If something happened and you needed to move — to another city, or country — would you be able to do so quickly? I have moved quite a bit: cross-country a good 3 times, not to mention in and around the Los Angeles area and Orange County. I used to be able to fit everything I owned into a Volvo station wagon — but no more. I’ve been in my Cleveland apartment for 8 years, and I have to leave by the end of July. I’ve gotten really good at purging over the years, but it is still a pain each time I have to pack up and go.
This is the first time I have ever acquired furniture that I actually want to keep, not to mention the crazy amounts of art books. My husband has somehow moved around with his vinyl collection, and scores of CDs. We used to sell off CDs to record stores in Los Angeles, and if we hadn’t done that, I think we would be looking at a collection exceeding 4,000 titles! The good thing about keeping all of this crap for over a decade is finding albums in the closet we never have listened to (but got as a promo or bought as a gesture) to now find out they are worth hundreds of dollars. Hey, if I haven’t listened to something in 12 years, I’m going to sell it to someone who will, rather than hang on to it as part of a “collection” to feel like I have any kind of indie cred. I could probably get my collection down to less that 50 titles and fine with it. Despite what Tarantino films and Zooey Deschanel commercials tell you, a large vinyl collection doesn’t get too many women excited in the pants. Slowly, my husband and I are getting rid of things like his music related books and various CDs and will eventually be listing the more rare and awesome vinyl, but getting rid of stuff in one swoop at a few record stores has a wonderful feeling attached to it. I can’t believe some of the crap we have dragged around with us!
Even though by all accounts my apartment and lifestyle is pretty minimalist, I always think I can do better. During my NOLABound trip, I met Colin of Exile Lifestyle — now, he’s a minimalist in the truest sense! He owns 50 possessions and wants to get them down to 40! I don’t think I could ever do that, but at least we have our shared disdain for long-term commitments on things like phone plans, home ownership, and other aspects of what is considered a “normal” American life that make it hard to walk away anytime you want. I don’t like being tied down; I take comfort in knowing that when I need to leave a place, I can do so in a weekend. I’m constantly amazed by the amount of stuff people have. Even single people. The rate I donate my clothes, old electronics, and get rid of magazines is pretty astounding and it makes me wonder why anyone hangs on to that stuff. Before I left CalArts, I even got rid of all my old film equipment and accessories. The only dumb things I have been moving around are film reels and heavy 3/4″ tapes of my work, which I plan on paying a service to transfer to DVD for me. Everything else is art supplies, which it’ll be interesting to see what I keep from that whole mess in my studio. I noticed that as my studio grew, the amount of useless things in there has grown: broken frames I meant to fix, hardware, acrylic paint tubes I haven’t touched in years, dried up markers.
But, because I am an artist and like decorating, among other things, my minimalist streak can only go so far. I’ll never get rid of my TV (I waited too long to get a proper one), my art collection, my fancy coffee table books that weigh as much as vinyl records, or my fancy-pants stemware and dishes. I like those things. I will always use them or look at them; I like drinking my sweet white wine from a proper glass for the purpose, and I like my giant book on John Galliano — so there.
In any event, for those that have asked me how I do my half-assed minimalist thing, here are my tips…
- Stop checking bags and bring a carry-on. You don’t need all that shit for a week or more! I have traveled with carry-on only since 1989, to foreign countries and for up to 2 weeks. Trust me, it’s not hard. Once you’ve been able to do that, you’ll see how little you need the rest of the time you aren’t packing for a trip.
- Donate your clothes and shoes. If you haven’t worn it in over a year, chances are you never will. My husband and I do our donations about 3 times a year, and most of it goes to Africa.
- Get your magazines on a Kindle or iPad. I started to do this finally and it saves a lot of room in the bathroom and on my coffee table.
- Clear out your desk drawers and make containers for your CDRs, cables and wires, and office supplies. My desk only has one drawer, so I can only keep so much stuff in it. I also bought a nice clear cube to put all my chargers, wires, and electronics in. I can see it when I need it, and like a child playing with toys, I put everything back when I’m done. You can also get one of these for all your charging needs.
- Make-up has a short lifespan, get rid of most of it if it isn’t in a daily rotation. Mascara goes bad super fast, as do many things. I now have one eyeshadow palette that I can travel with, 2 eyeliners, and 3 lipsticks. That’s it. Oh, and some fake eye lashes that keep making my eyes burn. I should probably toss those.
- Toiletries are a beast. I am trying to get mine down as we speak, but if something goes more than 3 months sitting there, I toss it. Ideally I want to get everything down to 6 bottles of whatever the heck it is I use between myself and my husband. But, it’s always interesting to me going to people’s homes and seeing hairspray cans and almost empty face products sitting around a bathroom with a layer of dust on top. Well, not interesting, more like really disgusting. I’m pretty sure that bottle of Tylenol from 2009 should get tossed, you know?
