When I bought this townhouse from the attorneys who had used it as a law office for the previous 25 years there were two or three “no-go” areas that I used for storage. The empty basement apartment had suffered the ravages of a burst pipe over a long weekend and so the lawyers put a giant piece of plywood over the hole and built some shelves in what had been the living room; I called that space “Guantánamo”. The basement utility room was no worse, nor any better, than one might expect of a boiler room in a 100+ year old building.
They had advertised three kitchens in the listing for the place, the only one even marginally usable was the one on the top floor which was used by employees to heat up soup and make coffee. The “drop ceiling” was dropping alright, probably from the weight of nest upon nest of urban wildlife which rested upon it.
As we’ve reclaimed these spaces for use our storage space has declined and we’ve been forced to make decisions about “stuff” which copious amounts of storage space had allowed us to ignore; the house was large enough for us to keep an excess of things without feeling too encumbered by clutter. As push has come to shove we have needed to make some decisions which have forced us to acknowledge the hoarders dwelling deep within us as our prepper selves do battle with a newfound minimalist tinged aesthetic.
Liz and I were discussing different family members crisis strategies: none; a knack for and experience with couch surfing; an ex-urban compound complete with a garden and chickens; and a Cormack McCarthy style rural home with a stockpile of weaponry and scary dogs. We, of course, are urban preppers: some food, a garden, some water, a wood stove, all close to the center of transportation, communication, utilities, and emergency services for a medium size metropolitan region. Using our preparations and our family couch surfer as examples I came to the obvious conclusion that in certain scenarios our little homestead could be a lifeboat or an anchor, and in the latter case my wife’s more nimble sibling might be much better off than we would be. Of course there would be scenarios where that might not be the case, and, on the other hand there may never be any scenarios of any kind at all for any of this to even matter.
But the discussion made us confront our conflicting prepper-ations and our newfound minimalist-minimalism. I justify the three of us, it had been six, living in these nearly 4,000 square feet of living space by pointing to the neighborhood’s walkscore, and by making the case that we have already hosted over a dozen people, and up to 5 all at once, during natural and family crises. A couple of important admissions on my part: I have an apocalyptic bent and I have been wrong many more times than I’ve been right in predicting crisis, though I did nail the housing crash (after predicting it three times!); the core of my altruism in creating a sturdy lifeboat for others has as much to do with wanting to be the captain of whatever lifeboat I’m on as in providing safety for others perhaps.
Can you have 50 blankets in a house with 3 people and still claim to be minimalist? I free-cycled a bag of clothes and a well-to-do friend gave me almost as much clothing, but of much higher quality, the very next day. It all fits in the closet and vertical chest, so do I get credit for the effort? We have donated, via our front steps or Savers, at least a hundred items in this wave of redistribution and we’ve committed to buying less of just about everything but food. Still it’s hard to be the home base for the family’s Thanksgiving celebrations without enough in the way of plates, silverware, serving bowls, tables, and chairs on which to sit and dine.
Liz has dozens of wine bottles and corks ready to receive this year’s wine and mead production. We want to increase and improve our home production and canning; can that be minimalist? We just planted 10 garden beds with hundreds and hundreds of garlic cloves, that sounds like a maximal quantity of garlic. The obvious conclusion is that our “minimalism” is nothing like a purist or a thoroughgoing minimalism, what we mean to do is to continue doing what we’ve been doing while using some of the strategies and ideals of minimalism to reign ourselves in at the margins. We’ve used a budget for years, but we can see where it can be tightened a bit. We’ve filled the house with used furniture as it is, and we have decades old appliances which have been repaired a handful of times; but we did just buy a new stove when the old one malfunctioned for the third time in a year.
As we started the process of culling our stuff back in September Elizabeth, who has taken this much more to heart than I have, was hoping we could conclude all this in a few days. Over time she’s concluded that, perhaps in a nod to minimalism, I was right for once; this is just the start of a process which will take us months to make serious inroads, and will likely never reach a conclusion.