ACCIDENTAL MINIMALIST

OLD STYLE CHURCH WEDDINGS, ETC.

Before Minimalism had a name, there were Minimalist lifestyles forged by limited circumstances and practical wisdom. Sayings like, “Waste not, want not,” and “A place for everything and everything in its place,” helped children learn to live productively and peacefully in an increasingly materialistic world.

Judged by twenty-first century standards, most pre-1960 weddings were minimalist. They were tradition-bound and financed by the father of the bride. Performance proposals, themed weddings, specialized venues, favors for guests, save-the-dates, and Bridezillas belonged to a future that only the prescient could foresee. So did Destination Weddings unless you count going to Tijuana for a quickie Divorce-Wedding Combo.

CHURCH WEDDINGS AND MORE

Churchgoers who were getting married could rely on their church’s sanctuary, paying little more than a clean-up fee for the janitor and a thank-you gift for the officiating minister. If there were no singers and instrumentalists among friends or relatives, the church’s music staff were available for a modest fee. The unchurched might opt for a home wedding unless they conveniently got religion as they made their wedding plans.

The bride’s mother, grandmother or crafty aunt might make the wedding dress. Attendants made their own dresses or had them made from fabric and patterns provided by the bride.

The local baker could produce a lovely traditional wedding cake. Variations had more to do with size than with originality or artistry. The town florist would happily offer a range of options to match the church‘s facilities and dad’s checkbook.

The church Fellowship Hall with adjacent kitchen could be reserved for a cake-and-punch reception after the ceremony. Banquets and buffets were only for brides whose fathers could afford membership in the country club.

If the groom’s father had the means, he would host a rehearsal dinner at a nice restaurant for attendants and the families on the eve of the wedding.

Considering the expense, the preparation, and the great to-do made of them in the society pages of the local paper, actual weddings were shockingly brief and boring, brightened only by seeing the bride all beautiful in her lovely dress and veil and indulging in the sugar high of obscenely white, obscenely sweet wedding cake. It was rumored that Catholics drank alcoholic beverages and held dances after weddings, but Southern Baptists frowned on such practices. It was also rumored that ethnic peoples, particularly those with Latin or Mediterranean roots had a morally questionable lot of fun at their wedding receptions.

Then the sixties happened. Couples ditched tradition, and those who bothered to seal their vows at all experimented with original venues: helicopters, submarines, untamed beaches, dionysian meadows. Bridal wear might consist of a flowing granny dress and bare feet, a garland of flowers braided into unwashed hair, or bride and groom might show up barefoot all the way to the neck. Hare Krishna chants replaced organ music and high-collared ministers gave way to Buddhist monks or Pagan priests and priestesses. Tokes replaced champagne toasts. Weddings suddenly were fun for all, but there was little profit for anyone but the Cartels. Meanwhile, churches were beginning to look more like rock concert venues than places for worship and sacrament, so…

ENTER THE REAL-ESTATE DEVELOPERS AND PROFESSIONAL WEDDING PLANNERS

Generic Wedding Chapels sprang up, along with Faux Palaces, Faux Barns, Faux Dionysian Meadows, Faux Country Churches and Faux Victorian Mansions. Flimsy portable kiosks and a few plastic chairs could turn Real Beaches into Overpriced Venues. Groomed and perfumed agents rolled out red carpets and pricey package deals. If you could imagine it, for the right price they could make it happen.

Brides’ mothers and crafty aunties were no longer at home ready to stitch up a wedding dress at the first glimmer of an engagement diamond, so wedding fashions ordered from China by corporate specialty fashion boutiques replaced Butterick patterns and yards and yards of peau de soie, Belgian lace, discreetly blingy sequins and faux pearls bought at the local fabric shop and assembled on Singer sewing machines. Mothers and daughters with buy-now-pay-later mindsets indulged in Modern Bride fantasies bringing forth Hollywoodesque productions and debts larger than the family mortgage.

It is probably not a good idea to convert to Minimalism just as you are planning one of your life’s most significant celebrations, but it might be helpful to have a few tricks up your sleeve to keep those excessively groomed-and-perfumed agents (and your mother and your best friend and your best friend’s mother and your grandmother and your sister and a whole slew of ad writers for glossy magazines) from taking over your life and making your head explode. You’re likely to spend more than your grandmother did for her accidentally minimalist wedding, but with some common sense and planning, you won’t have to drive your family into bankruptcy to have a wedding and reception party that will be a lot less boring than Grandma’s and Grandpa’s. Unless, of course, Grandma and Grandpa were Ethnic. Or Catholic. Or both.

SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER

1. It’s a celebration for two people with the people they love, not a Hollywood production for millions of spectators. Unless, of course, that’s what you want. Just don’t get confused.

2. It’s your wedding. It’s extremely important for you two who are getting married and your families. For your invited guests, it is just one more social event in a busy season. Those perfumed agents who are so sure of what you must have won’t even be there.

3. More is not necessarily better, and neither is More Expensive.

3. Simplicity (the aesthetic quality, not the pattern) is the foundation of elegance. Trendy and Extravagant will give you some hilarious Awkward Wedding Photos twenty years from now.

