From Someone Who Loves Her Stuff
As Americans, we have perfected the role of the consumer. Every holiday from Valentine’s Day to Easter has become a gift giving affair. We wait in long lines braving exposure to the elements to acquire the latest tech gadgets. We shop at flea markets, antique fairs, and even eBay to find collectibles, antiques, and memorabilia. We shop just for the sake of shopping. We buy items just for the sake of getting a deal. We choose homes based on closest size, and expand garages to ensure we have enough room to store our varied belongings. We collect, and we store, and we upgrade, and we replace and we repeat, and repeat, and repeat.
Walk into most homes and what do you see? Bookshelves filled with family photos, dining room hutches filled with wedding registry china that never gets used (because it’s wedding registry china), refrigerators filled with magnets from every family vacation ever taken, and desks and end tables filled with books, knickknacks, trinkets, souvenirs, and gifts.
I’m not a hoarder by any means, but, I do love my stuff, and there are certain things I do like to collect. I like framed photos. I love books. I adore my high heel shoe collection, and my kitchen gadgets, and if someone is nice enough to give me a sentimental item or gift, I’ll keep it and display it someplace appropriate. I’d say I’m an average American who, over the course of one’s lifetime, acquires an average amount of belongings.
This is why dating a minimalist has been a challenge that has forced me to face many personal truths and redefine my sense of need. If you have a minimalist in your life, and you too love your stuff, then you can relate. If you are unfamiliar with the minimalist movement, then you must not watch HGTV, so we’ll start with a definition:
1. a person who favors a moderate approach to the achievement of a set of goals or who holds minimal expectations for the success of a program
2. being or offering no more than what is required or essential
Walk into a minimalist’s home, and you won’t find books, picture frames, souvenirs, a complete sofa set, or a scarf collection. You’ll find a coffee table that folds out to reveal a sleeper sofa, a coffee pot that also makes French fries, and a closet with one pair of shoes, three t-shirts, and one winter jacket. All of the other closets in the house are empty, except for the one that serves as an extra bedroom. Go into the bathroom and you’ll find a cleverly constructed water recycling system used to water the hydroponic garden in the kitchen/dining room/office.
Minimalists live in a world predicated on the concept of the least common denominator. They believe in owning the fewest things needed to survive (that’s right, I said survive, not proliferate). They believe in multipurpose tools, furniture, and devices, and repurposing, recycling, and even re-wearing.
Given our hyper-consumerism, I believe minimalists to be admirable, sensible individuals. The problem is, I love my shoe collection, and my stack of favorite books, and my collection of high school yearbooks. Sure, I never look at those yearbooks, but I could if I wanted to, and that is comforting to me. They are tangible reminders of my formative years, and if I were to get rid of them, a piece of my history would be missing forever.
Hold fast to memories, say collectors. Each belonging is a part of the interwoven fabric of every life moment that has made you who you are today. Each item saved is a reminder of past loves, lost friends, and life events that have shaped our existence.
Tangible memories be damned, say minimalists. If it was important, you don’t need a photo or trinket to remind you of it. Memories cannot be confined by possessions. What defines us is inside of us. Memories are part of our flesh and bones. They are not trinkets to display on mantles, or photos saved in plastic sheets and stored on shelves.
Both are compelling arguments, and no one is really right or wrong. It’s just about perspective and how we choose to honor our loved ones, live our lives, and what we need in our surroundings to bring us comfort and a sense of home.
I am dating minimalist, but I am not one.
Relationships are all about compromise, a platitude which could not be more true than when collectors and minimalists collide. It is like the collision of hot, blazing fire and tiny grains of sand colliding to form delicate, fragile fragments of glass. The phenomenon of opposites attracting often results in important lessons of sacrifice, understanding, giving, taking, and conforming. As a sentimental collector dating a practical minimalist, I have learned when to appreciate simplicity, and when to honor memory in physical form. What follows are my observations on dating a minimalist, as someone who loves her stuff.
Your non-essential belongings move…out of site.
When you are a collector dating a minimalist, one day you will likely come home to find that your book collection has been moved. Into the basement. Your refrigerator magnets will disappear only to reappear in drawers. You will come home and those martini glasses you used once a year will appear in a sealed box labeled “donate.” Fine, I wasn’t really using those martini glasses anyway, so they probably didn’t need to take up our limited shelf space, but what happens if someday I want to have a swanky cocktail party and serve my guests martinis? Fine, if I was going to do that, I probably would have done it by now. Point one, minimalists.
