When I got married in 2011, we spent a cumulative $12,000 and called it a bargain. And it was a bargain – the average American wedding costs $25,200 these days. We cut corners, but we did the whole shebang: Big gown, big venue, big meal, big dessert table, photography, videography, DJ, centerpieces, customized everything, tuxes, event coordinator, rehearsal dinner, jewelry, makeup, hair, theme, colors, officiant, and of course, in the first place, a very expensive diamond engagement ring. After all that, though, there’s only a short list of things that I wound up really loving about my wedding — my dad going out of his way to make a slideshow and take dance lessons so our first dance could be awesome (it was), dancing with my friends for two straight hours, and the fact that my family came from all over the country to witness my vows.
I’ve written about my minimalist bent before. I started really looking into the philosophy very shortly after my wedding, and that’s not a coincidence. During the planning process, like most engaged people, I was under a lot of pressure about what I “had to” do in order to have a “proper” wedding — the kind of dress I should wear, the type of food we were going to serve, which songs we’d play; everything was planned to the minute. It occurred to me more than once that I really couldn’t have cared less about what “makes” a wedding, and a few times I said it out loud, but it turned out that it was more about making other people feel like their investment into the event was going to have a “real wedding” return than what would have made me feel like I was really getting married.
Of course, it’s not just our families and friends who put the pressure on couples, and brides in particular, to make sure we check off all the bullet points The Knot tells us we’ve got to. All of us — we, our families, friends, and spouses — get our inane assumptions about what brides are, what weddings are, and what’s reasonable to expect from shows like “Bridezillas” and “Say Yes to the Dress.” We move seamlessly from watching “Cinderella” and “The Princess Bride” in our childhood to watching “Meet the Parents” and “27 Dresses” in our adulthood. The climactic, affirming endgame is always a wedding, and at that, always a banquet with a big, fluffy white dress housing a glowing, perfect bride. What’s the last movie you saw that showed two people having a courthouse wedding on a Thursday afternoon and not regretting it? Even “30 Rock” copped to the pressure to make a wedding The Big Day.
And then, of course, there are plenty of businesses salivating over the opportunity to cash in on all the pressure that comes with The Big Day. Awesome wedding blogger Marissa Payne was spot-on when she wrote about “wedding dollars vs. real dollars”: Because your wedding is The Big Day, because it’s only going to happen once (HA! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I was divorced at 26, but I digress), you talk yourself into justifying the insane markup on wedding items that you would never consider necessary or important otherwise. She put $1 in wedding money at about $50-100 in real money, which seems about right when I recall custom napkins at fifty cents a pop, when I’d normally buy napkins at maybe half a cent a pop, max.
If the theory behind a minimalist lifestyle is that you assess what you’ll actually need and use and buy no more than that, think of everything I could have easily cut out of my wedding, by my own standards of what was useful/valuable. Anything that didn’t have to do with making things easy for my family to get and be there, that didn’t have to do with making my relationships with my family a centerpiece of the wedding, and that didn’t have to do with having a great time with my friends would go. The dress, the flowers, the fancy venue, the fancy meal and excessive desserts (meal yes, fancy and excessive no), the tuxes, the coordinator, the custom baloney, the color theme, the DJ, the videographer, the photographer, the centerpieces, and oh my god, the engagement ring first and foremost — I could see all of that going without hurting my ability to have the ceremony, good times, and memories I’d want, and after all, that’s all you’re left with. What about you?
All of these excesses are a product of us seeing what’s fashionable amongst very rich people and then trying to replicate that lifestyle — kings and queens, celebrities, and corporations have instituted most of the things we consider “traditional” for weddings now. But why make ourselves into celebrities for a day, and why do it on the day when we’re vowing our lives to another human being, the day when we should most be ourselves? What was good enough for your grandparents, or for your great-grandparents?
I’ve said to a few of my friends that if my boyfriend and I ever get married, I’m going to see how much he’ll let me take out of the wedding before he considers it not a wedding anymore. I think a perfect, pure minimalist wedding would be a trip to the courthouse after work and dinner with the family — but I’m not a perfect, pure minimalist. I’m just a woman who has better things to think about than a color scheme.
[Photo via Shutterstock]