4. If it turns a beautiful bride into Bridezilla, it probably should be eliminated.

5. If anyone pitches an idea, even if it’s your grandma or your future mother-in-law, just smile sweetly and say as sincerely as you possibly can, “That’s a good idea.” Don’t offer any explanations, apologies, or promises to include it.

6. Watch some You Tube Pinterest Fails before you commit to DIY decorations.

7. Hire a competent photographer and a DJ who is in sync with your party style.

8. Worst-Case Scenarios like a tornado, chocolate Groom’s Cake smeared on the wedding dress, or a key player with a broken leg will give you something to laugh about once you get over it, so the sooner you get over it the better. Don’t waste valuable pre-wedding energy worrying about Worst Cases. They are rare and unlikely, even though all my example WCS’s actually happened to people I knew.

9. Originality is overrated. If you have doubts, let traditions with proven success records be your guide.

10. Make your wedding as meaningful, joyful, fun, and stress-free as possible, whatever that means to you and whatever it takes.

Here is an excellent article on reasons to not have an extravagant wedding:

https://www.becomingminimalist.com/the-case-against-extravagant-weddings/

ACCIDENTAL MINIMALIST

NANA HAD A TINY HOUSE WHEN TINY HOUSES WERE NOT A THING

It was a tiny house in spirit and square-footage if not in style or name, an old-fashioned shotgun house with a few additions. Nana’s house didn’t have a loft, but it had a sunny built-on bedroom with windows on three sides, a beautiful hand-made quilt on the bed, and the foot-pedal sewing machine where she stitched patches together to make more quilts

I remember a flushing toilet and claw-foot bathtub with hot and cold running water in what had once been an alcove, but Mama had memories of Nana’s original “composting” toilet, an old-fashioned outhouse, and of water heated in a kettle on the kitchen stove to pour into a big round galvanized tub moved temporarily into the warm kitchen for a bath. There was no room for a lavatory in the updated bathroom. We brushed our teeth and washed our hands and faces at the kitchen sink made of concrete and with the plainest of faucets, like a sink you might find in a workshop.

The sink had a crude shelf underneath. Nana had fashioned a red checked curtain to hide the supplies on that shelf. A Formica table, four mismatched chairs, a narrow four-burner stove and oven, a very shallow cupboard, and an icebox completed the kitchen furnishings. The icebox was a porcelain-lined wooden box with handles on the top and bottom sections, and a large draining pan underneath. A big block of ice, delivered regularly from the Ice Man’s truck, prompted by a sign in the window showing how many pounds the householder wanted, was loaded into the top compartment. It cooled a few perishable things that could then be placed into the bottom section. As the ice melted, the water drained into the pan, which had to be emptied regularly. I was a teenager when Nana got a small electric refrigerator, a castoff from her daughter, Aunt Dorothy.

Three or four print dresses with matching belts hung in the tiny closet between the living room and the kitchen, and her pretty nightgown and robe were handy on a nail just inside the closet door. The dresses were always clean and pressed, and she complemented her outfits with small gold hoops in her pierced ears and a strand of faux pearls for a really special occasion. Her sturdy grandma dress-up shoes were clean and polished, and the slippers and old gardening shoes she wore around the house were comfortable and serviceable.



A summer gathering on Nana’s porch. Nana is in the background at left.


The whole house was as cheerful and welcoming as Nana herself. A gas heater in the living room kept it warm and cozy in cold weather. Open doors and windows and a couple of electric fans made the Texas heat tolerable. Outside, there was a tree to climb, Nana’s carefully-tended flowers to enjoy, plenty of dirt and battered discarded kitchen utensils to make mud pies, and a porch with metal chairs where neighbors were invited to share watermelon and cantaloupe or to just sit and visit.

When my cousins and I slept over, the youngest was privileged to share Nana’s double bed in her cozy bedroom. The rest of us were comfortably tucked into a roll-away bed pulled magically out of her TV cabinet, or the fold-down living-room couch, or improvised pallets on the floor, padded with extra blankets. In warm weather, the older cousins were allowed to take our pallets out to the porch.

We thought of Nana as kind of poor, living as she did with the help of her daughters, a little spare change from baby-sitting or ironing, and a monthly Social Security check for eighty-five dollars, but she always had what she needed plus something to share—a patchwork quilt, a hand-embroidered dishtowel, a jar of homemade plum preserves. She never complained, and she never talked about things she wanted to buy.

My other grandmother lived in a big house with an air conditioner and beautiful furniture, rugs, and curtains. There were fireplaces in the living room, dining room, and all the bedrooms. The big front porch had a porch swing, and her grand kitchen contained a deep-freeze and all the latest appliances, but Nana’s house was where I wanted to be. My other grandmother was deeply unhappy, a hypochondriac who spent most of her days in bed. Her house, though elegant and spacious, was dark and uninviting. I don’t remember ever seeing a fire in any of the fireplaces, even at Christmas or on the coldest days of the year.

Minimalism was not a word used to describe anyone’s lifestyle. We saw the world in terms of prosperity or poverty. Advertisements on billboards and TV assured us that happiness was just over the horizon after our next purchase, but I couldn’t help wondering why my Nana, who had so little, was the happiest person in my family.

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