You start to receive lots of suggested articles about tiny homes, minimalist décor, and people who quit their jobs, move into vans, and fine nirvana.
What I want to know, is why isn’t anyone blogging about what it was like to quit their job, sell all of their belongings, move into a van, and become completely miserable and lament every personal belonging sold on Craig’s list for .2% of what it was worth? Sure, the idea of living a nomadic life like a hippie Phish fan sounds romantic, but what exactly do transient minimalists do without indoor plumbing?
You paint your house. One color. And only one color.
When the theory of minimalism is applied to home décor, it means committing to a life of trundle beds, tables with nothing on them, and one shade of paint that you can live with in every room of the house, because anything more eclectic would be exorbitant, and wasteful. Let’s hope for your sake that your minimalist chooses a neutral color and not a bold statement color, like seventh level of hell burgundy, or institutionalized yellow.
Holiday décor does not exist.
I can actually get behind this one. Decorating for Christmas every year requires way more energy than I can commit to spending on house lights, Christmas bulbs, and trees and wreaths that are just going to die anyway. For a minimalist, boxes of holiday décor that only surface for a few weeks every year have no place in a world of consolidation and simplification. We’ll call a truce on this one, because no holiday décor means I also don’t have to remember which Christmas bulb came out of which box.
You start to hide things.
A friend gives you a flower vase that doesn’t match the simplistic (read: single) color scheme of your home, or a family member goes on an exotic vacation and brings you back a unique collectible, or perhaps a distant relative passes down a family heirloom – a set of dishes, or a piece of furniture, or a collection of books. Looking around your sparsely decorated home, you start to panic. If the minimalist sees that you have brought another non-functional item into the home, it will only cause distress as you plead your case for why you want it, while they plead their case for why it’s not needed. As a result, you do the only thing a rational and sensible adult would do. You hide the gift in your closet, basement, attic, or garage, and decide that maybe someday, you’ll own a home together where it can be placed in an unobtrusive spot. For now, you keep it in hiding and hope you don’t get caught with contraband.
You start to receive multipurpose gifts.
By multipurpose, I mean they benefit both your collector nature, and your minimalist’s need for a clutter-free living space. Minimalists love to replace your DVDs with digital copies of your favorite flicks that can be saved to the cloud, your hardcover books with e-Readers, and your blender, and food processor, and immersion blender with one device that does all three things in one. In the spirit of compromise, we’ll call this one a draw. Nothing gained, and nothing lost.
You learn to redefine your gift-giving approach.
If you’re dating a minimalist, you have to completely re-think your gifting strategy. Forget giving clothes (he doesn’t need any more), framed photos (she’ll say there’s no place for them), or coffee mugs with pithy sayings (his single, white porcelain cup is all he needs, thank you). This one is a blessing and a curse. It takes the simplicity out of gift giving (“Oh but he loves The Walking Dead. Why wouldn’t he want the complete series on DVD?”), but it forces you to be more creative, more original, and more real. You want to give a minimalist a gift that will matter to him? Give him an experience. Give him concert tickets. Cook her dinner, or make an effort to finally convert all of your printed photos to digital copies. Trust me, it will be more meaningful than any engraved fountain pen set you could find.
You learn what, and who, you can’t live without.
I love my stuff. I said that right from the beginning. In all fairness though, I love some things more than others, and I often make the mistake of holding on to certain belongings because I feel like I should, and not because they are functional, memorable, or useful. I have learned that everyone defines the comforts of home differently. For some, a comfortable home means being surrounded by photos, handmade gifts, and collectibles. For others it is a clear, uncluttered space where they can rest without distraction. I have learned that some gifts and heirlooms truly are irreplaceable and should be protected and safeguarded, while other tangible items are no substitute for what only memory can preserve. I have learned that the comfort of those we love is more important than a snow globe from an uneventful vacation, and that if someone truly loves us, they will understand that there are certain things we simply cannot live without in return.
Relationships are all about compromise, and when opposites attract, it can be an unstoppable impetus for personal growth, needed change, and generous understanding. If you are dating a minimalist, and you love your stuff, ask yourself what you truly cannot live without. Then ask yourself who you cannot live without. The rest will sort itself out, or end up in a box in the basement. Either way, you’re good.