The Reluctant Minimalist
In the last week, I have been in and out of my storage unit to assemble a small load of things to take back with me to San Francisco. It’s nothing precious; everything that gets hauled back in a trailer is in its finale of life. When there is another move, these things go to the street corner.
The pile contains two boxes of essential cookware; a tiled cafe table; a pair of beat-up stools; and a tattered junior drafting table that I’ll use as a desk. I’ll try and get my foam mattress and a rug into the uHaul trailer if I can.
What remains in my storage unit in Santa Fe: a sofa; a coffee table; two University chairs from my dad; two old Afghan rugs; an antique trunk with linens; all my artwork, books, journals, and photos; a box of expensive high-heeled shoes; and a significant amount of fine porcelain tableware that my mother has given me but feels very far away from proper usage. Apart from my books and art, honestly I am not totally sold on warehousing all this stuff. However, for now it stays.
Last August, I paired my life down significantly for the move to New Mexico. What I have been living with since is even less — basic clothes, a computer, some ritual goodies like my White Tara statue, a handful of yoga and recovery books, and ski gear. I am both shocked and impressed with my ability to live so leanly, and to be honest, I am feeling reluctant to spin up into something that contains more stuff. I would not have cast myself in the role of a mid-life minimalist but, in fact, here I am.
What do our belongings say about the nature of home? I am parting ways with the idea of “the home” as a temple to my stuff. Too often, houses are useful storage units that also happen to be comfortable enough to sleep in. But is that actually home or just a personal shop with no price tags? In the pandemic, many writers took a run at this topic when we were all forced to confront the realities of our stuff in the context of being “locked down” with it all. (And, let’s acknowledge how much American-ness is even built into the idea of excess belongings!)
Ann Patchett, in her latest book These Precious Days, has a wonderful essay in which she admits to having boxes upon boxes of glassware hoarded — until the pandemic forced her to confront it. The New York Times loves a solid lament by boomers confronting the reality that their Gen X children don’t actually want their shit. (After my dad died, and my sisters and I had picked out our treasures, we sent thousands of dollars of stuff to the dump with 1-800-JUNK.)
Subconsciously I chose a monastic (scarcity?) approach for my life at the ranch and it has been exceedingly simple when it comes to things. I have instead been enthralled with my hyper-local dramas such as Bruno’s obsession with the rabbits, my collection of rusted found-metal parts, identifying the birds on cactus branches, the sunsets, the fire tending. It’s also been so spartan as to allow more dislocation than is healthy for me. In other words, my time here at the ranch is coming to its conclusion — with much gratitude.
I now am hungry for modern nesting. A friend told me she was gardening today and putting in her spring flowers, and I felt a deep pang of envy. To be sure, what I crave in a home has only a little to do with my belongings, and everything to do with feeling and sensation — joy, light, spaciousness, birdsong, peace, comfort, serenity, feeling safe. The places I have felt most at home in my life, in fact, have often been very far away from the material things I owned and closer to my heart things (of course).
When I was growing up, home was not actually the safest place. I am sure for many who grew up in dysfunctional or alcoholic households this was the case. Hidden dangers lurked, adults were unpredictable, silent scorn, criticism, and stress accumulated in corners, moves happened often. My commitment to finding a home free of these old bogeys is absolutely vital.
So while I continue to participate in the extortion racket of Extra Space Storage, I am leaving room open for the manifestation of that home to appear without my looking at Redfin or Zillow; where the money and timing and location seem to seamlessly lock in together; where my spreadsheets and stress can go away. I am just saying, I am willing to believe in a little magic.