Welcome to the age of minimalism, the zeitgeist of the Millennial generation.
Followers of the less-is-more movement say it is about becoming more intentional with space and resources. Skeptics say it is a materialistic, "First World" problem.
A 2016 New York Times Magazine article called minimalism " a hangover from pre-recession excess — McMansions, S.U.V.s, neon cocktails, fusion cuisine. "
"If you look at the 'tiny house' Google search trend over the last 10 years, it was barely a blip until about 2013 — then it started going crazy," says Weaver, who builds tiny homes and lives in a 276-square-foot house in Cleveland, Tennessee, with his wife Lindsay Weaver, 32, and their 10-month-old son Shepherd.
That boom, Jeremy Weaver says, was partly sparked by television shows such as "Tiny House Hunters," "Tiny Home Builders" and "Tiny House Nation." But, he adds, it also coincided with Millennials aging into the housing market.
"They're freaked out by home-buying. They value experiences over stuff," Weaver says.
While minimalism is often considered a response to the 2008 Great Recession, 31-year-old North Chattanooga artist Mary Ann Twitty, who, in 2015, downsized from 1,400 square feet to 600, believes it is also a reaction to the job market's trend toward artificial intelligence, which, according to a World Economic Forum report, will eliminate 5 million jobs by 2020.
In an uncertain, ever-evolving world, home mortgages can feel too risky.
"Transitions in life are important and pivotal and inevitable, and owning less makes them a lot easier," says St. Elmo resident and self-described minimalist Graham Hodge, 24. Hodge and a roommate share a 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom home, furnished with bare essentials such as a couch, a couple of chairs and a dining room table.
Still, not everybody is buying into the fad. In response to the best-selling book by Marie Kondo, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing," author Arielle Bernstein wrote an essay titled "Marie Kondo and the Privilege of Clutter" published in The Atlantic. In it, Bernstein shares the story of her refugee grandparents who emigrated from Poland to Cuba, then from Cuba to the U.S., both times fleeing oppressive rule and leaving behind everything they owned.
Once they settled in the States, her grandparents began to save everything, from pantyhose to plastic bags.
" In order to feel comfortable throwing out all your old socks and handbags, you have to feel pretty confident that you can easily get new ones. Embracing a minimalist lifestyle is an act of trust. For a refugee, that trust has not yet been earned," Bernstein writes.
Furthermore, the author asks, isn't it ironic how America's obsession with minimalism has mounted right alongside a major refugee crisis?
But perhaps the push to pare down is, in part, due to that disparity. Amid footage of displaced people who left behind their homes and all their possessions, Americans are setting records with the number of things they own.
According to a 2014 article in the Los Angeles Times, the average U.S. home contains 300,000 objects — from paperclips to ironing boards. In America, the average woman owns more than 30 outfits; the average home has more television sets than people; and children consume more than 40 percent of the world's toys.
Perhaps the practice of less-is-more is not superficial. Perhaps, instead, it is critical to the well-being of ourselves, our environment and our connection with the world.
HOW TO HAVE LESS
I have spent the past year sorting through every cabinet and drawer in my apartment. I have hauled away two trucks' worth of clothes, books and furniture. I have given away every magnet, every picture frame and most of my socks.
Downsizing looks different to everyone. In my quest for less, I hope to find a balance between tidiness and practicality. Do I need two spaghetti strainers? Am I ever going to learn to ride that unicycle? Why have I spent a decade lugging around dozens of books that I've already read and have no plans to read again?
Becoming a minimalist is not easy. It has involved a lot of introspection and tough decisions.
"We store memories in objects. We have emotional attachments," says Twitty, who approached her first major purge equipped with a box of wine and some dark chocolate. "But when you can release all that, what comes in its place is bigger than you imagine."
In place of her stuff, Twitty says she found self-awareness.
"I had to answer a lot of questions about myself. What is it about this object that I like, or that I don't like?" Twitty says.
I, however, have not yet had that same epiphany. My biggest discovery has simply been how little I miss things: my TV, my handbags, my collection of toy dinosaurs. But I'm not done downsizing yet. I am planning one final overhaul of my closets, my kitchen cabinets and — sure to be the biggest challenge — my cedar chest in which I store a lifetime's worth of greeting cards, journals and childhood toys.
To help me in that final push — and to help you get started — the Weavers, Twitty and Hodge share words of wisdom on getting rid of stuff, from sweaters to family heirlooms.
Experiment with a smaller wardrobe on a trial basis.
