the curtains.


  1. Oh, I so get this. I too am torn between the need to purge mass amounts of "stuff" from my life, and the need to hang onto things to which I have silly sentimental attachments. The only reason I don't have more stuff is that I have moved every few years for the past 10 years of my life. This is the best way to suddenly and decisively determine that some of this "stuff" is completely unnecessary. Despite this, however, it did take the movers 9 hours to move us this year, despite the amount of stuff I got rid of before the move.

  2. In terms of the inherited stuff, I have a theory: Whoever left you said stuff loved you and wants you to be happy and to LIVE WELL.

    If said inherited stuff is keeping you from living well or is cluttering up your home and making you unhappy?

    I'm sure they would give you their blessing to pass it on, donate it to others, or sell it.

    And I'm sure they wouldn't want you to feel guilty about it.

  3. To me the stuff is pieces of other people. Especially if they were acquired from deceased people. And, therefore, I have an incredibly hard time parting with it. INCREDIBLY HARD. I may never ever look at the stuff, but the thought of tossing it away hurts me immensely.

    Or other things are part of me in a sense and that can be equally hard, unless I'm totally over that part of my life. So I understand this dilemma especially when I, too, want to live more simply (in terms of stuff). Clutter makes me CRAZY.

    It's like "kipple." Did you ever read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (the book that became Blade Runner)? In it, kipple, which if I remember correctly is all the stuff, is taking over. It's everywhere, I think it may even breed. Somehow kipple begets more kipple. Loved that book.

  4. Funny! I just read Dr. Laura's blog titled, Going on a Shopping Diet. She referred to a website called

    I guess it's a challenge for people to only wear 6 items for a month, not including accessories or underwear. Basically, the idea to clean out the closet. I might clean out my closet but I don't think I'll do the 6 item challenge.