The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.
-- Hans Hofmann
'Only bring what will support your lifestyle," said the authoritative woman in red with an elegant Eastern European accent. "But that's everything," I muttered under my breath.
"There are four reasons for clutter: fear, papers, guilt, and money." I nodded along with these sage words as I took a bite of juicy strawberry from the plate David had just handed me.
"She's right, you know," I whispered to David.
"I know," he whispered back.
"We're going to have to go through your garage and get rid of anything you haven't used in over a year," I said, then handed the plate back to him so I could jot down more words of wisdom: Every item needs a permanent home.
"This is going to be tough," I said as I snatched the last piece of cheese.
"Yeah, and think about it -- this seminar is for people who are moving from their large suburban house to their small city condo. Our new place will be a lot bigger than the one we're in now, and we still won't have enough room for all the shit we have." With a bittersweet awareness of the irony, David prefers a minimalist style but can't seem to let go of unnecessary clutter (like his complete ten-year collection of Fine Homebuilding magazine or his absurdly large and heavy Cold War-era oscilloscope).
For the past two years, I've been living with David, but portions of my belongings still reside with my father in Mission Hills or my mother in Chula Vista. The remainder of my stuff stays with David and me in our Kensington loft, where it has multiplied and now threatens to suffocate us.
This reign of clutter is soon to end, however, for we have vowed to embrace the minimalist mantra: less is more. I expect some transitional difficulty, seeing as I have lived my life thus far by chanting, "More! More!" When I see an available countertop, the first thing that comes to mind is, oh look, a place for me to put my purse or book or whatever happens to be in my hand at the moment. But David has always felt that the clearer our surfaces, the clearer our minds. The higher my pile of crap on the counter, the higher his blood pressure and the shorter his temper.
I can understand how one can be affected by one's environment: on the few occasions I organized my papers so as to glimpse the desk beneath, a relaxing sensation washed over me. It's the closest I've ever come to Zen.
As I surveyed fellow students at the organizational seminar, the absurdity of our problem was not lost on me. Look at us, I thought, whining about how much we have and attending a class to learn such a simple thing as how to give some of it away. But despite my brief moment of enlightenment, the fact remained that our abundant stash was not going to get rid of itself.
"It's just like she said," I told David after we returned home from Stania Rensberger's seminar. "We need to categorize everything." Unfortunately, David and I have different ideas of what needs to go or, more importantly, what must stay.
Before we move into our swanky new uptown pad, we have a lot of material purging to do. Like a raccoon that is virtually tethered to the hole in which its tiny fist is clutching a shiny object, I am trapped by the idea that I must hold on to some of my possessions. David shares this affliction of assigning emotional value to what is essentially useless junk.
We decided that before taking inventory, we must have an objective method for determining what is essential to "support our lifestyle." I grabbed a sheet of paper, drew four columns, and across the top wrote down Stania's reasons for clutter: Fear, Papers, Guilt, and Money. Under "Fear" I wrote "magazines."
"Those need to go," I said to a distressed-looking David.
"I thought they'd come in handy for when I did some homebuilding," he said. Then he tightened his face as though he'd just eaten something sour and gave in. "You're right. I'm not going to be building anything anytime soon. Or anytime ever."
Under "Money" I wrote, "Italian sofas."
"This kills me," I said.
"You know they won't work with our color scheme," David said in an attempt to console me. Brocades of muted rose, green, and beige cover the dark-wooden rococo frames of the three-piece set I purchased as part of a psycho shopping spree in Los Angeles. My sofas make me feel like a dowager during teatime. Minimalist and urban they are not. Expensive they were.
I consulted my notes to find out why money was an irrational reason to keep my fabulous sofas.
David didn't have to research the answer before telling me, "Remember what she said, Barb. The money's already gone. Keeping those sofas won't bring it back."
"Fine!" I am less graceful about defeat than my magnanimous partner. Though it pains me to contemplate on which credit card I am still paying for the damned things, I realize that the sofas must go.
Next up: "Paper." Every brochure, program, and birthday card will have to be examined independently for sentimental worth. David promises to be ruthless.
"I have the map from when I rode my bicycle across Europe in 1977," David announced.
"That's important. You should keep that," I said.
"I haven't looked at it in over 20 years."
"Oh. Couldn't you frame it or something?" I knew it was a stupid question before I could stop myself from asking it. A weathered old map was not part of our modernist vision.
The only column left was "Guilt." These are items we keep because they were given to us by a loved one; especially one who upon entering your home is likely to scan your walls in a silent but obvious search for the macramé wall sculpture she believed was the "perfect piece of art to bring some warmth to this cold, minimalist environment." We live in fear of these spot inspections because we don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or make them think we are ungrateful for their kindness.