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Reflections from the SwampMen with Jars and Minimalists

Men with Jars and Minimalists

Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Readers

I know you all have had times when you ask yourself,” Why am I keeping all of that junk in the garage or basement. Maybe it’s an evolutionary thing, and you share genes with pack rats and squirrels? Recently, I cleaned out the garage enough to fit the car inside for the winter. I found most of the Christmas presents we’re giving to our kin! Parting with some of my stuff was such sweet sorrow. You can do it!

A few years ago, I had an old pickup truck which I affectionately called Gloria. Gloria loved to go out on garbage day and look for free stuff. This is where the jars of screws come into the story. After fifty years of collecting screws, nuts, bolts, and other doodads, there was a good chance I had something that could replace the missing parts from found objects.

You may have heard of Men in Black or even Men in Tights. I am a member in good standing of the “Men with Jars” fraternity, which meets irregularly in garages around the county. Most of us are seniors and have 163 jars and pails full of screws, nuts, doohickeys, and doodads. My lifestyle continued joyfully until the invasion of the minimalists.

The minimalists have become as devastating as a plague of Gypsy moths and are landing on piles of stuff belonging to” Men with Jars.” They are determined to eat away at our treasures until they disappear entirely.

The term ‘Junk Collector’ is most often used in a derogatory way and not as a term of admiration or prestige like the phrase “Art Collector.” When a “Men with Jars’ person hears their bride saying, “throw out that old bathtub,” they hear and feel the same pain that art collectors would experience if someone said,” “Throw out those old Van Gogh’s.” This theory of me being an excessive junk collector is mythological. I collect future art treasures.

For years, I considered myself a minimalist, without really understanding the word’s meaning. I thought the goal of minimalists was to spend a minimal amount of money, meditate, be self-sustaining, grow your food, and fix your stuff. Calling myself a minimalist while harbouring a mountain of things might seem like the antithesis of being a minimalist and require further explanation.

Minimalists have been spreading like Covid. If you get within 6ft of a minimalist, they’ll start convincing you to get rid of your stuff; they’re contagious! A couple of minimalists broke through our defences and infected my bride. Now I have to quarantine my project supplies and isolate them.

Thousands of millennials and seniors have been downsizing, decluttering, streamlining, or disinvesting in material things. I have met minimalists who have thrown piles of stuff to replace them with fewer posh(expensive) items. By removing most of their possessions, minimalists often feel that their minds become uncluttered. When meeting a minimalist wearing only a loincloth, ask them about the meaning of life, but don’t ask them how to fix a chainsaw. The essential practical questions in life can only be answered by “Men with Jars.”

The hashtag #minimalists bring up millions of photos, including many white interiors in high-class large interior spaces. The sales pitches for being a minimalist include many slogans which sound like catchphrases. Become a minimalist and get more peace of mind, growth, and contentment. Less is more; get more, more, more by having less.

Does this imply that stuff collectors have less growth, peace of mind, and contentment than minimalists? I want less dependence on money. Less fastidiousness, less free advice, less keeping up with the Jones’s, and less attention to style or fashion. Maybe it comes down to what makes you feel purpose or contentment in life. I relax when I see a pile of spare parts or a wall full of tools. Minimalists feel at peace when there is no clutter on their counters or living room floor. It’s time that we learn a little from each other.

Minimalists have some excellent arguments. Their best idea is that we can’t sustain exponential growth in making things. Live with less and save the planet. I agree wholeheartedly. We should fix the stuff we have, avoid buying new and repair anything we need before throwing it out.

Groups have emerged that want phones and other electronics to be fixable. Often manufacturers plan premature obsolescence. We must get back to making goods that last and have replacement parts to repair the items. Manufacturers must be responsible for the shoddy products they produce.

With our present housing crisis, loss of employment due to Covid, inflation, and more people finding that high rents are stealing most of their incomes. Now is a suitable time to revisit modified minimalism called ‘gleanerism.’ I just made up the word because “junk collectors” have negative connotations. Canada geese, turkeys, and gulls are gleaning in fields around here. We should identify with turkeys and start gleaning. (That didn’t sound right, but you know what I mean?)

Gleaners were not wealthy people. Their Spartan lifestyle, though minimalist, is not adopted out of a philosophy of simplicity but out of necessity. I’d like to see future minimalism based on sharing the available goods or transferring surplus goods to those who have nothing. We are a witness of rich emerging minimalists dumping off their stuff at The Hub or on free websites, while gleaners are helping minimalists calm down by taking their old furniture and broken lawnmowers. We are saving minimalists from mental breakdowns! Not too shabby, eh? It’s a symbiotic relationship that works well in affluent societies that are downsizing.

If you spend a minimal amount of money, you’re a minimalist. You better refine your minimalist skills and start gleaning when you don’t have money. If you reuse, fix, refurbish, or repurpose things, you are contributing to reducing waste. When you give something away that you don’t want or need, you are helping others. When you buy things refurbished by local people, you are helping to reduce waste and employ local workers.

In recent times, “Men with Jars” have revised their constitution to include women. I have met women who could make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear from their stores of fabrics, threads, and second-hand clothes.

Most senior men are still married to women who want their husbands to get rid of all those jars in the garage, and while you’re at it, get rid of your redneck pile of junk behind the garage too! When Armageddon comes, those redneck piles of broken-down equipment may be the building blocks of a brave new world. We have our place in the food chain. Some may call us bottom feeders; however, I see us as lions strengthening the herd.

I had an acquaintance who told a bunch of us at a “Men with Jars” meeting in a local garage that it is time to stand up against our brides and let them know who’s boss. He was working on his third divorce, so we just smiled and nodded. Most of us still work on the old saying, ‘When the bride is happy, so is the marriage”. Guys, we have to get rid of some of the most annoying stuff in the redneck piles! We should have a trading day, where I give you the stuff my bride finds annoying, and you give me the stuff your bride says is garbage. We could share our piles, reducing the need to have everything available.

We need reconciliation between the brides (minimalists) and The Gleaners (Men with Jars). Perhaps the Gleaners could bring some of their redneck piles to the scrapyard and hide the rest behind the barn. The brides could come out to the garage from time to time and admire some of the projects, bring some coffee and cookies, and gaze at the impressive collection of jars. Then they could show off the mittens they made from an old sweater or their jars full of buttons.

Is it time to shift your position on the minimalist continuum? Become both a gleaner and a minimalist. “Women may not find you handsome, but they should find you handy.” (Red Green)




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