In Praise of Maximalism

Stuff I viewed as clutter has become a resource for my socially-isolated family.

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Public Domain. Pixabay

I never liked clutter. It might have something to do with the fact that I grew up in a house packed to the gills with stuff; my parents were low-level hoarders of a sort, unable to resist a great deal and always wanting to be prepared for any situation. I suppose it made sense for their lifestyle, living in an isolated location in the Canadian forest with no year-round neighbors. They built their own house, homeschooled their kids, grew much of their own food, chopped their own firewood, so of course they need countless tools to do all of this.

As I grew up, my parents' approach seemed out of sync with my slightly more urban life. I moved to a small town, where I had much easier access to groceries, a hardware store, library, cinema, neighbours, and other useful resources that my parents don't have nearby. This meant that I never felt the need to accumulate a ton of superfluous stuff (nor did I have a series of outbuildings on a rural property on which to store extra stuff). In fact, I made a point of purging clothes and shoes in recent years, ever since I read Marie Kondo's book in 2015.

That being said, I am married to a wonderful man who does not like getting rid of stuff. He is more nostalgic, more worried about what could happen, concerned with preparedness. So there are still things stuffed away in our closets and basement that have not been purged (or that I've not yet gotten around to cleaning out) – and suddenly, within the span of a few weeks, I am immensely grateful for that fact.

What Has Changed?

It's hard to face a reckoning with one's own staunchly-held views, but since the pandemic struck (and it's only just ramping up here in Canada), I am glad to have as much surplus stuff in our house as we do. So much for minimalism; I'm suddenly a relieved, grateful maximalist. There's something to be said for self-sufficiency, for not having to rely on the outside world for entertainment, education, exercise, and eating because we've all learned abruptly that it's not always going to be there. That's when we have to dig into our own stashes and stores and use what we've got, particularly if we don't want to spend every waking moment on the Internet.

One excellent example is my husband's ancient computer that's been gathering dust in the basement for years. He's been ordered to work from home, but his employer's remote access only works on a PC, not the Apple devices that we use at home. All the loaner laptops are gone from both the company and the manufacturer, so if he didn't have his old PC, he'd be scrambling to figure out a way to continue doing his job.

©. Melissa Breyer | One of Melissa's beloved bookshelves.

Another example is all the books in our house. I struggle to let go of books, and never has that attachment been so worthwhile as now. I've dug out the Rubbermaid totes of old homeschooling books that my mom gave me years ago, and now my kids are spending their mornings reading history, geography, and natural science books in lieu of real school. I've started to look at my own book collection for novels, as my library lifeline is gone. I own a surprising number of books that I've never read, and I might get around to rereading old classics, some Tolstoy or Austen, perhaps.

I am relieved that my husband insisted on setting up a home gym for himself in the garage. When he bought the equipment five years ago, I told him not to count on me using it because I depend on my daily outing to the gym for social reasons; but all of a sudden I'm out there every day, wondering what I'd do without it. Not only is it keeping me in shape, but it's a desperately-needed mini escape from my children for an hour. I probably would've taken up running if we didn't have the home gym, but should quarantine rules tighten as they have elsewhere, a home gym of any size takes on tremendous value.

board game shelf

rae/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

We're dusting off board games that we haven't used much in recent years. My husband and I have played Scrabble together twice in the past week, which is unheard of. The kids have been getting back into Monopoly, Dutch Blitz, Jenga, Memory, and chess, and we're going to teach them Settlers of Catan. A friend dropped a box of Qwirkle on our back step. The littlest is using puzzles he'd forgotten about. Many of these games that I previously viewed as dust-collectors are suddenly crucial distractions.

My bathroom cupboard full of old beauty and home spa supplies is also being put to use. A haircutting kit will be used to trim my hair (yikes!) and the kids'. I've unearthed forgotten bars of soap and tubes of toothpaste that have spared me trips to the store. I'm slowly using up clay masks, bath soaking salts, manicure materials, exfoliants, and moisturizers as I spend more leisurely evenings soaking in the bathtub because there's not much else to do.

I mentioned in an earlier post how I'm dusting off the specialized cooking equipment that I've used in the past, such as a tortilla press, yogurt maker, ice cream machine, and pressure cooker – items that I have time to use now that my pace of cooking and eating has slowed considerably. All of these could have easily been purged and justified in a fit of Kondomania, but now I am so happy to have them.

I will be very curious to see if minimalism remains on the pedestal it inhabited prior to this crisis striking, or if people in general will be more inclined to hold on to stuff "just in case." I don't think full-blown hoarding is ever healthy, but there is something to be said for preparedness, for being able to entertain and edify oneself using one's own physical belongings.