I like my stuff. In fact, I’d have to admit I love it. It’s not a wild love, but it’s certainly a fond one. With some wistfulness thrown in for good measure.
Right now there’s a wave of minimalism sweeping the land. As a backlash against the “Buy More, Buy Now, Buy Again” excess of our recent millennium, I approve. The recession has reminded us of important principles. As a backlash against pops of color, and shoes the shapes of aardvarks, and Accessories Are Your Savior, I also approve. Monochrome is a lovely design choice.
But I do not believe there’s inherent virtue in the minimal.
We’re advised to get rid of all the clothes we don’t wear. I need both my hands to count the pieces I have kept over the decades and I still wish I had more. We’re advised to rid ourselves of old photos. I’m only now scanning in my slides from a trip to India, 28 years ago. We’re told, pare down, scale back, find zen in empty.
I prefer not.
I have lived my life both in impulse and on purpose. Patterns developed anyway, despite my wandering. Sometimes I understood their shapes, sometimes I followed what I could not see. Now my stuff, such a silly word, acts like a lens. Magnifying details I might have forgotten, then obscuring the small so that patterns show large.
I’m not advocating that we all become hoarders. Clear surfaces are good. I’m defending intentional stuff, not the kind that lives in drawers and breeds misery.
Several years ago, in the divorce, I cleaned out my entire house. Every drawer. Every cupboard. Every closet. Only a few mysterious tubs in the garage remain unexplored. Who knows what’s in there? Now my stuff is intentional. I kept what I loved. I kept what I needed. I put everything where I meant it to stay.
The cleanup was hard work. My best friend helped with a lot. But some I did alone.
My kids’ craft supplies had always been stored in a cupboard over the washing machine. We had compounds for melting and tools for cutting and construction paper and glue guns and beads. To say nothing of glitter. As a mother of young ones I planned for creativity. We all do our best.
When I finally got around to cleaning out the laundry room, I took the Rubbermaid containers down from the cabinet. They had stiff, annoying, aqua lids. I opened them. I fingered the packs of felt pens. I felt so sad. And then I thought to myself, there is something else mixed up in my sorrow over the end of my marriage. I am sad as much because kids stop using glue guns as for any other reason. And because I had such dreams and intent to be perfect.
My children would have grown up, no matter what I did. I understood my loss more clearly through my stuff. That’s worth a little clutter.
I have more. In the photo above you see a family enamel pocket watch I never carry, an inappropriate Armani tunic I bought in times of distress to wear to my son’s 8th grade graduation, and a postcard from my mother. With her inimitable boarding school handwriting. Oh, and random shells in a random glass piece from beaches somewhere.
Because I am a High WASP, my souvenirs, from the French word for remember, look like antiques and haute couture and distant geographies. They aren’t. They are just stuff.
In defense, then, of stuff.