WARNING: IF YOU’RE A HOARDER, OR HAVE EVER BEEN TOLD YOU MAY BE A HOARDER, DO NOT READ THIS POST! You may look at the pictures, no captions, and THAT’S ALL!
I have nothing against minimalism. The two champions of our moment’s minimalism, Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn, have succeeded almost beyond belief in motivating people to downsize and simplify. I’d love to pick their brains for about a week and find out how they were able to interest so many people in their cause—which broadly overlaps that of this anti-consumerist rant. Because what they’re really saying is that, past a certain basic level, all stuff sucks. The glut of possessions amassed and stored by the average American is a burden, a distraction, and possibly a roadblock to some important goals.
Not everyone can be a minimalist. For example, when I reach the point where everything’s put away and out of sight, when my desk and all other visible surfaces are empty and clean, something in me wants to get busy and create another mess.
I like to think I have this urge to disturb my surroundings because I’m an artist. That’s pronounced ar-teest. And artists need raw materials. (Some more than others.) Some just need paint and brushes and canvases, others a big stash of trash. For most of my life, admittedly, I wasn’t much of an artist. But in later years, I started picking up interesting natural materials and sticking them together with interesting unnatural objects. I’d find a rock with a hole and put a marble in it. Very basic. But then I’d find a U-shaped burl of wood, etched with a wild movement of swirls, and turn it upside-down, like a steep rainbow, over an African figurine—making a kind of shrine. More like art. I’d carefully slip pieces of cactus lace under a piece of tabletop glass—its woody filigree would cover up whatever stains were on the table.
None of these simple pairings qualified as art for a gallery, so I’d stick them here and there in various corners of the yard. To develop those corners further, I’d also paint old chairs, set large plates on top of wastebaskets for side tables, put in flagstone scraps to direct foot traffic, and plant bushy vegetation in front of unsightly plastic compost bins. This was me having fun as an exterior decorator.
Home maintenance wasn’t art, but with my curious assortment of materials, even that could be fun. Maybe the trim on the house was curling up, requiring sanding and repainting. Maybe plants would be growing out of their pots, or the pots themselves had disintegrated, as those terra cotta ones always did. Maybe the umbrella over the outdoor table was ripped to shreds by a strong wind. Dead trees and bushes needed to be cut up for firewood or compost. The catclaw vine had grown completely over the back window and had to be cut back. Dripping gutters required fixing in multiple places. Windows leaked cold air and had to be insulated.
Well, I did it my way. For the house trim, I mixed some salvaged white exterior paint and another almost-gallon from the ReStore labeled “bright white.” It turned out to be not bright at all, so the resulting mix was more on the creamy side, but so what—with the pumpkin-colored house it looked like creamsicle, my favorite flavor of Popsicle as a kid. I threw the disintegrating pots—with force—onto the rubble pile, which I drew from often, for jobs needing fill; for replanting plants, I had a small supply of reclaimed pots, whole and fixable—I’d honed my repair skills over time, trying different glues, using any mesh tape smeared with thin-set over the cracks on the inside, and maybe a wire loop around the outside, under the rim. I was always finding umbrellas, usually at the Curbside Mall while biking. Sometimes they’d be like new, needing just minor repairs; sometimes they’d be too far gone to fix. (I try to discern this at the site; it isn’t easy riding home with a big umbrella lashed to the bicycle bar.) When a tree or bush died, I’d let it dry, then set up two flat rocks, lay a branch between, and stomp it in two for the woodpile. When I collected enough big ones, I hauled out the circular saw—a long-ago gift I hate to use but have to. For the aggressive (but admirable) catclaw vine, I could choose the sharpest of four pruning shears (never in my life have I bought a pair; where did they come from?), saving the stems and leaves for compost cover. Trying to do cold-weather maintenance on the windows was tricky—I couldn’t get the insulating tapes to stay put—but I arrived at a more permanent solution. A friend’s next-door neighbor had given me three large windows; I figured out a way to mount them over the house’s three existing bedroom windows, making poor-man’s versions of the expensive, double-paned kind, and without any demolition. They looked okay.
And, well, I hated leaking gutters. You could fix some parts by adding nails, but you really needed some long, flat, thin metal pieces to tuck under the flashing and over the gutter so the water could do nothing but travel inside. I had my eyes out for pieces like that, but hadn’t found any. When I finally do, however—gutter repair frenzy.
The smart reader (oh, I’m getting to hate the word “smart”) is thinking that all the tool-using and junk-saving is taking up space, and making that mess alluded to earlier. This is true. A minimalist wouldn’t tolerate it. A lot of people will just go to the hardware store and buy what they need when the moment arises, instead of preparing for future jobs and contingencies through storage. They don’t seem to mind that it comes out of their budget and the planet’s resources. You might have to do things this way if you don’t have much storage space for tools and materials—a yard or workshop. I have dedicated space in the back, and I do spend time organizing everything. And taking them out, and putting back what I don’t use. (Although not always immediately. Who knows if I’m completely done with the project?) This situation may be too loathsome for true minimalists. Their creativity may lie elsewhere. Maybe visiting my place makes them feel really great about being back home.
I don’t mind that at all. I only hope their minimization process is about finding good homes for what they don’t want, not making garbage of it or polluting with it. I hope they don’t need to buy a lot of new products to fit their sparse new lifestyle, or regret what they’ve done and replace what they’ve purged with new purchases.
I salvage mostly for fun, for friends, for financial benefits, and for the future of everyone. I have enough stuff now that I almost always have what I need for each project. I might have to bend it, saw it down, pound it flat, or chisel a space in it. Fine. But sometimes I have exactly what I need. When that happens, it feels like the Goddess of Reuse has just stopped by. Of course, I know it’s just the law of averages: if you have enough stuff, you’re bound to have what you need—even exactly what you need, to the point of astonishment. Nuffi stuffi—it’s the perfect complement to wabi sabi.
As a person who does make messes now and then, I feel I should apologize for this concept. And—god help us—to beg forgiveness from any hoarder who has read this contraband and gotten worse. I truly sympathize. I’ve had hoarding urges. Perhaps I’m at risk. But I stand by the importance of nuffi stuffi whenever possible. It’s so nice to not have to run to the hardware store in the middle of making or fixing something. And a storebought project will look like one, nothing special, while something made from salvaged materials will strike your friends as unique and creative. I know, because I get those kinds of compliments sometimes. They make me happy. And you yourself will love what you’ve done. You’ll love it longer.
If not, you might not be a nuffi stuffi artist. That’s okay. But if you enjoyed the process, or find yourself still scrounging, don’t give up yet. It takes practice, like everything else.
And something of a stockpile. But not much. Just enough stuff to do your thing.