I’ve never truly considered myself a “minimalist” because of how much I know I’ve spent in the past. While I’ve constantly kept a very small collection of… anything really, I’ve also been guilty of that wasteful tactic: one in – one out. That’s not really minimalist. It’s a compulsive consumer pretending to be a minimalist because the amount of things actually owned at one given time is still rather small. The rotation of items however, belie a greater issue: constant want.
Last week “woke” me quite violently from any delusions I’ve had before about the things I own. It also made me realize just how privileged I am and how I truly don’t value the things I own enough.
I’d gone to the city for a week to help my mom move into her new house. Her 4-story-4 1/2 bath-with garage-plus-roof-deck house. For one person. And two dogs. I stayed with her for a week because she’s got a broken foot and is using a boot/ crutches to get around. Did I mention the house has more stairs than that famous M.C. Escher picture? I jest… sort of….. I was directing the movers for 2-3 days and my calves, feet, IT band and hips were screaming by Wednesday. Each morning I had to do stretches in order to walk down the stairs or I’d fall down them. Even then, I was still hobbling and starting to look like mom as I tried to gingerly go up and down stairs, moving boxes and small bits of furniture.
While unpacking boxes and putting things away, a strange, sick feeling crept over me. I filled up 3 large closets with clothes. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say there was easily over 400 pieces of clothing. And that’s being conservative. There are at least 7 different sets of bath towels, 6 sets of bed linens, and 6 sets of formal dining linens. 5 different kinds of wine glass sets and bar glasses. The amount of dishes, glassware, clothes, bed linens, towels, shoes, and home decor for every season and in-between was baffling to me. How had I not noticed all this before in her other house or in general? Most of it were items I’d seen at some point, but some of it was completely new as well. She bought a new bar cabinet I’d not seen – in addition to the vintage one she already had that was probably over 60 years old. She called the older one the “cellarette” because that’s what they were marketed as back then. I don’t think many know what that means these days… She even kept all the spa robes and patio dishes she used when she had a hot tub/ pool – that she no longer has in the city. Will she use it all for the roof deck? Some of the items were truly pieces worth keeping, but most of it was simply…. junk.
I know that it’s very harsh and rude of me to say that the precious belongings of anyone are “junk” because I know those things mean something to that person. Not once when moving everything did I ever utter a word of contempt or disapproval or ask, “how many of these do you need!?!?” It wasn’t my place to say those things. I’m in no position to judge anyone else for what they keep or hoard or value or deem “necessary”. But one thought constantly crept up in my mind: what am I going to do with all of this stuff when she’s gone? Yes, I know that in itself is very morbid and awful, but it’s something I will need to consider at some point. Words I kept mumbling in my mind throughout the week were: minimalism, Marie Kondo (pre-sell-out phase; she’s basically a commercial for buying storage/ organizing units now and admit she’s not even into her own techniques anymore), simplicity, and Swedish death cleaning. The last three words: Swedish death cleaning, were on my mind the most and how I came to the “junk” conclusion. Would I keep any of this stuff? Did it have any value to me? The answer was easy: no. I know my sister would definitely keep a lot of items, but did I hold any attachment to these things? Not really. There were a few items that I remembered and thought, “oh I remember liking that little brass cat statue”, etc… but it’s not as if any of those things held value in a way that made me think: I’m definitely claiming that item! I understand families have their own heirlooms and keepsakes that are meant to be handed down and treasured. But what if those treasures are actually material burdens to lug around for the rest of our lives? After helping out last week something clicked within and I know I never want to burden anyone with my belongings when I’m gone. Some might think 47 is too early to think about such things, but I think it’s better to start thinking about it sooner than later when one doesn’t have the time, energy or strength to deal with it anymore.
My life is very different from my parents. For them, formal dishes are for formal occasions to only be used a couple times per year. My husband and I have one set of dishes we use all the time, regardless of occasion. And more often than not we’ll use disposables when there’s a lot of company so it’s easy to clean up. Out of the two bar cabinets, one was referred to as the “cellarette”. The movers looked funny and just said, “so there’s two bar cabinets”. Yeah. By comparison, my husband and I use the bar glasses we got for our wedding as protein shake glasses because they are bigger than our regular glasses. Why did I ask for bar glasses on our wedding registry? Oh right, because that’s what people do. They ask to be gifted things they think they need but really don’t. Formal events are a true rarity now and the idea that one will be looked down upon for not using the right wine glass for red or white wine is a non-issue. Most restaurants don’t even get that right and it’s no biggie. I’d easily drink wine out of a paper cup or kid’s sippy cup instead… if I drank anymore. (That may be another post in itself…)
It’s funny how routine begets old habits. Since I’ve been home I’ve found myself doing the usual browsing of items: clothes, stationery, house wares, etc… But each time I’ve managed to stop myself and say: Didn’t I learn anything from last week?! Yes. I closed the browser and looked at the things I had and knew I didn’t need anything else. I already had the things I wanted. I was merely victim to the idea of something “new” that served the same purpose. I’m still trying to break the browsing habit because that in itself is an energy sucking pastime. Why create such anxiety over what I don’t own? Ah, our wonderful capitalist society that makes everything shiny and new and important and redundant!
Speaking of redundancy, check out how many times I wore the green pants lately that I previously said I wouldn’t wear in public. Why did I wear them so much? 1. The stains are hardly visible and unless you pointed them out, no one would know. 2. Big pockets are always a win. 3. They are easy to wear. Even the color combination is constantly repeated.
I didn’t take photos at my mom’s house because there were no full length mirrors that I could easily access among the boxes and I was simply too busy most of the time. I also didn’t change clothes a lot. My capsule experiment ended up being a joke.
I still don’t consider myself a minimalist and the title of this post is very tongue-in-cheek. But I’ve definitely had a lot to think on lately. It’s tied in a lot to my No Buy year. Each night I talked with my husband and he asked, “so are you doing a purge when you get home?” I laughed because he knows me so well, but I don’t really need to purge. He even conceded we can go through his stuff because he’s well aware of his own hoarding tendencies. That is another lesson for me: no one can or should judge others for what they do and don’t own, but I think it helps to have a care for what will happen to all the stuff in the end when we’re gone and who will have to deal with it.