Sunday, July 20, 2008


I was looking at Middlebrow's blog yesterday (although, Middlebrow, I know you're on vacation, but when your post reads "Day 1: Driving to Blanding, Utah," you have to know your reader is going, but what about Day 2? not to mention Day 3? I'm just saying.), remarking on its sleek minimalism. For instance, he announced about the re-upping of his Flickr account, but no shiny, distracting Flickr badge. He's got his blog roll, his, a site meter, and that's about it. Middlebrow is a notorious minimalist. I think he has, like, three e-mails in his inbox at a time. He deals with things. Things have their places. He doesn't have too much stuff. I admire this quality, mainly because it is a quality that I manifestly do not have, not in the least. There is not one minimal thing in my entire life. Not my blog, not my house, not my office, not one thing.

I am thinking about this because of all the projects going on around here. The organizing of the study. The reshaping of the downstairs. The outdoor projects, front and back yards. Every room in my house has more things than it should have--remnants of all the periods and eras of my life. For instance, there are chairs outside from the historian's house, from my apartment, from thrift stores. Two lawn chairs were my grandmother's, one is from somewhere else, I'm not sure where. There's a stainless steel table of which I do not know the provenance or what it's supposed to be for. And, of course, there's the new old stuff I bought at the consignment store.

I could do the same rundown for every room in my house, but it's already freaking me out a little. What is all this stuff? What is its meaning? Sometimes I think it is a pathology, the acquisition and retaining of stuff which names me to myself and comforts me in the renaming. I'm sure there is an unattractive Freudian explanation which I shall just skip over ("denial"). Also, I kind of just like stuff. There is a certain physical pleasure I derive from just going out, looking at things, thinking of which ones I'd like to take home, put on tables or in cupboards or in closets, wear, use, handle, have around me.

I think that tomorrow, I'm going to take everything out of one half of my study and make myself be a little ruthless. Let me just say, however, that this is by no means a cure. It will, at most, deal with the symptoms. To cure maximalism, you have to believe that the stuff you have, the stuff you acquire, the stuff you keep, is only stuff, and not somehow a part of you. I don't know what it would take to believe that. I think it might be kind of like having excellent vertical leap. Some people think you can improve vertical leap, but I don't think anyone believes you can improve it much. If you have it, you have it. Of course, that's until you get older and you lose it anyway. Okay, it's not very much like vertical leap at all. Perfect pitch--it's like that. I'm pretty sure that my maximalist tendencies are related to all the good, interesting qualities about me. I just wish these excellent traits would help me to clear a path between my desk and my chair, and also reduce the stuff in my closet by a third.


  1. I aspire to a Middlebrowian minimalism (Did such invocation make him post day 2? No it did not. Thusfar). My problem isn't so much the choosing and the shopping but stuff thrust upon me--journals and books in the mail, birthdays for one particular small one, buying a house mostly furnished to almost double the furniture we owned, the sentimental gift, the finding of something and seeing the possibility of one day using it. I'm getting better at tossing stuff but sometimes I feel the more I toss, the more is tossed back my way. Some sort of capitalist karma. Good luck in your office today!

  2. In my current efforts to pack up my house, I am finding it incredibly difficult and futile to let go of things. I feel like I have given away a lot (like 40 books! three significant trips to the thrift store!) but there is still so much. And knowing that I am going to be living in a new place where I don't know a soul, I feel pretty good about all the stuff I am taking with me. It does feel like it's part of me.

  3. I don't think that Maximal versus Minimal is so black and white. There is a side of me that likes to throw away stuff and make things clear and fresh, but I have that shoebox in my closet of things I will never use again like ticket stubs, notes passed in Junior High and cards from loved ones. I think it's good to keep things that mean the most to you. And let them take up space.

  4. wow, only a shoebox? I am at times the minimalist--ruthlessly cleaning out the sizes that no longer fit, the shoes I'll never wear again, the blankets and sheets for mattresses long gone, replaced by larger mattresses. In these minimalist times, I like to think I am clearing out, organizing, living with less. But more often, I simply pack these too small clothes and linens and wrong wrong wrong style shoes into totes to be stowed on the shelves in the basement storage room. And more often than ever before, I find myself stopping to look at something that catches my eye--in a store, at a yardsale, wherever--to look at it, touch it, imagine where I might like to see it in my house, and more quickly than I care to admit, it has found its place in my world. Which is not such a bad thing really.

  5. Middlebrow's New Minimalism is quite maximal compared to his old Minimalism back in the day. If you ask he will show you the barebones thinness of his wallet and how he likes to keep it thusly. Drivers license, one credit card, and three or four bills, just enough to spike it into the third dimension...



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