Managing Objects. Camping, KonMari, Minimalism

A comparison of mental models to control the abundance of things.

In: Experience, Products Reading Time: 8 min

How to clear up? People don’t know anymore. Piling up things, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be a problem, if we take a look at our parents’ and grandparents’ attics and basements (if they are lucky enough to own a house). The results of a 70-year long lust for shopping and hoarding that we have to deal with.

Even worse, the introduction of 1-Euro-shops (with the Euro itself) and the inevitable IKEA enabled people with small budgets to fill their apartments with unnecessary items. Everybody has too much stuff. What to do?

Managing things — or not

Everybody is constantly managing objects. What do I need? What may I need at some point in the future? What doesn’t fit anymore, has sentimental value, is definitely broken, too good to throw away etc. If you don’t want your things to overwhelm you, you have to keep them in check.

Freedom is for clutterers only, the specters of the order-loving individual. They dropped out of the race and live in the bulk of their material. Maybe they simply gave up and accepted their fate. Maybe their things serve as a foothold, an anchor that provides a sense of place, security and calmness – as they do for the most of us.

Instructions for Cleaning

Our economy never made any suggestions on how to deal with the abundance of things. The only – rather stupid – directive is to throw them away. But even such a simple task has become difficult. For an activity that never needed any publications, there are now several official scripts available. Tidying up has lost its obviousness. You need directions, guidance, instructions.

How does our present try to motivate and explain the culling of things? The buzzwords »minimalism« and »Marie Kondo« deliver two rather polished scripts on how to reduce our stuff.

As a third point of comparison, we take a look at the mother of those dissimilar children: camping. As a historic precursor, it provides a primal scene of the management of abundance. It is explicitly not a philosophy of tidying up – but deals with it all the time. Camping inherently contains the newer routines of cleaning and therefore helps to understand them better.

KonMari™: Judgment by Emotion

The original Japanese edition of Marie Kondo’s bestselling „Magic Cleaning“ was published in 2011. Eight years and countless articles, derivatives and progressions later, the attention for the cleaning method called »KonMari« reaches its peak with a show on Netflix.

Basically, Kondo offers her followers a simple but quite ingenious question to check he necessity of an item: „Does it spark joy?“ We are supposed to take only one thing into our hands and scan it thoroughly for its emotional potential. Is the answer „yes“, we can keep it. If not: bye bye.

Although there are lots of psycho-hygienic and life-changing philosophical promises included, it is a fairly practical program with a low threshold. Everyone may start right away to thin out his or her belongings.

What is attractive about Kondo’s method is that she let’s people have what they have. Her command is not a negative one, saying: throw this or that away. Instead, she proposes to look out for positive reactions in your subconsciousness. Only keep those things that trigger a delightful, non-verbal stimulus.

This is where Kondo herself marksthe difference between KonMari and minimalism: „Minimalism advocates living with less; the KonMari Method™ encourages living among items you truly cherish.“

Minimalism: Images of a Life

On the other hand, the lifestyle of minimalism needs of finer ideological und financial foundation (for self-displays look here und here ).

The most import distinction is its imagery. Minimalism is based on and thrives in design, staging and presentation. Go to instagram and you find an intrusive amount of white (you know what that means), furniture, clothes, accessories, tattoos and pictures of nature. Items are preferably singled out, having almost no context. KonMari is about the plural of things and the corresponding regimes of storage.

Minimalists, one might say, have an enhanced desire for distinction. Images are not only central to that desire, but also operational: they become instructive for people who want to live like that. To minimize consumption may result in having fewer things. But these things need to be chosen very carefully, so in the end you have to buy stuff again. It is not about getting rid of things you already have, but to consume new products that are aesthetically pleasing and persuasive.

While Kondo focuses on the libido-potential of inventories, minimalism demands the production of a complete and pervasive environment.

Camping. Pragmatics, not Program

Beyond these two organizational frameworks there are much simpler occasions and necessities to manage stuff, like moving or renovation. Camping belongs to the realm of pragmatics as well. But because of its spatiotemporal closure it is a rather special micro-theater of things.

The mobile home is small, but you want to live well in it – it’s a holiday, after all. The things you pack should at least be able to fulfill the needs of your everyday life. So camping begins with an audit of your household, your way of life in a very basic sense. How do I actually live? What is pivotal to my daily life? What things do I need to keep it up? What, inversely, is unnecessary?

Camping is primarily looking at the practical value of things. Necessity is key in deciding whether to leave an item at home or to take it with you. Marie Kondo withdraws elegantly from this utilitarian thought by focusing only on affect-based values.

