The 80/20 rule

In the absence of going places, I’m thinking about things again. The Atlantic had an article where a self-proclaimed clutter collector was talking about how Covid killed minimalism. Feeling vindicated that she never decluttered, she says that the lesson of the pandemic is that she no longer ashamed by her piles of things, but is relieved to have it all there at hand, ready to take her into the uncertain future. She traces her grandparent’s experience of the depression and tells us how stashed stuff is important to survival in hard times. Then she mentions stacks of old magazines, sweatpants, and piles of t-shirts. Really? Old magazines will help me survive and maybe even thrive in a pandemic? Who knew?

To her, the reason why a cluttered house is considered tacky is because we’re not supposed to admit publicly that we’re stockpiling against scarcity; that we’re too scared to admit the rug may get pulled out from beneath us. Job loss. Illness. Political upheaval maybe? What is scarcity anyway, in these hyperconsumerist times? In the Great Depression, your grandmother may have had 3 dresses, if she was lucky. How do our crammed closets compare with that? Is scarcity simply relative? And how can anybody need so many t-shirts?

My take: if you like stuff, you’re going to be happy to be surrounded by it in a crisis. If you don’t, you won’t. Simple. What I learned by getting stuck in the south of France, away from my already pared down possessions is how much I don’t need. The freedom that comes from that knowledge is far more valuable to me than most things. Maximum flexibility is the biggest flex. Most of our crap doesn’t help us cope as much as adaptability does. A better coping skill is minimizing your wants and your needs. I wonder if the author would find she’d rather have a stash of money from not shopping and not stockpiling to tide her through uncertainty.

I think the difference can be summed up by the 80/20 rule, aka the Pareto principal, which states that 80 percent of your results comes from 20 percent of your inputs. You will wear 20% of your clothing 80% of the time and vice versa. You use 20% of your things, the rest lolls in desuetude under the stairs. The difference between myself and the maximalists is I find the underutilized 80% a burden, they apparently find it a comfort. The other difference between myself and the author is I’m not going to declare a winner. To each his own. We make our decisions in the unconscious part of ourselves and then the conscious parts justify them. I’m not going to tell either part of you to get rid of your stuff. I’m just saying in this push-comes-to-shove year, I’m still glad to have only 20%. No regrets. (Dear maximalist friends, I can see you rolling your eyes. Your stuff is great. Enjoy it.)

All of this is my my way of thinking about our next move. Our place in Montpellier is 80 square meters, we will be moving back to 20 square meters in Paris sooner than expected. I’ve been looking around our beautiful but seriously over-furnished and gewgawed Montpellier flat and noticing what we actually use. (It’s not our stuff mind you, it’s a furnished apartment) The rest of it we walk through and (very) occasionally dust. This is not to say by any means that it wasn’t wonderful being able to ride out two confinements in comfort, but it’s time to move on. Our Paris place is enough, but no more. It will keep our adaptability well-honed.

The tiny digs. A friend once remarked that it’s like living on a boat.