Minimalism vs. thriftiness

I have to admit it– I’m 41 and I’m sick and tired of all the junk we’ve managed to accumulate in 23 years of marriage. I’m sorely tempted by all the websites and books that espouse minimalism, but I’m up against a big problem here.

We’ve got antiques my husband collected before our marriage. We’ve got antiques my great-grandmother handed down to me. We’ve got dishes we bought together and a mishmash of pots and pans that, honestly, confuses me most of the time.

Linens, oh my, we’ve got tons of pillowcases. Those seem to be the only part of the sheet sets that survive the heavy use they get when you have bedwetters in the house. We have several blankets for each bed, since the bedwetters tend to soak theirs and need a new one at 2am. There are some old things in there, too– afghans crocheted by mothers and grandmothers, baby clothes, and quilts. Add in our always-tattered towels, washcloths, and hand towels, and it’s a mess that takes up three closets.

Toys, oi . . . let’s put it this way: we have 7 kids and they each have gotten a ton of toys and we hardly ever throw any toys away until they’re utterly destroyed. As a result, we have more toys than any kid could ever play with.

And then there’s everything else. And it’s in the “everything else” pile that problems start to crop up when you’re trying to go minimalist. Because, yes, some of these things I haven’t used in 6 months, or even 6 years, but the cost and trouble of buying them again would be so difficult that saving them seems the frugal, wise, and reasonable option. We only use the plug-in roaster oven for the holidays for turkeys and such, but it’s a lifesaver (and they’re $70 or so to replace it.) We only use the tile tools for big tiling projects, but those saw blades and tile cutters are expensive, and we will eventually need them again.

There’s a huge number of those sorts of things stored in the garage. Nothing terribly valuable, just useful and specific. And, honestly, I don’t need some of it and may never need it again. Hoof picks and halters and lead ropes? I haven’t owned a horse in the past decade. Ditto with the dog leashes and clippers and things that are sized for a giant breed dog. But I’d hate to have to get rid of the stuff, even if I know it’s probably for the best. If another Great Pyrenees or Great Dane walked into my life, I’d wish I had those heavy-duty leashes and elevated food bowls.

Minimalist websites like to talk like we’re going to buy a smaller house somehow if we get rid of some of our clutter, but let’s be honest– it’s not the box of barn equipment in the garage that made us buy a 3100 square foot house, it’s the four kids we had at the time, the one that was on the way, and the two more that have been born since then. Just thinking about moving into a small house makes my heart rate go a little hinky, no matter how much cheaper it might be. Have you ever tried to keep kids happy in a tiny space? We have a travel trailer which is about ten feet wide by 32 feet long. I know all about having lots of kids in a small space. It’s hell.

Every time I go to declutter things, I have to stop and ask myself: “Am I going to have to buy another of these darn things in a couple months? And how much is that going to cost me?” I may never need to replace the antique dishes that, honestly, aren’t very pretty and I don’t particularly enjoy, but I will surely end up replacing the huge double stroller if I chuck it in the junk pile, because there’s no way I’m going to try to take kids on a long vacation without our “battle wagon.”

In the meantime, it’s a big bulky mass in the back of my truck, eating up my gasoline, or it’s a big bulky mass in the garage, taking up space. But it’s a hefty chunk of change to replace the darn thing, even secondhand. So I put up with it and hope that my husband doesn’t get irritated some weekend and throw it in the dump pile.

As much as I would like to sell everything, rent a yacht, and spend the rest of my life bumming around the Caribbean, I know that I’d run into the same stupid problems there. I’d be kicked back in a lawn chair on some white sand beach, reach for a cool crisp bottle of wine, and remember that I sold the damned wine bottle opener with everything else.

Or I’d drop my Kindle into the sea. Because you can’t own hundreds of books on a boat, unless that boat is the Queen Mary 2.

Guess I’m just going to have to be as minimalist as I can with 7 kids, which is  “not very.”


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