I had this high concept post all set to put together. It was going to be a takeoff of A Christmas Carol (i.e. A Minimalist Christmas Carol) in which a non-minimalist like myself is taught the error of his ways. It was going to be SPECTACULAR. But it was also going to be EXHAUSTING. You can tell by the larger font – and Trebuchet script – that exhausting won out. No Christmas Carol. Not this year. I don’t get paid enough to overcome my exhaustion.
But let me tell you about what I learned while visiting Chicago over the last few days: Minimalism lives in our hearts and minds whether we know it or not. It’s simply that our definitions differ as to what constitutes “minimalism”. Your minimalism may be my cheapskatism; my Nitmos level hedonism – which I call minimalism - may be your maximalism. Who’s the judge?
This struck me as we were making our way up Ontario St. Tuesday afternoon for a day of decadent shopping on Chicago's ritzy Michigan Ave. A bum sat on the sidewalk wrapped in a holey blanket with tattered gloves extending a Styrofoam cup as if offering us free hot coffee. The bum, a housing minimalist, seemed quite content – even eerily detached – from the rest of the throngs of shoppers whose bags from Macys, American Girl and Bloomingdales bounced off his patchwork knees on their way to their suburban homes and stabilized 401ks.
Did the hobo seem upset that, as a homeowner minimalist, he was being attention minimalized by the masses? No, as I said, he was offering free coffee. Or, at least, I thought it was free coffee until I took a cup, raised it to my lips, and tasted the disgusting metallic tang of hobo fondled coins and the ghosts of vomits past. Looking in the cup at the bonanza of pennies and dimes, I realized he was also apparently a dollar bill minimalist (as well as a bath minimalist, fruits and vegetables minimalist, enunciation minimalist, front teeth minimalist, but, oddly, alcohol maximalist – until I flipped that upside down and realized he wasn’t an alcohol maximalist but a sobriety minimalist. See? There’s always a different angle at which to view the same thing to make it minimalist).
There were home minimalists all around the city but they never bothered anyone. In fact, after a while, it seemed that their shaking coins in the cup were playing a little song. I thought I detected O Christmas Tree amongst the rattle of nickels and sloshing vomit. I took their anguished faces as a perfected form of minimalist joy. Really, it is truly a matter of perspective.
I almost took pity – misplaced pity – while walking out of American Girl with my daughter’s ridiculously expensive doll, ice skating outfit and winter doll clothes. I reached back for my wallet – something I’d already done a dozen times that day at various stores around the city – and felt a muscle twang in my neck. The housing minimalist eagerly shook his cup harder as O Christmas Tree turned into a frantic Jingle Bells. But, damn that neck pain hurt, so I held up my hand and said “No, not today, I’m sore from paying for too much stuff already. Merry Christmas!” I couldn’t understand the mangle of words that came back at me but I’m pretty sure it was something to the order of, “Thank you anyway and you have an attractive family and your shoulders are very broad.” Yes, it’s true, in shoulders I’m a maximalist. Bums are perceptive, you must give them that!
We dropped money on Chicago like we are disciples of the Mayan calendar. Perhaps we’ll be housing minimalists by this time next year (when the world ends anyhow). I was going to get my colt some minimalist shoes (i.e. a box filled with air) but instead sprung $85 on a pair of new ones at Adidas. We could have gone all the way to $220 for a new pair but, keeping in the minimalist spirit, we opted for the cheaper pair. He got back to the hotel and decided he didn’t really like them after all so we ended up tossing them in the garbage as a hobo pressed his face and hands to the outside window glass and warbled something at us that sounded an awful lot like “I love my dishwasher box house.”
In the end, after two days of shopping, museuming, gorging, ice skating and spending as if money was something the city needed but something I could do without, we loaded up our boxes and bags to the roof of the trunk and started the three and a half hour drive home. I believe we learned something about minimalism those days. Something we can take with us as a life lesson. It’s not about the size of your home. It’s not whether your home is water soluble. It’s not whether your breath smells like a cross between onions and a week old diaper. It’s not whether you use toilet paper versus the side of your hand. And it’s certainly not about whether or not you can make two minimalists fight by waving a $20 bill under Wacker Dr.* It’s about being thankful for what you have. It’s about true minimalism…and the perspective from which you define it. I believe that fits nicely with the Christmas spirit.
The Nitmos family didn’t want to offend the sense of minimalism on display on the streets of Chicago. That would have been an affront to the lifestyle. And, though we spent an obscene amount of money on things that barely interest us, the truth is, we could have spent so much more. So, in a way, we are minimalists at heart as well. It’s truly a Christmas miracle!
When I strap on my $100 pair of Asics 2160 running shoes for my next run, I’ll know that I could have spent twice that amount on shoes with thicker soles and better ergonomic comfort. But I’ve adopted the spirit of minimalism thanks to the contented mortgage minimalists on Michigan Ave. Whether they want it or not, I’ll shiver for them as I nudge up the thermostat on those cold winter days. I don’t know what it is, I’m an ole softy this time of year.
As Tiny Tim (and, coincidentally, Hobo Jim) would say, “God bless us one and all!”
Jim did belch out “motherfuckers” at the end but that was the malt liquor talking. The sentiment was the same.
Have a Merry, Magical, and Minimalist Christmas and, by contrast, a Decadent and Maximalist New Years!!
Happy Holidays. (That's right, I said "holidays". I'm not sorry if this offends as I'm an empathy minimalist.)
* You can. I didn’t see who won. We grew bored and wandered off before they finished.