Today, we are minimalists. Back in the day, we were conservers.
Okay, maybe there isn’t a direct equation to be made between these sets of guiding principles, but there is a familial resemblance. Minimalism, at its core, is about trimming down and maintaining a minimum amount of stuff. Keeping less, buying less – basically, the antithesis of capitalist consumerism. This means different things to different people, but tends to be married to the image of pristine all-white interiors with little – if any – personality.
Conserverism (not to be confused with conservatisim) is on the same wavelength with regard to consumption, but not necessarily with the Spartan decor. A conserver is what a minimalist farmer would be: thrifty, creative and intensely practical. They’re less concerned with aesthetics and more about making the machinery of life tick over without having to spend lots of money to do so. This may include, but is not limited to, a minimum of possessions.
I got this term from a little book called How to Survive Without a Salary, written by Charles Long. Think of it as a guidebook to our current gig economy, only laid out back in the 80s. Much of the book is about budgeting and planning finances so that one can become kind of semi-retired at any time of life, but a goodly portion is also dedicated to doling out the philosophy behind being a conserver. In all of our possession purges, it is one of the few books I will never get rid of.
A conserver’s basic tenet is this: never solve a problem by buying something if you can possibly avoid it. Let’s run through an example of this in action. Say you’re looking around at your messy house. Maybe your first thought is, “I should acquire some kind of storage solution to corral all this stuff!”
The first thing a conserver does is go through all the stuff and get rid of what’s no longer needed. Truly broken things are disposed of. Worn, but useable goods might get donated. Anything that can fetch a buck gets sold. Maybe there’s some stuff the conserver’s on the fence about. That stuff gets put away for a season. If it remains untouched, out it goes!
Then, the remaining stuff gets organized. Perhaps things got messy because stuff was originally stored in an impractical place. Bandages don’t have to go in the bathroom if you’re always knicking your fingers on knives in the kitchen. The conserver puts stuff where it’s most used or useful, not where tradition dictates it should go.
And now, we wait. Is the house still intolerably messy? Or has it become liveable? Sometimes, just waiting for awhile makes a problem go away. Maybe you like how you’ve put things away now. It’s not messy, but not totally streamlined, and you’re kind of digging it. Great!
If storage remains an issue, can something be cobbled together from salvaged or repurposed items? Ask around to friends, co-workers or neighbours to see if they have anything going wanting that would suit your purposes. Of course, keep in mind any personal aesthetics that will help or hinder your satisfaction with your solution. You won’t be happy with something you don’t like the look of; after all, you started all of this being bothered by mess.
The very last option a conserver considers is laying out hard-earned cashola to solve a problem. When it’s gotten to this point, there is clearly a problem to solve, and no other method has taken care of it. This is the last resort. So, shop around. Prepare to pay for quality – no skimping! Reassure yourself that this item is necessary, and make it the nicest, most pleasing version of that item that you can.
For a more specific walk-through of this process, see the thrilling conclusion in part two.