- I have a phone plan that is month-to-month and it costs me $35 a month. I couldn’t bring myself to pay upwards of $80 a month and getting a 2 year contract with all these other plans. I don’t need it, I hate apps, I’m not that important, and I don’t have the missile codes. I also don’t know where I’ll be in 2 years or what my needs will be.
- I used to have a blender, and a microwave, and a food processor. Did I ever use them? Sometimes. But not near enough to warrant how much space they took up. Kitchen equipment that doesn’t get regular use, I tossed. I feel stupid enough having 2 frying pans. What the hell do I need 2 for? I don’t know, but one is getting the boot. I can make just about anything with the limited kitchen equipment I have; and if you have ever been to my apartment and seen the tiny space that is my kitchen, well, you know if I can make that work, anyone can.
- Online billing for everything. Welcome to 2012, it’s a thing.
- Dropbox and various other cloud hard drives, oh baby, I love Dropbox!
- We got rid of our giant 1980s speakers and got ourselves a Tivoli system many years ago. A tiny stereo that packs a punch.
- I had 2 couches. Now down to one. Yes, we threw a lot of parties and have had many visitors over the years to our various apartments — but dammit — I only need one.
- Do you throw dinner parties for 6 or more often? No? Get a dining room set that seats 4, because really that’s all you will ever need.
- I have 3 sets of sheets. That is all. In fact I think 2 is enough if they are good. I stopped buying good quality sheets (600 thread count and up) because my cats kept ruining them and my husband has toenails that cut through them like a werewolf when he has his night terrors. I also don’t have a bed; I had just a mattress on the floor up until my surgery, and now it’s just a boxspring and mattress. Beds are too squeaky and it’s too easy to hide junk you don’t need or use under them.
- Quality over quantity, and put it to daily use. I have 2 sets of dishes, one set of flatware, and a limited number of fancy glasses and tea cups. I don’t hang on to crappy coffee mugs, plastic bottles, juice glasses, or have a wide array of mismatched plates, bowls, or anything like that. I don’t have drawers full of extras, everything I own is on display and can be easily packed up in a single large box. I use my fancy china on a daily basis. What’s the point of having it if you only use it for special occasions? Because really, how often are those special occasions in the scheme of things?
- Exercise equipment collects dust and is stupid. Go play outside.
- Why do you need so many towels? No really, why? If there’s no children in the picture, it’s just silly to have that many! And the concept of “guest towels” just makes me wonder why ALL of your towels can’t be good?
- Get a paper shredder. I’ve gone through 2 already because they couldn’t handle my paper load and they broke. That’s how much crap in paperwork and mail I go through! My Kindle, Google docs, and Dropbox help helped ever so slightly.
- I shop with a basket at the grocery store, never a cart. I buy less and stuff doesn’t end up going bad. I’m always amazed at how much stuff some people have in their cabinets etc. and I wonder what the expiration date on all of it is.
- I don’t go to thrift stores, junk shops, estate sales, flea markets or any other place that sells the cast-offs of another person. Unless I’m looking for a large piece of furniture I don’t need more stupid 7 inch records, lamps, table cloths, glassware, neon beer signs, ceramic pieces or whatever the hell it is people buy at these things.
- Don’t rent a storage unit. I had one for years, and then when the management wanted to start charging me more than I was willing to pay, I had to face up to getting rid of a lot of things or just finding a way to fit them in my apartment. It turned out that most of the stuff I had was stupid or hanging on to for sentimental value. After clearing it out, it feels great knowing I don’t have a bunch of crap in a storage unit somewhere. That stereo with a tape deck that hadn’t been used in a decade is not missed.
- Don’t buy property. I wanted to own a home once — and perhaps it is possible I’d buy a condo that I know I could rent out or sell — but after renting for so long, watching the housing market go to poo, and seeing people wasting their youth buying houses that need repairs all the time, I just don’t want to anymore. Renting is just fine and you don’t feel chained. What’s the point of investing in property if it eats away at your time and makes you stuck? I don’t like the idea of not being able to leave when I want to, or spending my weekends “working on the house”. That sounds awful! I don’t want to deal with a yard, or a roof that needs fixing, mold issues, plumbing, re-finishing floors. Then paying property taxes, yelling at my neighbor because his dog keeps shitting in my front yard, and never having the climate control where it should be because I’m trying to save money on my energy costs. Screw that! When I want my living room re-painted, or if my sink gets backed up, I call a guy and he comes and fixes it. I used to rent a small house with a lovely rose garden, and my landlord took care of the roses while his son mowed my lawn. I didn’t have to lift a finger except to write a check to him monthly for my rent, and I like that, because it gives me more time to read books and drink cocktails.
In closing, all I can say is there is a lot you don’t need and with today’s technology, you need even less. Knowing that you can pack all of your belongings up in a day brings a strange sense of calm to your life.