“A livable bento box” vs. “Accumulation and its discontents”

This post is not about knitting.

This post is about living according to our means and economizing space.

I came across this article in the NYT and was fascinated by the notion of transforming a New York City apartment into something you would find in Tokyo (“only bigger”), partly because I spent my year abroad during college in Japan, and partly because I have always liked a clean, minimalist aesthetic despite not being able to achieve it.

This apartment is 1300 square feet, larger than an entire house I recently imagined buying, but still – how to fit a family of four in, plus all their stuff? The slide show illustrates some ingenious uses of space, and although I can’t post any of the photos here, it is worth clicking over because the written description in the main article doesn’t do it justice.

Although I often ruminate about what it means to live within a given space, and live sustainably, I haven’t quite reached the point of acting on it. I know that this family put away all their worldly goods and clutter for the sake of the photo shoot, but there is still something in me that kind of believes they live like this all the time.

Mainly I appreciate the idea of economizing on whatever it is that’s there for us – space, food, clothing, necessities that are consumable or not consumable.

This idea is attractive to me, in this day and age, because in the US, it’s anathema to the currently promoted way of life: we do not have limits the way previous generations have. We can buy clothes every day and then throw them away (or send them to Africa, which has ruined the textile industry there, but that’s a different post). We don’t have to save tinfoil and turn it in to that formerly-ubiquitous junk guy for a dime to go to the theater, once a week, because there weren’t 17,000 showings each day. We don’t have rations.

I’m not trying to glamourize events or times that have meant hardship for many. I’m just saying, there is value in many of the approaches that have been taken out of necessity, which most of us don’t practice anymore. For instance, who can relate to rationing of clothing and materials that were instituted during WWII, and what that meant for clothing design? Cargo Cult Craft explores just this question and put herself on a fashion ration for a year.

The other article that I wanted to capture here is called Documenting Accumulation and Its Discontents and discusses an artist that has made a commitment to minimalism in her home with her partner, but has solicited stuff from people – and not just any stuff, but things that have incredible meaning and therefore could not be gotten rid of. Corinne May Botz, the artist featured, has convinced people to send her these items and promised them a photo in return. The only problem is, she’s not sure where to put the stuff.

I love this idea of sending away Things That Cannot Be Gotten Rid Of, but preserving them with a photo. I do suffer from clutterism and packrattism, but maybe this is a way to relieve the symptoms: Take a Photo, Send Away.

The quote I will preserve from this article was made by Catherine Roster, research director for the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization:

“Getting rid of a possession means abdicating all the pleasures and rights of that possession. And that freaks people out. It goes like this: ‘I got this from Aunt Maria; I can’t get rid of it. I spent a lot of money on this; I can’t get rid of it. I wore this a year ago, I might wear it again; I can’t get rid of it. If I get rid of it, I’ve lost all these opportunities.’ That’s a kind of death.”

Because indeed, is this not exactly the challenge of trying to become minimalist? For me it is, anyway. So many opportunities can turn into paralysis. The attraction of the bento house is also potential and opportunity, but devoid of accumulations.


2 thoughts on ““A livable bento box” vs. “Accumulation and its discontents”

  1. Excellent post Heather, thank you. I’m thinking about all this too, I could leave you a link soup of tiny living & shedding stuff – but you don’t need it – you have the philosophy and the inherent difficulties well identified. I think I could have dumped 95% of what’s in my home all at once and I would have been just fine. But you know everything’s a slow churn for me – and that’s ok. Being thoughtful about it takes time, and identifying what’s really worth keeping makes it mean more when you let go of the unnecessary things – and it’s all unneccessary, I know, except my grammie’s egg painting and nana’s charms and mom’s necklace. And the photos. And a few of the books. And… Getting rid of the other stuff, slowly, feels freeing, and not like any loss. I don’t think I will miss or regret my wheel. I think I see what you are saying in it’s potential, but at the moment I feel it’s weight more than it’s opportunity – and for all my initial excitement over it and my true enjoyment of making yarn, I haven’t spent enough time with it to become attached, and I just don’t see that changing in the near term. When I’m ready to settle down again, I’ll find a tiny one with a good history… I did decide to keep the camera though. For now 😉

  2. The interesting thing to me is that it is so difficult to be rid of Things, although we realize that we won’t miss them. The divesting is the hard part, not the living without.

    I constantly struggle with the value of an item versus the value of dollars I might spend on it or gain from selling it. I think in the end, for me, it’s all about potential future opportunity. If the potential seems greater with a wheel sitting in my living room, I want the wheel. If it seems greater having $500 more in my pocket, then I want the $500. The other consideration is how much it would cost to replace if I changed my mind after selling. If I think it would cost more later, I keep it.

    I know we’re kind of going in different directions – you are becoming lighter, wanting to fly away, while I want to settle. I wonder if that makes a difference? On the other hand, I’ve realized that around once a month, I go through a day or two when I feel absolutely crazy, like all my Things are only crazy-making and not future opportunity at all, but mere clutter, adding to the clutter of daily life like dirty dishes.

    You have a short list of what is truly important – I haven’t gotten there yet, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea – the list of what you grab on your way out if the house is on fire, or whatever. I think my current lifestyle affects me too, though – the idea that Things are more difficult to acquire makes me/us binge when we have the chance. Returned Peace Corps volunteers have told me they gained weight because they would binge whenever they were around sweets, which they didn’t have in the village. It’s the feast and famine mentality. But, there is so little famine that we merely end up with piles of detritus. I lived a little bit differently in NC – used libraries instead of buying books on Amazon, cut out my magazine subscriptions, etc. Somehow the fact that bookstores don’t exist makes me more likely to want to take advantage of Amazon, even though I have two bookshelves full of tomes I have hardly touched. These are more reasons for me to get back to the life I was working on constructing before I up and left again…

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