On Not Being a Minimalist

When I was a kid I really wanted to start a club, probably due to my literary diet of American comics. So, my brother, a friend, and I banded together and formed ‘The Collectors’ Club’ for want of a better name. We spent an afternoon building small wooden stools from pieces of scrap particleboard from my Dad’s workshop. I don’t recall why, but seating was an important prerequisite to joining our club. We decided our motto would be ‘Get More Stuff’ (every club has to have a motto, right?). We didn’t have a uniform, probably because we didn’t think of it at the time. I don’t know why, as I was rather obsessed with ‘The Sound of Music’, and really wished my entire family would dress in matching outfits. My Mother did attempt this once. Only once.

The premise of our Collectors’ Club was to collect the little soaps, and miniature cereal packets that you get in hotels. Our club meetings involved a show and tell presentation of these sort-after items. My recollection is that we had only one meeting, and as we didn’t really stay in hotels that often, our club quickly disbanded.

Coincidentally in my adult life I first became a packaging designer and sometimes designed those miniature packets. Later working in the travel industry, I spend most of my working life in hotels, and hey, guess what I have a collection of?

Growing up, ‘Get More Stuff’ became the motto for my life. I was the kid with the messy room. I had one bed for me, and one for my stuff. But, something happened when I was about sixteen, I suddenly wanted everything organised and hidden. I had inherited two huge industrial pigeon hole shelving units, so set about labelling and sorting. All my stuff was now categorised and in its proper place. I was happy.

Over my adult years I continued to accumulated more stuff. I have always lived in small apartments, but that hasn’t curbed my ways. I was secretly flattered when a friend’s child once remarked, “I love coming to your place, it’s like a cross between a library and museum.” I have a lot of stuff. Occasionally the stuff overflows onto my bed and covers the floors. I am the adult with the messy room. Nonetheless, you can still open any cupboard to reveal my inner organised soul – neatly stacked and arranged items. My clothes are colour coded, as are my books. Music is alphabetical. The labelling machine is my friend.

In truth, I like the idea of minimalism. I admire those who can just have a few beautiful and useful things in a white expanse of a room. Zen. I too, like the idea of less in general in this overstuffed world. But I really like stuff. More is more. I’m ‘minimally challenged.’

When I first visited Bali, where I now live; my initial reaction was “This is no place for a minimalist”. The Balinese are into detail. Everything is decorated. Everything from carved doors to walls, to offerings. The ceremonies require often weeks of making elaborate decorations and ephemera. There are no wide open spaces. There are no simple minimalist local homes, well none I’ve visited anyway. Most people simply can’t afford to be minimalists, in the western design sense of the concept, but many are minimalistic in their general living, sometimes simply due to poverty. Some may only have one pot, one glass for each family member, and use banana leaves for plates and hands for eating.

Embarrassingly, one of my local friends remarked one day when I was hanging out my washing that I had a lot of bras! She said most Balinese woman only have two – one to wear, and one to wash. The same often goes for other items of clothing, with the exception of elaborate temple clothes. But as soon as anyone acquires wealth, the money is spent on decorating – first the family temple, then intricate carving on any surface of their home they can. More often than not in the homes I’ve visited, there are piles of stuff everywhere. Its defiantly not a minimalist aesthetic. Yet the Balinese still manage to focus on what’s important. Family and community and the spirit world are very much the heart of local life. Sure, many aspire to the trappings of western culture. And occasionally some Balinese, usually women, feel trapped in a culture that requires them to make endless offerings and ceremonies, endless stuff.

Balinese women preparing offerings for a ceremony.
©Sally Arnold
Balinese women on the way to the temple.

In my own home, I am happy to be surrounded by the goods and chattels I’ve accumulated in my life. Reminders of travels, of love affairs, friendships, and good times; artworks – some leaning against the furniture, as there is no more wall space left to hang them; books read, books still to be read; objects I’ve found on the street; fabric waiting to be turned into that special top or dress; plates, glasses, and kitchenware anticipating that large gathering of friends I will have over one day…

Chronologically I’m a Baby Boomer (I only just make it, and more readily identify with Generation X), but perhaps it’s the Baby Boomer mentality, that can’t throw anything away. That would be wasteful. what if I needed it again someday? What if there was a war/flood/disaster/apocalypse? And so the accoutrements of my life continue to pile up around me.

I love my stuff. But I do aspire to a least having it all neatly sorted. And labeled. When I look admiringly at my lovely well organised storage units, sometimes my eyes lift their gaze and focus on the excess paraphernalia stuffed on top yet to be sorted, and dream of the minimalist perfection of owning nothing. Frankly, I blame The Collectors’ Club and believe it was the beginning of my downfall.


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