Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Tiny Cabinet, Tiny Stuff

Almost everything in my apartment has an immediately visible purpose. That’s more a function of my recent move than of my success with Mari Kondo—I drove from Boston to Tucson two months ago, with just the stuff I could fit in the car. My miniature things are the exception. They look decorative, like tchotchkes, not like the useful things your mom asks if you’ve bought yet. Their tininess made them relatively easy to pack, but really, I brought them because I love them.

I’m far from alone in that. People love tiny things. The internet’s full of everything, so this isn’t saying much, but the internet’s full of miniatures (tiny hedgehog birthday! tiny donuts! more than 1k Etsy items!). Tucson even has a Museum of Miniatures.

There’s a correspondingly large number of thinkpieces theorizing on why we love tiny objects. Tl;dr: minis make us feel nurturing and tender; minis make us feel safe, because they can’t hurt us; and minis make us feel in control. The first two of those felt pretty self-evident to me. The third one made me feel seen naked.

Let me back up, and make a distinction. The publicly beloved miniatures I linked to above are specifically aesthetic experiences—tiny things created and shared because we love to look at them. YouTube videos, museum exhibits.

The miniatures in my apartment—and, now, in my Tiny Cabinet—have a different kind of purpose: I like to actually use them. I like packing those little books on hikes and actually reading them, keeping my pins in the little straw cup (the smallest of a nesting set, and obviously, my favorite), frying an egg in the little white pot even though it’s totally not nonstick and a pain to clean. I use them as practical objects, even when their smallness makes them less practical than some other object might be.

(The broken yolk is a disappointment, but that’s the only egg I had in the house.)

Collecting all of my little things in one place—this cabinet—makes some of them, like the plate and pot and lid, look relatively large. 

It's not a flattering effect. Seeing those objects no longer as miniatures, I love them less. The objects that seem even littler in this juxtaposition, I love correspondingly more. Why? What is it about smallness, cuteness?

Left to right: Much Ado About Nothing, Taming of the Shrew, two unopened Moleskines I got as a gift, an opened in-progress one, Othello, my wallet

I like to control small details. People who don’t know me well might (I hope) not know about that tendency. It’s embarrassing. We’re supposed to “have chill.” My best friends know that I have no chill. (I recognize that the quotation marks reveal me as someone who learns what the young people are up to by reading Atlantic articles. Might as well unmask fully, right?)

My Google calendar’s schedule down to the 5-minute increment, and I keep a “have done” list alongside my “to do” list. It sounds odd, but I schedule so aggressively so that I can allow myself to take breaks. I’m overwound (for many reasons—that’s an essay for another day) and the best way I’ve found to make myself relax (I know) is to keep track of every bit of productivity, so that I can look at it, tell myself I’ve done enough, and rest. I get a lot done, collect the evidence, and bask in it, like raking the yard and then jumping in the leaf pile.

So, yeah, control. My miniatures let me organize details, down to a satisfyingly small scale. They let me tidy a little corner of my life, then look at that tidiness and say, at least this is fixed. The most uncomfortable thing about adulthood for me is that tasks don’t stay done—you take care of your doctor’s appointments and taxes and budgeting and laundry and groceries and house cleaning, and time passes, and you have to take care of them again. My miniatures stay organized, calming, held. They give me dominion over little subsections of my life, making it more okay that I’ll never fully control most of it.

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