The Mayday Experiment: De-hoarding/Re-hoarding and Turning Trash Into Treasures

Artists are natural hoarders. To us, everything has potential, everything has possibility. Add to that the word “free” and resistance is futile, I’m afraid.

Though I’ve tried to be incredibly conscious about what I take into my life while building the tiny house, the general rule of stuff is that it expands to fill the space you have to house it. This is why the tiny house is the ultimate in discipline for a person like me; I’m limiting the possibility for hoarding stuff, which has been the main source for my work. But it also implies a level of trust in the world: that there will always be enough stuff, and that the right stuff will come into my life at the right time.

And come into my life it does, at unexpected yet sublime moments.

But the deal is: When things come into your life, you have to be ready to take them. So living in the tiny house will automatically place restrictions and simplify my life, and as a result, change my work. But…I’m not quite there yet.

The fact is, a massive amount of “dehoarding” will need to occur before I can cram myself and my belongings into the tiny house, but I will always need a studio on the side, as I have always had. Given the way real estate is going in Denver these days, however, the likelihood of my having so much space for very long is probably a short-term proposition. And collecting things for the tiny house itself takes considerable space – from lumber, to sheets of insulation, to carpet tiles. For this project, I have followed the same rule: When friends or strangers drive down the alley offering you something of value, you have to take it right then and there.

For a long time after moving out of my house of fifteen years, after the pain and trauma of digging through boxes filled with both treasures and crap and too much substantial history, I was leery of stuff. People would offer me their cast-off junk, as they always have (what can I say, I have a reputation), and I would say, “Oh, no…TINY house,” and nod knowingly. But just as a dog returns to its vomit, I eventually began accepting the offerings of yarn stashes and barn wood, picking at people’s junk like a dieter on a binge, convincing myself that “just one wouldn’t hurt.”

Most people hoard out of sentimentality – each object a thread one could follow into the past, to a happy memory. The fear is without that object, one might forget. But I hoard for the opposite reason: Each object is a thread into a future of possibility. Each object exists in the realm of dreams.

But the secondary reason is that I hate to see things going into landfills. My hand hovers over the trash can with each scrap, assessing its size, its potential use…how small is too small? How much will I regret throwing this out? How assured am I of its uselessness?

This thinking is useful as an artist – spending so much time assessing the use of an object can only lead one to seeing new uses. But useful as a future tiny home dweller? Not so much. I long for more simplicity, but the fact is: It is not my natural habitat nor habit.

Instead, my natural habitat is filled with interesting junk that may always have a more interesting future. In my studio right now is a box of vintage resistors; a full horse harness, stiffened into a flattened pile; a sail from a sailboat; a palette full of industrial felt scraps; a headless taxidermied goose; and dozens of pieces of honeycomb, bits of nature, and a box labeled “dead things” that holds everything from an elephant’s foot (the saddest object in the world, and one I feel almost guilty about owning) to a wildebeest hoof. Not to mention every type of glue, paint and wire, boxes and boxes of vintage papers, and chunks of Styrofoam of all sizes. Stuff accumulates like rabbits, a Fibonacci sequence of unwieldy half-trash. 

But even with all that…sometimes life offers up opportunities that are too good to pass up. As I said before: If the stuff comes, you have to be ready to take the stuff. So when my friend Jason Bump posted that the design house he worked at was moving out of its warehouse, his motivation to keep things out of the landfill and mine collided. I drove over there within an hour of seeing his Facebook post, and grabbed wood poles for trim on tiny and bags of fabric, which is always good for anything. I drove away satisfied, but by the time I was home, Jason had sent another urgent message – stuff needed to be rescued from the landfill! Could I take more?

Thinking that I was only saying yes to more fabric (and that I could always find an appropriate home for what I didn’t use), I said yes, but unfortunately I had to be at work all day. Jason suggested leaving the door open at tiny and said he would drop the stuff off, and I excitedly left it unlocked, looking forward to a surprise at the end of a long day. And surprise it was – tiny was almost full! This was unexpected, but the things there were a boon: giant pieces of soft foam that could easily be made into my cushions for the custom couch I would be building; much more fabric, some of it sheer enough for lovely curtains; and some interesting fake plaster ceiling decorations that instantly called out to become sculptures.

One more trip to the warehouse yielded an enormous block of Styrofoam – almost as big as my car and perfect for carving — as well as circular pieces of plywood that will surely be useful in building something. Materials-wise, I had hit the motherlode!

I have had so much junk flow in and out of my life over the past few years, I now know I can easily let go of any of it. I can re-home what I want, give it away, find tons of artists who would gladly put it to use, without the anxiety that used to be spawned by letting go of a single possibility. I know full well I am not alone in my hoarding issue: Last week I joked with sculptor Rian Kerrane while looking at her show at Mai Wyn Fine Art, which contains casts of buckles she had saved for years and X-rays of her teeth. Other artists instantly get it.

But this also led me to a realization: I have enough in my studio to need no more materials anytime soon. I could make a million different things, and the influx of stuff led to the motivation to instantly start making sculptures. (Which can be seen at “Ridiculous-ness,” a show opening this Friday, February 12, at Ice Cube, thanks to an invitation from curator Sarah Rockett.) 

So I made a vow to myself, as a thought experiment, for the rest of 2016: I will not be buying art supplies, save for things to fasten like glue and nails, which tend to run out. I have enough here to make things to my heart’s content. This will be the year I use what I have, lest I have to re-home it —- a strong motivation if there ever was one. But it's also preparation for the ways in which living in the tiny house will change my work: by thinking big, I will be thinking smaller.

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, is writing about her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on If you'd like to support her journey, you can pledge here or here. See more of her work at

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Lauri Lynnxe Murphy

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