"One really good way to try it out is to go traveling. Take only what you can fit into a 50-gallon backpack: a couple pairs of underwear, shirts, pants. I bet most people will quickly forget about [all the clothes] they have back at their house," Jeremy Weaver says.
Invest in quality clothes.
"I'm very intentional with what I buy. I think about how it's going to age over the coming years. This shirt I'm wearing now is made with hemp, and that's more durable than cotton," say Graham Hodge.
Know your style.
"I had a lot of white, wispy clothing that was a reach for me. I was reaching for an idea of something that I wasn't," says Twitty.
Host a swap party.
"Twice a year, tell your friends to go through their closets and pick out things to get rid of. Then one of you hosts the party where, basically, you just make different piles of pants, shoes, dresses and then you pick through and take what you want. At the end, whoever hosts the party is responsible for bagging up the leftovers and taking it to a thrift store. I find myself getting rid of stuff I normally wouldn't because it's more fun to pass stuff along to a friend," Lindsay Weaver says.
Weigh needs versus wants.
"Me and my roommate like to listen to music in the house. When Amazon Prime rolled around, we saw how cheap Alexa [sound system] was. Before I bought it, we had this good conversation about 'Do we need this?' We had our phones to connect to Bluetooth. We had some old computer speakers that we'd been using to play music. So we decided we could get by without it, and I didn't end up buying it," says Hodge.
"My dad always told me, 'If there is something you like, decide if you need it or want it. If you just want it, wait two weeks, then see if you still want it. And if you do, make sure it does not cost more than 10 percent of your savings,'" Hodge adds.
Own objects you can manage.
"Before we were married, I didn't own anything I couldn't move myself. I had my bed, a small closet and a lamp.
"Sometimes when I read stories, people say, 'Oh, I got rid of all my things and it was incredibly freeing!' But it wasn't a big transition for me. I didn't really notice the stuff was gone because I didn't need it," Lindsay Weaver says.
Assign realistic values to your objects.
"If I'm struggling to get rid of something that I've found useful once or twice and I can see how it could potentially be useful again, I ask myself, 'Have I used this in the last two years?' and 'If I got rid of it and then had to have it again, can it be purchased for less than $50?'" Jeremy Weaver says.
If the answer to that first question is "no" and if the object can easily be re-purchased for an amount with which you're comfortable, purge it, he says.
"It's the digital era. You can easily switch your paper magazines over to digital magazines," says Twitty.
Stop storing memories in objects.
"Heirlooms are not as significant as they used to be. You can ID [an heirloom's] wisdom and carry on that story but release the object. When you internalize that memory, instead of storing it in an object, it becomes worth more," Twitty says.
"I used to keep all the birthday cards from my grandparents; stuff like that. Then I realized that I'm keeping this stuff for them. They aren't coming over here to check to see if I still have it. They care about me the same amount whether I keep it or not," says Hodge.
Re-purpose your camp gear.
"[Babies'] high chairs take up space; jumpers take up space. We get things that fold — like, they make camping high chairs for babies," Lindsay Weaver says.
"We have a couch and two chairs. When guests come over, we bring out camp chairs," says Hodge.
Add value (not objects) to your child's enrichment.
"We do have a little bin of toys for [10-month-old Shepherd], but I've gotten creative with what he plays with. He likes things with different touches and sounds. His favorite things to play with are the spatula, my hairbrush and a crinkled-up piece of paper," Lindsay Weaver says.
"I notice that when my daughter [age 4] has multiple objects, it is harder for her to invest in one thing. For instance, she has a bag of stuffed animals, but only one favorite. To get to that favorite she has to dig through 17 others. Your house feels so much better when you're surrounded by only your favorite things," Twitty says.
Recycle and re-gift.
"You have to tell yourself, 'Whether I bought it or someone bought it for me, if I'm not using it, it's being wasted,'" Lindsay Weaver says.
"I had to change my perspective. I used to think I had to keep a certain object because so-and-so would want to know I loved it. But I can pass that joy on. It can be fun to see my clothes on other people, or artwork I used to own in someone else's home," Twitty says.
Take baby steps.
"You don't have to get rid of everything overnight. Start small. Do you need place settings for 12 people? Do you need 212 pairs of socks? Do just one project once a month. Slowly get used to the detaching process," Lindsay Weaver says.
Remember that less is more.
Minimalism is like making art, Twitty says. Your home is the canvas; your stuff is the paint.
"When you want to use a certain color, it is much more powerful to use small, concentrated amounts of that color, rather than use a lot and spread it all over," she says. "[Minimalism] is less about less, and more about more — more of the right stuff."