Seeing My Coworkers’ Minimalist Homes on Video Calls Has Made Me Come to Terms with My Own Clutter

editor@purewow.com (PureWow)

Clean kitchen counters devoid of anything except an espresso machine. Bookshelves with color-coded rows of neatly aligned books. Nightstands with nothing but a novel and a glass of water.

Absolutely none of these scenes can be found in my apartment. They can, however, be found in the homes of my coworkers, a fact I now know thanks to daily video calls that allow me to get a closer look at their hyper-organized minimalist decor. Which, if I’m being totally honest, is an aesthetic I’ll never achieve. 

Having been in my current apartment for just over a year, I’ve managed to settle into my cluttered but colorful surroundings and I feel pretty darn good about them. Or at least I used to feel good about them, until mandatory work from home was put into place. Now, I find myself constantly hopping on video calls and therefore being subjected to one editor’s sleek little desk adorned with a single vase of green fronds, another’s gorgeous vintage subway map perfectly aligned with her delicate French molding and yet another coworker’s tidy kitchen counters on which I can spy nothing but a blue KitchenAid mixer and a matching coffee maker. As such, I’ve rediscovered my deep desire to hide everything I own in cabinets and closets. But it’s not a totally novel emotion; with each attempt to squirrel away a stack of books, I’m hit with a pang of sadness when I remember, I’ve tried this before and it just isn’t me.

I recognize that I’m only seeing a sliver of my coworkers’ homes and I shouldn’t pit my overstuffed hall closet against their bare kitchen table, but that’s easier said than done. It’s much the same as comparing yourself to people on Instagram. You see what they want you to see, which hardly ever includes the general mess outside the frame. And I would do well to acknowledge that my desk space back in our office may have eight water bottles and three vases of dead dried flowers, but just across the way is one that’s boxed in with books and another featuring a cluster of lively potted vines. Perhaps my coworkers find they now require a clean, clear workspace in order to effectively WFH during the coronavirus. Or maybe their very own pile of magazines is actually sitting underneath their computer during a Zoom call. Or they really are living that beautifully simple minimalist life that’s always just out of my reach.

Despite my best efforts, I’ve never been able to really shed my belongings to arrive at a Marie Kondo-approved lifestyle. It doesn’t help that I’m a little bit of a hoarder and also a shopaholic—a winning combination, for sure. I hold onto statement necklaces I haven’t worn in six years, cracked mugs my friends gave me after their study abroad trips and sweaters my mom bought me in middle school. My justification is always, why would I get rid of a perfectly good thing, just because it’s old? I can also point to exact moments in time when holding onto everything has proven to be incredibly useful. If you find yourself at PureWow HQ and in need of a safety pin, some tinfoil, a salt packet or a shopping bag, I’m always at the ready. 

But it’s an incredibly frustrating thing, learning to accept yourself for who you are and letting go of what you’ll never be. This is especially true for things that feel like they really shouldn’t be so far out of reach. Sure, I’ll never be an Olympic-level runner, but why in the hell can’t I be a minimalist, dammit?!

Being stuck at home is bringing up all sorts of weird feelings, realizations and issues for people—like despite all of our newfound free time, we’re still not learning French or figuring out how to bake bread. For me, this time of isolation has led to accepting my status as a maximalist, or at least as someone who is destined to live in a moderately cluttered household. I’ve used that somewhat disappointing thought to encourage myself to do what I can, like neaten up my bookshelves and reconsider owning six whisks.

Realistically, I’ll never achieve the elegantly sparse scenes I see playing out over Google Hangouts because it goes against my very nature. So, for now, I’ll have to find satisfaction with the fact that I now own three whisks (which might still be too many) but is certainly less than before.

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