Minimalist or maximalist?

Mr Trebus was an obsessive hoarder who featured in a 1999 BBC documentary ‘A Life of Grime‘. He gathered so much stuff that there was barely enough room left for him to live in the house.

The British public warmed to him. Despite the filth, there was something about his humour and the way he could argue the case for every single item stacked in the towering piles he created, which were a miniature city for the local rat population. That and his catchphrase ‘stick it up your chuffer‘ which was readily bandied about to every council employee who ever came to the house to tackle the issue. If you read his obituary, you can see where his problems might have stemmed from.

So, you might ask, why am I writing about him?

I’m no minimalist but not a compulsive collector either. However, I do admit to having trouble letting go of ‘stuff’. Until very recently I had emails going back to 2001. If you look in my kitchen cupboards, it appears that I am prepping for World War three. If the nuclear Winter ever comes to Oxfordshire, I will be ready with my five giant size jars of Marmite, ten different kinds of pasta and twenty tins of tinned tomatoes.

My daughter is the same. I recently cleared out 40 boxes from her bedroom. In them, you might find a collection of pebbles, dried flowers, jewellery, small plastic toys, drawings, and lipstick. There is no apparent connection between the things she has collected but they are very consciously put together. They have meaning to her.

Maximalist living?

Maximalist living?


This cannot be a peculiarly female trait but on clearing out my Granny’s loft, my Aunt found amongst other things a packet of unused Harrington squares (the very best quality pre disposable diapers/nappies available at the time), a set of crockery riveted together to within an inch of its life and some beautiful old lace cuffs and caps which must have belonged to her Grandmother, or even her Great Grandmother. There were also toilet rolls stuffed in cupboards everywhere and probably a hundred of those free hotel wash sets from my Grandpa’s travels round the globe throughout his working life. So maybe there is in my family, an inherited tendency amongst the women not to want to throw things away.

The Doctor on the other hand, comes from the ‘slash and burn’ school of thought. Growing up in the forces, his family moved constantly and he would find himself coming home from school to a different house from the one he left at the beginning of term. Nothing extraneous was kept by his parents, nothing. If it didn’t have a practical use, it went. He has very few things from his childhood. There’s no box of toys for our children to rummage through, no history for him to reminisce over with them.

Or show home perfect?

Or show home perfect?

So I am left wondering, why do some people keep so much stuff and others nothing?

I try my best to live by the William Morris quote ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful‘, but as my eldest son puts it so eloquently: #epicfail.

Pretty much everything I own has a memory attached, even the ugly stuff, so I will always have an inner struggle going on when I know the house needs a clear-out.

Which side of the fence do you sit on?

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29 thoughts on “Minimalist or maximalist?

  1. This is an interesting subject, and one that I ruminate on myself from time to time! I aspire to be minimalist, but I too find it hard to get rid of things at times. Everyone has emotional attachments to some possessions, at least some of the time, everyone is on the scale somewhere, some people are just too far down one end of the scale, and I’m sure there is no one-size-fits-all reason why that is, there are probably a whole range of psychological reasons behind it. One method that works for me sometimes if I’m struggling to get rid of something that I really don’t need to keep is to take a photo of it, then I’ve preserved the memory and it’s easier to get rid of the object. When my daughter was a baby/toddler, I found it really hard to get rid of any of her baby stuff, the clothes and shoes etc, I just couldn’t bear to part with them, and that’s when I came up with the photo idea, and it really worked for me, so I often use that.

    • I tend to hold on to things for a long time and then let go of a lot at once. Somehow it seems easier that way. I will keep the photo idea in mind though!

  2. That’s a tough one. Hmmmm. I think I have a bit of both. We moved around a lot when I was young so I learned not to keep too much stuff because I ended up having to box it up and pack it. But I like to keep some things. My husband loves to throw everything away! I have to label things to ensure that he does not get rid of them – particularly in the fridge. BTW, your daughter’s room looks like my daughter’s. 🙂

    • I think I’m a bit of both too. I am envious of the way a friend of mine’s home looks and I can create that if/when required, but most of the time I just marvel at her and think ‘I don’t know how she does it’….

  3. I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic lately, as we’re preparing for another move. I think the tendency to hoard can be passed on, but growing up in a house with too much stuff can also make you want the opposite. My mom is a hoarder, her mom was, some of my sisters are… and I am not. But I’m not extreme about it- since I started blogging and reading websites I’ve realized that there is a bit of a cult around minimalism and I don’t get that either. I think it’s a highly personal decision and people should do what makes them happy. I can’t feel comfortable unless my house is neat and clean and having less stuff makes it easier to do that. But I absolutely hold on to certain things that I like, regardless of whether or not someone else would consider them extraneous. And I’m not ruthless about purging with my kids- I find that they will naturally let go of things over time, maybe because I’m that way? I try to be respectful about it but not fuss over saving every little thing either.
    My husband accumulates things more quickly than I do, but he’s pretty good about keeping it out of my space and he’s also trying to have less stuff, to keep our life simple.

