We are (hopefully) moving house and I am in the midst of the mother of all clear outs: endless sorting, chucking, donating, selling, giving away and recycling in an attempt to reduce our belongings by 40%. It is what keeps me awake at night and what I wander from room to room obsessing about. I’ve been documenting a lot of it on Instagram, partly as a record for myself of all the things I love, partly to procrastinate and partly because I have some hilarious vinyls that deserve to be seen by more than me and the charity shop manager (I wrote a little more in depth about the process of decluttering here for the lovely blog Rainy City Kids). Someone saw a photo and asked if I’d decided to ‘go minimalist’. It got me thinking about the obsession that seems to be enamouring the world. There’s a documentary on Netflix about it, Marie Kondo must be a (minimalist) millionaire from teaching us about objects that spark joy, online magazines are filled with tips on how to do the white, pared back Scandi style and everyone I know is decluttering and opting for clean lines and lots of white and grey on their walls and sofas… The principles are exactly what I believe in. Buy less, but better quality. Stop trying to fill the void with stuff you think will make you happier. The things you surround yourself with do not define you. And I have definitely been tempted at times. It’s clean, it’s modern, there’s something poetic about only needing the bare minimum. Jack Kerouac must have been a minimalist in all but drugs, drink and words, no? Beautiful and so poetic, the idea that you can set out on your travels with everything you own in a backpack.
When I was 21 I worked on a small farm in the French Alps for a summer. My French was limited and I had one change of clothing with me. I was the ‘plainest’ I have ever been and nobody there knew or cared that my living room walls were fuchsia pink, that I had an impressive collection of vintage earrings or that I had decorated my kitchen walls with cut out paper dolls of Marilyn Monroe. All they needed to know was that I worked hard, I was thoughtful, I was friendly and I knew how to make echinacea tinctures for their horses. They didn’t give a flying fig about my collection of Smiths albums. After some time, once I had stumbled over the jagged edges of my ego, it felt liberating. I was free of trappings, I was purely me without being slotted into any class/social scene that I had carefully curated. I also felt entirely naked and vulnerable because there was nothing for me to attach to, nothing that could speak for me by visually communicating who I was. I had to do that with my words and actions. So I get it, it makes a lot of sense. But I also love the opposite: Maximalism.
I have ocasionally described myself as a hoarder, which generally has negative connotations. So let’s just say I’m a collector. For instance, when reading Marie Kondo’s book
I realised that I do do what she says. I only own what I use and love, and I let go of anything that doesn’t spark joy. Only thing is, I love many, many things and they all spark blistering, fireworks of joy. Also, I enjoy being creative and having beautiful and interesting objects to play with. I heard Instagram star 5ftinf
talking about ‘foraging your home’ recently on Sara Tasker
‘s podcast #hashtagauthentic and I thought that it perfectly described my creative process. I go shopping in my home, collecting pieces and arranging them in different orders and taking photos. It’s like a collage in 3D.
My collecting started in earnest when I lived in a shared ex-council house in South Manchester. From the moment we moved in I was on a one woman mission to cover every inch of the walls and surfaces in orange paint, gilt framed photo of 80’s Kylie and 50’s Elvis, Top of the Pops record covers and multicolour crocheted blankets. Why did I feel the need to build this gigantic dressing up box/stage, why was I fixated on owning every kitsch artefact I ever came across? I think there were various reasons… the era of the house lent itself to such gaudiness, I loved charity shops and found great humour in antiquated popular culture and I also felt extremely insecure. My mum and brother had recently given up our home in Barcelona to move back to the UK and I had no idea where home was anymore. So I built myself a fortress of colour, glitz and loads and loads of stuff. Fake fur coats, books I may never read but I kept because I loved the front covers, a bathroom decorated with record covers, arrays of coloured glass, orange plastic cactus lamps… a circus of curiosities. It was my haven of all the strange and wonderful things I had collected and loved and it made me feel safe.
Our home is slightly more ‘curated’ these days (as much as it can be with a toddler) but I do still own a lorra lorra beautiful old things. I enjoy layers of textiles, clashing patterns, piles of books, vases, a rack of mismatched plates I can choose from to suit my mood, velvet winter curtains stored beneath the bed for draughty doors and windows. My history lies in so many of the things around me. The empty metal case for a film reel of Roger Rabbit that I found in the gutter in Barcelona when I was 14. The Yellow suitcase inscribed with ‘Lady Sykes’ we found in a skip on the walk back to the first home Jon and I shared. I enjoy being reminded of these moments, they are joyous and are the fabric of my life. I of course understand that if all of this were stripped away, I would still be me, but for now, I delight in these extensions of me. I just need to figure out how to maintain this adoration for stuff and become a type of minimalist, without necessarily looking like a minimalist…