We live in a society where people acquire vast amounts of stuff and then run out of space to store it all. Some respond by adopting minimalism; true believers embrace the clean aesthetics of clear floors, empty shelves, and bare closets. Of course, in our disposable consumer culture, these same people can buy replacements for what they have discarded. The zen state of declutter is but a momentary illusion.
Marie Kondo, apostle The Gospel of Decluttering and an advocate for minimalism, built her career encouraging people to discard items that failed to “spark joy.” Upon having her third child, however, she came to the conclusion that minimalism and kids were not compatible and confesses to now having a messy home. Apostate!
The urge to acquire stuff is probably pre-programmed into us by evolution, just like the extra layers of fat we accumulate when food is plenty. Because good times don’t last, humans hoard resources for a rainy day; those with a cushion fare better during a downturn. But, as with many traits driven by evolution, the accumulation of stuff can become pathological. Hoarding can be a detriment to survival, and the line between prepping and hoarding is thin. Some manage to keep pushing the envelope without passing that threshold into madness. Some don’t and succumb to a full-blown sickness.
Take clothing, for example. Consumers have five times more clothing today than they did in 1980s! No wonder we seek out homes with extra closet space and the rental storage business is gangbusters. Sure, some of this is pushed onto us by the fashion industry — the endless procession of styles and clothing that falls apart after just a few wears. But I am sure that there is an evolutionary component to this as well. It is in our nature to gather more and more, and to squirrel away resources even if we forget what or why we bought or where we stuffed it. It is hard to say no, especially when it is so easy to say yes. And so many of us crave that little squirt of endorphins when we buy ourselves a treat.
So kitchen cabinets have gotten larger. Refrigerators, too. New construction often boasts of closets that are the size of small apartments. I once overheard a San Francisco woman boast that, thanks to rent control, she maintains an extra apartment just for her hats!
The Eliminati — a clandestine society dedicated to reducing clutter.
So like any writer, once I have given this some thought I realized that there is a cool little story buried in that narrative — consider the rise of a secret society: The Eliminati. Its members travel the world and promote the ideas of decluttering and living with less or no stuff. Of course, they sell books on how to declutter one’s life and they are doing a booming business selling decluttering products like the perfect carry-on bag — bring everything you need in one small bag. Loads of money is rolling in, but The Eliminati isn’t satisfied just proselytizing. Non-believers need to be brought into the fold and, in a surge of radical anti-consumerism, Eliminati members infiltrate their houses and strip them of their possessions. The pilfered goods are fenced to fund the organization, and the newly barren homes serve as a stark symbol against clutter. Nothing wrong with making a little something from following one’s beliefs. There’s definitely a story there.
Most stories are born like this, I think — a spark of an idea is married with a few others and hurriedly written down on a bedside scrap in the dead of night. The idea brew gets mixed and ferments until the story is ripe enough for a writer to commit it to the page. Most of my stories have originated like this. The FATOFF Conspiracy was a peculiar reinterpretation of Cinderella with loads of fat heaped on top and a quirky sci-fi element together with spunky revolutionaries on the side. But it started from thinking about how impossible it is to lose weight and how our social structures promote weight gain while idolizing thinness.
The FATOFF Conspiracy isn’t the only story about fat that I wrote. There is a little short story that was adapted as a radio play by the talented Mariah Avid at 600 Second Saga. The Perfect Gene questions the divide between our evolutionary-driven need to survive the hard times versus our modern sensibilities of what constitutes beauty. Unfortunately, Mariah stopped creating her wonderful audio productions, but an archive still exists on YouTube. I hope you take a moment to listen.
Well, that’s all for July. More in August!