The first time I went on a trip with the man who would become my husband, he packed three T-shirts and a pair of jeans into a faded hiking backpack.
“I’ve had this since high school,” he said, proudly zipping up the bag. “It’s incredible how long it’s lasted.”
“Cool! It’s vintage,” I said, as I squeezed the fourth pair of black pants (they all had different uses) into my overstuffed roller bag. He grinned at me.
“Are you sure you need all that?”
“Of course,” I said, jamming down the top of the suitcase. “If I close this now, I’ll be able to fit in more stuff in the morning.”
Ah, young love! The time of "look how different we are, and yet we’re the same, and the differences just make you even more adorable!" Little did I know that over the years, my husband’s “less is more” attitude would be a constant, um, negotiation. His minimalism versus my need for all the stuff would become a battleground.
What did he mean when he said those piles of mail on the kitchen counter weren’t actually a filing system? What's was wrong with buying four different kinds of hair conditioner? My hair had different needs. And wasn’t it completely normal to carry around a sweater, a water bottle, a book, snacks, makeup, a journal, cold medicine, an umbrella and sunscreen—just in case?
But then our daughter was born. With her came more stuff than my minimalist husband could have imagined in his worst nightmares. Little plastic toys seemed to multiply overnight and take over the house room by room. Clothes from family and friends kept arriving in an endless variety of sizes and seasons that defied organization.
My husband’s patient expression became a look of pure terror. The look of a man standing on the sinking Titanic, watching the last lifeboat rowing away
Once she hit toddlerhood, the piles of artwork and “projects” and bits of Play-Doh and "Daddy, you can’t move those stuffed animals off the coffee table, THEY’RE SLEEPING!" overwhelmed him. Clutter invaded our home, which for me was basically par for the course, but for my husband was like being forced to live inside the Fire Swamp in "The Princess Bride." Our negotiations grew more intense:
Him: Let’s throw out these crayon scribbles.
Me: But they’re precious!
Him: Put "no gifts" on the party invite.
Me: No gifts on her birthday?! (sob)
Him: We’re only taking carry-on bags.
As our daughter’s 3rd birthday approached, my husband desperately tried a compromise tactic.
Him: How about we just get rid of these baby board books?
Me: You can’t throw away books!
Him: Well, maybe we could donate …
Me: But what about baby #2 one day?!
My husband’s patient expression became a look of pure terror. The look of a man standing on the sinking Titanic, watching the last lifeboat rowing away.
But somehow, through what my husband would call “maturity” and I would call “magical osmosis,” I’m beginning to see his point about minimalism. There is a kind of calm when surfaces are clear, shoes and jackets put away. It turns out my purse does feel lighter without an entire emergency “go bag” in it, and I’ve been trying to get my hoarder tendencies under control. Note I said "trying."
You know that book where you pick up every single thing you own and ask yourself if it brings you joy? I’m not doing that.
Instead, I ask myself what terrible disaster will happen if I don’t have these things. Without an umbrella, I might get wet in all those rainstorms that happen in Southern California. I might get a cold in a place where cold medicine has not been invented. What if boot-cut jeans make a comeback?! I didn't say I was good at this.
But this year, as my daughter was turning 4, I decided to be mature. I took a deep breath and wrote on the party invite: “You are the best present! No gifts please.” My husband kissed me happily. My friends knew it was a total lie and brought stuff anyway.
Balance: It’s what marriage is all about, after all.