Saturday, November 28, 2015


Storage.  We’re so used to the concept of storage. Closets, plastic bins, shelves, cupboards, garages, attics and off-site rental spaces - the more it grows, the more we get used it. Long ago, my husband and I purchased a special wooden shelf with slots designed to hold cassette tapes. It was functional and made of nice, light-colored wood with a felt backing and brackets to attach it to a wall. It was storage as decoration. Decoration with bonus storage. We took our cassettes out of the cardboard box they’d been living in and slid them into the waiting slots. We had arrived.

One day, we bought a cassette tape and brought it home. The shelf was full. My husband said, “Oh, we need to get a new shelf.” Something clicked in my head and I suggested “We need to get rid of an old cassette to make room for this new one.” I suddenly realized that storage doesn’t end. There are always more shelves to buy. It was a turning point for us and we stopped looking at storage as an ever-expandable supply. We started using our space as a fixed limitation. If the space is full, something has to go. One in, one out. Sometimes, it’s one in, two out.

Along the way I started reading about alternatives to the mainstream consumer-driven American lifestyle. Back in the day, it was called voluntary simplicity. Now it’s called minimalism. Whatever it’s called, it just makes sense. Acquiring things only ties us down. We wind up spending money on more and more storage for the stuff we didn't need in the first place.

Once one understands the false allure of ever-expanding storage, one can appreciate getting away from it. Open space is calming. Not having anything to dust is freeing. Once a new acquaintance stopped over our house, looked around and asked if we had just moved in. We’d been there 14 years. I loved the emptiness of that house, it was spare and functional. Things need breathing room, just like people. A shelf with only one or two things on it looks more hopeful than one packed to the gills.

Not accumulating things is a huge directional change for most people. We are sold the ideal of acquiring more and more. Our economy depends on shopping as entertainment, even shopping for more special purpose storage containers. Better, our hard-earned money should be saved, or used to spend on the people and experiences that really matter in life. Were we enriched by owning a shelf full of cassettes? Better to buy a ukulele and spend time jamming with friends or go to a concert.

We’ve come a long way from those youngsters with their cassette shelf. We eventually gave up the house, cars and all the stuff to move aboard a sailboat for a few years. Now we divide our time between the sailboat and a tiny apartment. I don’t miss any of the stuff and I still try to keep the boat lockers and apartment cupboards only half full. We love our freedom far more than closets and plastic bins.