My husband and I have both changed quite a bit since our first date sixteen years ago. We’ve been through multiple moves, three years of law school (for him), one diagnosis of an autoimmune disease (for me), and three beautiful children, so it’s only natural that we should evolve in our own right as well as in our relationship.
In the last few years I declared myself a minimalist. I’ve never liked clutter or developed emotional attachments to stuff, save for a handful of heirlooms, but after years of paring down my belongings and taking stock of the junk I’ve bought in the past, I can attest that a minimalist lifestyle is right for me.
In that same time period, my husband found success at work that allowed him to create a substantial collection of video games, consoles, controllers, and more cords and wires than could ever be untangled by one man alone. My ideal home has negative space, clean lines, and clear countertops, and his has an oppressive wall of games for Atari all the way to whatever the new Xbox thing is called.
The constant in our lives is our commitment to each other, so while it may seem unlikely that a collector and a minimalist could share a harmonious home, in our case it works. We have disagreements like any couple, but both of us possess enough compassion and empathy for the other that we can get past a heated discussion and work to compromise.
Becoming a minimalist is often accompanied by a sense of satisfaction and superiority, knowing that owning less is the only way to true contentment. While I might be positive minimalism is the path for me, I don’t get to decide what makes another person content. Trust me, I’ve tried, but I’m here to tell you that not everyone would be happier as a minimalist.
My husband has always longed for a library full of his favorite books and a den that resembles a gaming museum, and although collecting isn’t something I understand, I do recognize that it’s his passion. Writing is my passion, and lucky for my minimalist sensibilities, it only requires a laptop, a notebook, a printer, and a red pen. But, even as a minimalist, if my passion involved more accoutrements I could still enjoy my desired lifestyle because my choices lead me to fulfillment, not empty spaces. It just so happens that what I value cannot be stored on shelves.
The most important tip I have for couples whose lifestyles don’t align? Zone Defense. Long before I was a true minimalist, we made an effort to designate space for my husband’s collection. It’s a place he can revel in his favorite things, and a place I can ignore when tidying the rest of the house. Does venturing into his office give me anxious hives? Sometimes, but that room is not for me, it’s for him, and I have similar areas where no clutter is allowed because that is my preference.
In his defense, he grew up with rich furnishings, art on every wall, knickknacks and décor for every holiday, and a room of his own to decorate as he pleased. His family has lived in the same house for thirty years, and my family moved every three or four years. Relocating means regularly purging all your belongings so you don’t have to pack, ship, and unpack anything you don’t absolutely need. My parents are not minimalists, but I grew up without a lot of clutter as a way of life.
Welcoming children has made my distaste for clutter more pronounced. I don’t get to tell the kids they should only have three toys each and they should all be neutral wooden sets that don’t beep or talk. Now that they’re old enough to have opinions of their own, they mostly favor their father’s collecting genes and will insist on keeping broken bits of toys or games missing half the pieces. The mess is not my favorite, but we have Zone Defense for that, too.
The playroom is behind the couch in our house, so if I’m sitting down having a cup of coffee and watching the news, there is no clutter in my line of sight. No toys are allowed in the kitchen, either, since I am the cook in our house. You can’t tell a kid that her broken piece of a plastic necklace isn’t worth keeping, because it brings her joy. We do try and steer gift-givers toward experiences rather than plastic, but there are still a good number of LEGOs on the floor at any given time. Just not in the living room, which is my zone.
There are days when I come close to losing my mind when I see a new delivery of games has arrived in the mail, or when the kids mix all the different kinds of blocks in their toy bins into a sloppy but alarmingly sharp soup, but despite my confidence that minimalism is the best way to live an intentional life, I don’t get to decide what brings joy to the other people in my home.
Other than our aesthetic differences, we don’t differ where it counts—our values and hopes for our family. We make space for one another in our home and in our lives and respect each other as individuals. And having seen my husband become a father and caretaker over the years, I wouldn’t put “has few belongings” in the top five requirements for a mate if given the chance to do it all over again.
Not every day is worthy of Instagram, but commitment to compromise has gotten us through sixteen years and blessed us with three beautiful children, and that is a collection I can get behind.