Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in my fascination with minimalism and tiny houses. It’s easy to forget that there is more to the goal that simply getting rid of things.
Unless you’ve taken a vow of poverty, odds are that you plan to keep at least some things around – those things that add value to your life, those things that make you comfortable, and those things that beautify. There’s nothing wrong with having things.
Instead of living my personal minimalism as a race to the bottom, to see who can get by with the smallest number of possessions, I try to think of my life as a museum or a gallery. No one would go to an empty gallery; there would be no point. On the other hand, who wants to go to a museum and find it so crammed full of displays – new and old, good and bad, valuable and junk – that there is barely space to wedge yourself between the stacks?
No one, that’s who.
Museums live and die by the skillful touch of their curators, those talented and educated people who select items for display based on factors such as monetary value, historical relevance, aesthetic quality, and theme. Don’t overlook the importance of the last item on the list; you wouldn’t find Model T in the middle of an exhibit on Egyptian pharaohs.
How does this apply to your life? Try thinking of your home as a museum. The overall theme might be “Simple and Content,” “Traveling Adventurer,” or “Mommy’s Delight.” It doesn’t matter what your goal for your life is, only that it reflects what really matters to you. Try to distill it down to a simple idea.
What are the basic pieces in your big exhibit? An aeronautics museum is sure to have planes and a natural history museum will have rocks and plants. In the same way, some things will just go along with the territory of “Life Museum.” Clothing, some dishes. Toiletries and food. At its simplest, just to perform the basic tasks of your life, what do you need? I don’t mean food/shelter style needs, but also the general shape of your life. For me, this includes some furniture, a computer, a handful of very basic art supplies, books, and some games. These things are just generally part of what gives me a life.
The next things I want to select are my anchor pieces? These are the big draws. They cost more, but they also add a “wow” factor that raises the perceived value of the whole exhibit and – by extension – the whole museum. These items multiply value, so a good curator is willing to spend a little more on them.
In a real museum, this might be the mummy, the da Vinci, the Wright Brother’s plane. It’s unique, noteworthy, and draws a crowd. In your life, these are your signature pieces. A beloved piece of jewelry, some great art, that perfect tool of your trade. These things add value to your life exponentially; ideally they bring you unexpected moments of pleasure throughout your day. For me, this list includes an opal slave bracelet, my custom water glass, a pair of paintings by Etsy artist Eastwitching, a wall of paintings I did myself, and the wooden cat on my headboard. These things make me smile when I see them and because of how I use them I see them a great deal!
Take your time selecting your anchor pieces. You might choose anchor pieces that add to one of your hobby exhibits, or you might build an entire exhibit around a single piece. The approach matters less than the mindfulness you bring into the selection. Having trouble figuring out what your anchor pieces are? When downsizing, these are the pieces that you will regret if you get rid of them. They’re the ones you’ll really miss. Don’t pick any anchor piece because you ‘should’ – pick it because it matters to you, even if it’s silly.
The last category for consideration are what I think of as “interstitial pieces” – they fill in the gaps between basic and anchor pieces and provide a little more information, a little more entertainment value. In a real museum, these are the plant fossils in the dinosaur exhibit, the peasant garb and tools set beside the royal regalia. These pieces make up most of the content in your average home. In an un-curated space, they multiply out of control and very quickly turn into clutter. In a well-curated space, they provide scope and selection.
Very few will reach (or want to reach) a residence with none of these interstitial items. They aren’t necessary. We don’t feel passionate about them. Still, they do bring you some pleasure and can enrich your life in small ways. For me, these are things like origami paper or air-dry clay. I don’t use them often and if I were to lose them I would shrug my shoulders and move on…but having them provides me with options that I enjoy and give my life variety.
Nearly everything I’ve ever gotten rid of in a decluttering item was “interstitial.” There’s always far more than you see, riding into your life on the coattails of your real passions. I’ve still got a lot of this stuff in my house – far more than I need. Over time, I gradually recognize that some item no longer carries value for me and I remove it from my life. Over time, I notice that some passing fancy no longer suits the theme I have built for my life, and I let it go. Over time, I notice that two things are providing the same service, and I choose one to release.
Over time. Those are important words; I couldn’t make these decisions wisely all at once. It’s an ongoing process, a gradual adjustment of perception and possession. Just like a real museum.
I am the curator of my own life, as you are the curator of yours. No one can choose what belongs in your life but you. I want my gallery to thrive, to have a sense of balance. I want my gallery to be a work of art in its own right. How about you?