I took my girls to a friend’s birthday party recently. The friend was a fairly new one from school so it was the first time we had been to her house. What struck me on walking through the front door was the complete and utter lack of stuff. Apart from the party bunting and carefully laid, princess themed table there was almost nothing in the house. Of course they had furniture. Just the basics though. A sofa and chair, a dining table, a sideboard, a TV and music cabinet (with a few DVDs and CDs in). The kitchen was fully fitted. There were a few photos on the walls but no family heirlooms, china, books, ornaments, trinkets, magazines or newspapers lying around. There were no toys downstairs. The kitchen surfaces were pretty clear considering a party was about to begin. I looked into the garden and saw a neat lawn with a swing. Nothing much else. No planting to speak of, no crazy piles of plants potted up and waiting to be found a space. No gardening equipment. No furniture for outdoor eating. It felt as if they had just moved in and hadn’t unpacked yet, but I know they have lived there for years.
These people are not minimalists. Maybe you could call them accidental minimalists, but being minimal isn’t their intention. Instead they just actually don’t own much and keep the children’s stuff tidied away. They aren’t alone. Few of the houses we go to have evidence of the children who live there. A few artful photos maybe but no toys downstairs or artwork on display. A neighbour is nervous about having toddlers to play at her house in case they make a mess and I’m nervous when I take my children there. Her house is immaculate. Beautiful but impractical. She has a baby boy who is about to start crawling so her days as an accidental minimalist may be numbered.
Houses like this are ostensibly a more successful picture of living without stuff than ours. But they are also a bit cold. It’s my problem with super-minimalism. I like to be surrounded by my girls’ drawings. I want the garden to be a place they enjoy exploring. I don’t want to confine them to their room when they want to play.
Whilst we try not to have stuff we genuinely don’t need our house is a place to live life not a shrine to tidiness. Accidental minimalists may have something to teach us about unnecessary clutter but I would rather be surrounded by genuinely meaningful stuff any day.