  4. Hmmm….a sentimentalist who is sick of dusting stuff…I spent the last year watching my parents clean out both of their parents’ houses…with the boxes and boxes of stuff so I’m trying to be brutal without losing memories. Taking more photos of things and being selective so I don’t leave my kids with such a mess. Hubby, on the other hand, keeps everything…

    • Dusting? What’s that? 🙂
      Seriously though, I agree I don’t want to leave my children with a mess – but there’s plenty of time to make sure that doesn’t happen. At least I hope so!

  5. While MTM is a modernist/minimalist architect, he has hoarding tendencies. (His brother is a full-fledged, diagnosed hoarder.) He collects old bicycle parts (I don’t even know what he has; he keeps them off-site so that I won’t know), architecture books (again, off-site at his office), and kitchen gadgets. I hoard clothes and shoes, though when we moved last year, I threw tons and tons of stuff away while MTM was at work. Every time he went out to the trash to try to retrieve something, I called him Jim (his brother), and he quickly stopped that. 🙂

  6. I’m a clothes and shoes hoarder too. I have to stay away from the shops (fortunately that’s not hard where we live) 🙂
    I don’t think I’d mind too much about architecture books (my youngest sister is an architect) or bicycle parts. When we first lived together though, I had to relieve the Doctor of a lot of things he had collected from bazaars on his extensive student travels. It’s very much the other way round now as I’m the one who has to be given the bin bags ….

  7. I so want to be a minimalist and live in a clutter-free zone…but it’s just such hard work! I think you’re right that it’s easier to have a huge sort out every six months, when you’ve got a bit of distance from things and can think ‘why on earth am I hanging onto the waist band from an old skirt that I cut up to make a scarf’??? (Really – but I promise to throw it out later…)

  8. I laughed aloud at your William Morris quote. I am reminded of Mrs Beaver in the Chronicles of Narnia who, when she must flee from the white witch, packed a considerable amount of stuff though she was in danger of being turned to stone. Her emergency going away kit would, had she had her way, have included a sewing machine if memory serves me right!

    • Oh yes that would be me. My packing is of the ’empty contents of wardrobe into suitcase and sit on it to shut it as I can’t decide what I might not need’ variety 🙂

  9. My mom loved collecting things. When she’d collected too much from thrift stores and rummage sales, she’d hold her own sale, which happened fairly often. All the clutter resulting from this drove me bonkers. I went through a period where the only thing in my room was a radio and a couple of cassettes in the window; my other belongings, a sleeping bag and my clothing, were stationed in my closet. My mom eventually mandated I have at least a bed in my bedroom, which paved the way for other things coming in, but I kept it pretty minimal.

    It’s been a challenge living with a collector again. I went from spartan to “Why do we need to have eight of this thing again?” in a very short period. Still, it does throw me back to childhood, so it’s not all frustrating. 🙂

    • I can understand your reaction… I’m not a collector but I’m not very tidy and I love beautiful things so it’s a challenge not to buy things if I’m ever near a shop… Three children doesn’t make for a very minimalist house either; theirs is the stuff I most struggle to get rid of as I don’t want to lose the memories that go with each stage – not that it’s ALL something I want to remember! 😉

  10. I am so in the hoarders’ camp! I just moved to a new country and my boyfriend’s face when I unpacked my high school yearbook and various knick knacks… and then realized I’d forgotten a toothbrush… was a memory I won’t forget in a hurry!!

  11. I have a real problem, i design for minimalism and live maximally. Confusion!

    I do try, but especially with books, that little voice goes on about you will want to read that again

    • Yes I’m nodding to both of those! I find books very hard to throw away. We’re double stacked in our house. Hopefully the kindle will ease that – but I still love a ‘real’ book.

  12. I am with the Doctor. If it has no use, if it hasn’t been used or worn for over a year, it must go. I abhor clutter. My husband, on the other hand, has a hard time letting go of used matchsticks – I have been known to throw stuff out without previously consulting him, convinced he will never missed it. Works most (emphasis on most) of the time.

    • I knew you would be 😉

      I understand the idea that things not used or worn for a year should be thrown out – but I’m not very good at letting go of things when I feel I’m throwing the memory out alongside the something. I’m improving slowly….

      • My husband always says “doesn’t that [fill the blank] has a memory for you?” and I am always slightly puzzled. I am also working towards being more understanding of the power of inanimate objects

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