This may end in quite entertaining confusion. I have no love for my tin opener – should I throw it away? But why? Because it doesn’t work well or because it is ugly? Because pull tabs have become so rare that I wouldn’t trust a can that comes without one? Or because a deeply seated, hitherto unknown aversion for canned foods has risen to the surface of my consciousness?

Say »Yes« to things

To compile a traveling household is especially difficult for those who want to take everything with them. For other, the iterated decision-making might be a happy sequence of small liberations. Simply because you do not dump anything entirely, but only for a limited period. Abundance awaits.

Saying »No« may be loud and uncomfortable during moments of sacrifice. But every »No« is accompanied by those joyful affirmations coming with a »Yes«: Yes, I want you and you and you, and you’re with me, too: plates, corkscrew, beer, wine, bread, chocolate, pants, shoes, books, games, toilet paper.

There is a sense of childish enthusiasm in putting your everyday companions on display and telling them: Yes, you do spark joy.

Instagram IRL

Then, the well-equipped mid-european camping site works like social media in real life. Campers and trailers are densely packed, exhibiting selected belongings under marquees.

Just like looking at instagram tiles, I can do some window shopping to see what my neighbors have in stock. Funny enough, there is hardly a difference to the standardized inventory of a German middle class kitchen: microwave, coffee machine, satellite dishes, clotheshorse, plastic rug, broom. Did anybody say »relinquish«? Everywhere is the usual stuff, only outdoor-specific gimmicks point to the fact of not being in a neighborhood of single-family homes.

Travel with a washed-up RV or, even worse, only with a tent, and dismissive eyes will come at you. Social control works just the same as in the German suburb and countryside.

The reciprocal surveillance within minimalism and camping is happening in different media and surroundings, but the criteria are just the same: do I own the right stuff? Do I live up to the standards? Do I belong?

Camping and Minimalism: Conceal Your Wealth

Camping is popular – and expensive. The prices of old VW Buses are ridiculous, caravans and campers cost even more. Add gasoline and camping-site fees to this investment and it becomes clear that camping is not about going on an alternative, cheap holiday (anymore).

Germans prefer to show their prosperity in a decent manner – do not show off, be humble. To go camping is a good fit to that directive. Those rather uniform campers enjoy the paradox of being able to mirror themselves in decency while bathing in convenience. Quantity and quality of the pieces tell stories of prosperity while sporting an image of simple life. Best way to do so is by drinking filter coffee from a shatterproof mug with a well-swept plastic rug under your feet.

On the other hand, the fetish of minimalists consists of austerity, reduction, rigor. But this is not the result of economic distress. There are those who make a virtue of necessity, i.e. to hide their neediness behind the prosperity of other minimalists. The objects themselves – MacBooks, carbon bicycles, mid-century modern furniture – tell a different story. Which is about wealth, only in different code.

For campers and minimalists the question is the same: can you afford modesty?

Infinite Vastness of a Beak

A friendly and reserved pelican named Pelle, first published in the children’s comic „Petzi“ in 1951, encapsulates the yearning of minimalists and campers. In short stories, he and a group of friends travel the world, meet all kinds of animals and go on various adventures, in the course of which they have to build something quite often.

To do so, you need tools – and that is where Pelle comes into play. He is able to conjure forth any desired object from his beak: shovel, drill, saw, hammer, ball. The story demands anything? He’s got it. His beak is an endless storage facility, containing everything you can think of.

The beauty of such a beak bag is 1. storage space is no limit when it comes to bringing things along (camping) and 2. things do not take up any space (minimalism). As long as you do not need them, they are not present.

The longing for independence – in the comic casually expressed by the actions of the characters, not by talking about it – drives both campers and minimalists. Campers want to be independent from places. To achieve that, they are fully aware of the need to have things and try to apprehend any coming necessity. If you have a Pelle in your crew, the problem vanishes.

For minimalists, the promise of Pelle‘s beak is in the absence of things. Strictly according to the rules of the platform economy, the pelican is unburdened by belongings and only uses things if he actually needs them. There is no weight, no waste of space, no aesthetic disfigurement. The subject is in command.


Things are roomies. They are indispensable, stable, create intimacy in your home play a central part in comforting routines and rituals. You establish yourself in them, you hook into their presence.

Campers create a miniaturized reflection of their way of life, which they try to continue while on a holiday. In contrast, minimalists try to avoid any weight even at their usual home, trying to preserve mobility as a permanent option.

The camper takes a vacation from the weather. The minimalist is always a tourist.