“Stuff!,” my 87-year-old mother exclaims, shaking her hands the air as she paces her five-bedroom home in the Houston suburbs. “What am I going to do with all this stuff?”
Maybe she hopes it will all magically disappear, and a sizable check will float out of nowhere, softly landing on her white, sculpted custom Edward Fields rug. Or better yet, the spot on the hardwood floor it used to occupy.
Stuff is what she has accumulated over the past forty years, the first twenty as the wife of a successful Houston oil executive, before a massive stroke grounded him at age 55. Back in the day, they would travel. And collect. Lalique crystal from France; Lladro porcelain from Spain. Six-foot wood carved statues of what look to me like Indian warrior goddesses. Waterford and Baccarat crystal wine glasses and barware, delicate Boehm flowers enshrined in octagonal glass cases. The white, overstuffed sectional sofa onto which we perched many a Christmas morning, Bloody Marys in hand, to exchange gifts.
These things she has collected now make her nervous. They have morphed from coveted collectibles to angst-inducing liabilities as she moves from her 4,000-square-foot home of forty years into an apartment less than a quarter its size. The first estate sale guy we brought in basically said it was all worthless. “Young people don’t want this stuff,” he said, referring to her Lladro, Boehm, Lalique and Waterford. “And they don’t want brown furniture, either. That’s what they call it, ‘brown’ furniture.” He was referring to any traditional wood furniture, like the myriad pieces collecting dust in my mom’s house.
Stuff makes me nervous, too. I look forward to New Year’s every year and the buzz I get from the feeling of emptiness the absence of the Christmas tree brings. A co-worker (who’s never liked me, anyway) once described my home upon seeing it for the first (and only) time as a “museum.” “Just what I expected,” she said. I suspect she was referring to the clean lines and clutter-free surfaces in my home rather than my very scant collection of artwork. I was flattered.
My husband and I recently watched a Netflix documentary, Minimalism, a Documentary About the Important Things. The film examines the lives of several individuals who have chosen to live a minimalist lifestyle and inspires conversation about how life can be more full with less stuff. It resonated with me. Technically, to be a minimalist one must live with fewer than 100 things. Not happening, but I do tend to lean that way.
One thing I have found is that living lean — whether that means restricting your intake of Tex-Mex or wine or travel or designer handbags – increases your appreciation for what you do acquire, consume or own. Conversely, it seems the more you already have, the more you want to (continue to) acquire or consume. Overconsumption, in my opinion, dilutes the value of the things you do acquire – the things you bring into your existence.
The website becomingminimalist.com defines minimalism as “the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.” I like that. Everything I bring into my house I love, either for its form (beauty, intellectual or emotional value) or function. To me, less is more. My utopia is a home in which I can’t point to a single thing I don’t absolutely love or need. And when it’s time for my son to dispose of my assets, easy peasy.
I guess that’s why I like January, the month of austerity. Immediately following and juxtaposed against decadent December, it’s a time to purge and cleanse. Trees shed their leaves, people attempt to shed holiday pounds, some start or renew meditation practices, to shed their minds of clutter and needless anxiety.
All of my mom’s beautiful collectibles could be mine, if I wanted them. But I think I’ll pass.