Thursday, May 17, 2012

Right-Sizing: Or, I Am Not a Minimalist

Well, the Big House has found a buyer.  Everything that's still in it either comes to the Little House, the storage unit, or out into the world.

In theory, everything except the art on the walls, some of the furniture, and the wedding china could leave my possession.  In theory.

A few years ago, I was participating in a local online-only moms club.  The online-only part is important; women said some of the most amazing, outrageous things under the mighty thin anonymity of a username like "MindyA" or "EllasMom."  Cris-de-coeur like "Am I ever going to get my waist back?" or "At what age did YOUR baby sleep at night?" were interspersed with outrageously personal details about their sex lives, their (or their husbands') DUIs, nanny problems, mother-in-law problems, and requests for gardeners.  And of course, repeated complaints about The Mess.

I doubt I need to explain The Mess.  But since I do need to vent, I will share what our Mess currently consists of:

  • Toy cars
  • Various jump ropes
  • Move debris (books, etc. that had been used for staging but can now come home to Mama)
  • Quentin's "Writing Office" where he is conducting his Write On Mamas writing class -- this is a big plastic tool chest thingy with paper & pencils on top.  The boys are numbering all the rooms in the house, except the living room, which has been designated the Write On Mamas Conference Room.  Quentin says he is On Writing Duty.
  • Various shoes and dirty socks
  • Backpacks
  • School work that they are returning for my inspection which I have not yet inspected
  • Folded laundry on the couch -- usually it's not folded, but I spiffed the place up for y'all
  • Miscelleneous detritis that I'm not willing to admit to
So, every happy family I know has a Mess.  And everybody complains about the Mess.  And it popped up regularly on the forum.  Complaining about the Mess was always a hot topic, with responses usually wordy and ranging from some variation of "don't worry about it, enjoy your kids while they're little" to "I make the kids clean up each type of toy or game before they move on to the next one" (which I personally object to, but probably that person doesn't have items on her Mess list that she won't admit).  

There was one exception, one time.  The response consisted of a single line:

Well, that's almost like God sending you a little text message cutting through all that wordy crap and saying "CHECK OUT THIS BLOG."

So of course I did.  

Now, if you are remotely interested in being green, or reducing your waste, you have probably encountered Bea Johnson and her family.  She's been all over the place in the last two years: the Today show, People magazine, the New York Times and Sunset magazine, to name her highest profile appearances (sorry, the link to the Sunset article was password protected; check your library for the December 2010 issue).  I went a little cross-eyed looking at the blog, at first, not understanding if I was seeing what I was really seeing, so then I clicked over to the New York Times article.

That entire article had an impact on me, and it all started with this paragraph:

It’s like some kind of amazing magic trick. Bea has a husband, two sons (ages 10 and 8) and a dog, and yet her household generates no empty containers, no food scraps, no dirty paper towels, no broken toys, no crumpled wrapping paper, no empty ketchup packets from fast-food restaurants, no orphan socks with holes in the toes. 

Doesn't that sound beautiful?  Amazing?  Magical, as the article says?

Yes.  Yes, it does.

Imagine a life without the mess.



Yes, back to reality.  Back to where Bea Johnson has led where I can't follow.

The thing is, in addition to being nearly zero waste, she's also a true minimalist.  There is a pretty detailed inventory of her house over the course of her blog entries, and it's impressive.

Her house is beautiful.  It's all white, with little pops of orange, which is one of my favorite colors.  And it is, as described, utterly uncluttered.  If you toodle around on her blog you'll find lots of places where she details all the things she got rid of and why she found them unnecessary.

But as I have been packing away many of my belongings, the ones that were used to stage the house and give it personality, I have realized that, although many of those things have little real value, I do find them beautiful.  I am sad to be packing them up with no sense of when I might see them again.

Can I live without the little Fiestaware vase & cherub arrangement that I seem to create in each of my homes?  For sure.  But somehow, seeing the green vase and the cherub holding the (fake) mistletoe ball, which I'm sure Bea Johnson would find too tacky for words, makes me feel... I don't know... at home.  I mean, I've occupied five dwellings in the twelve years that those items have been part of my life, so they certainly have more permanence to me than any building has had.

Can I live without my John Lennon calendar hanging over my desk?  Well, yes.  I have only had it since November (and couldn't even hang it till March, owing to the Big House being staged).  But it calls to mind a set of memories that wouldn't need to surface otherwise: looking at a big painting of John in New York City, priced at $14,000, at some ridiculous store at the Mirage in Las Vegas, laughing with my husband about "maybe someday" -- and then coming back to the hotel room later to find that he'd bought me the calendar, the cover of which is the photo that inspired the painting.  That weekend, when everything was smooth and easy and not distracted by children or house stuff.  It reminds me of how much my husband, who doesn't usually buy me flowers but got the John Lennon calendar and 82% cacao chocolate bars, knows and and loves me.  With all these children and projects, it can be easy to stop noticing that.

Could I  live without my wedding china?  The fruit dishes from Jeff's grandmother?  The brown linen chair with the broken leg?  Yes.  Yes.  Yes again.  Some of it I even want to release into the world.

But somehow, parting with the Big House, and the easy stuff (half our possessions, almost), is enough. I'm beginning to feel a sense of loss.  I don't want to lose momentum on this project, so I think I have done Enough.  I will keep my (number withheld) pairs of shoes, my (too many) skirts and dresses, the (not going to admit) books about Virginia Woolf and the Beatles and England, and each of my children's coming-home-from-the-hospital newborn outfits.

But just because I keep those things today doesn't mean I have to make that same decision tomorrow.

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