by Jen Selk
Confession: I have never – not once – come across a thrift store, yard sale, flea market, or so-called "junk" pile that didn't contain at least one thing I've wanted. Never. Not once.
I am a collector. I collect stuff.
These days, this tendency is almost akin to criminality. I'm supposed to be ashamed. If this article were following an all-too-familiar track, now would be the moment where I admit that I have "too much" stuff. I would declare my intention to abandon my collections. I would call them useless, limiting, devoid of joy, unethical, even. I would resolve to declutter.
Only, I won't.
My stuff isn't clutter. I know the whole KonMari movement is big right now. Live with less! Eat nothing but air! It's very trendy. (Pardon me, on trend.) It's also nothing new. Marie Kondo's "in Japan we are tidy" thing is minimalism warmed over. In the late 90s and early-aughts, Feng Shui boomed in the west in a similar fashion. Way back in the 19th Century, William Morris told us to have nothing in our homes that we didn't believe to be beautiful or know to be useful. Now Kondo is telling us to get rid of anything that doesn't bring us joy. We've heard this before.
It's not that I don't want my home to be beautiful. I do. I care about aesthetics. I have subscribed to the principles of Oscar Wilde's Aesthetic Movement, I've read the House Beautiful lecture, and I still subscribe to House Beautiful magazine (and, okay, to Country Living, House and Home and Livingetc, too). I hoarded the Domino back catalogue for a long time before giving in to the push to declutter and throwing them all away. I still regret it.
An empty space is no better than a full one.
Minimalism enjoys a sort of perennial popularity for a lot of different reasons. One is that we're no good at keeping it up. We buy into the notion of buying nothing, resolve to change, but inevitably fail. And with each failure, we decide that the problem was the method, not the decluttering madness itself, making way for tidy, organizing gurus of the future. We are the yo-yo dieters of material things.
Then there is history to consider, where excess is framed as the ultimate vice, and royals and religious leaders represent the moral failings we now ascribe to "the one percent." It is difficult to escape the puritanical mindset that's steeped in to the western sub-consciousness.
Finally there's cleaning – a legitimate concern. It is a fact that the more things you have, the more dusting there is. Hoarders, Hoarding: Buried Alive, and many other similar programs continue to enthral in part because each is a cautionary tale. It is irrational and incorrect to liken the simple having of stuff to hoarding disorder, but if we can't manage the dusting, then what, right? There but for the grace of God?
Despite its cyclical popularity, minimalism is impractical. If you've lived in the same place for more than a few years, if you've ever had children, if you've ever inherited anything, if you are even the slightest bit sentimental, if you have even a little heart, you likely have stuff. Is the chipped macaroni bust your kid made in third grade beautiful? Does it bring you joy? I have no idea. Joy, like beauty, is subjective. If you're keeping it, there must be a reason.
For my part, I love an abundance of stuff.
When my grandparents died and their belongings were being rapidly liquidated, I rescued many items from the Goodwill pile, including a series of books on decoupage and an old sewing kit with rusty scissors. Most of the time, these items just sit around my home, but they are not without use. I have learned to decoupage using my grandfather's books, and when I need to sew on a button, or snip a loose thread, I use my grandmother's sewing kit.
Near my front door, I keep a small bowl filled with a mix of rocks and shells – the remains of my husband's childhood rock collection and keepsakes from a variety of beach vacations. These are quintessential tchotchkes, dust-collectors in the extreme. They are also beautiful and it makes me happy to see them. Does this feeling of happiness count towards the "joy" I'm supposed to be measuring?
As already confessed, I'm a junker. Little items catch my eye on a regular basis – odd-ball artworks, abandoned knick knacks, actual trash in the form of bits of broken glass or metal – and if these items are actually beautiful, or so ugly they're tragic, or funny, or deeply earnest, or maybe because they remind me of my childhood or my granny, I want them. I haul them home. I am a maximalist, but contrary to the preachings of proselytizing Konverts, this is not a bad thing. Having stuff has never kept me from having experiences, or feeling joy. On the contrary, my things are a primary source of joy in my life, more meaningful than any expanse of white wall, any patch of "negative space." My things are talismans, giving me luck and guarding against forgetfulness. They have brought me joy. They are worth keeping.
Jen Selk is a former journalist and current junk hunter. She is fighting a losing battle against mildew around her bathtub, but she continues to pursue The House Beautiful. You can find her on Twitter at @jenselk.