Why we need minimalism

January 28, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Laura Campbell

Last year in this space I wrote about the magic of minimalism and the fact that this might be the most important ‘lifestyle trend’ of the century (it feels cringeworthy to even call it that in an age where so many live with so little). But however bourgeois this movement might feel in its present Mommy-blogger iteration, it still deserves the attention of even the most cynical social critics. 

Have you tuned in to the new Netflix show, ‘Tidying up with Marie Kondo’ ? It is strangely wonderful. There are so many important themes covered in such a simple concept. The first episode features a picture-perfect middle class couple with two children, struggling to get along in the context of their quotidian clutter. Other episodes tell stories of people having a hard time getting rid of things that belonged to loved ones who have passed away. Japanese superstar writer and blogger, Marie Kondo, gives Americans a healthy dose of wisdom by teaching them to keep only the items that ‘spark joy.’ 

I haven’t watched all the episodes, but I am already seeing what an impact she has had. My entire social media stream is filled with people decluttering. I tend to think this is a good thing overall, except for two important caveats: 1) Where is all of this excess ‘stuff’ going? and 2) What we don’t yet know is what effect this process will have on future consumption levels. 

Let’s deal with problem 1. In their extreme enthusiasm to simply purge their homes of the things they no longer want or need, are folks being conscientious about where the stuff is going? The worst-case scenario is random roadside dumping. I suspect most people don’t do that. However, a small portion may indeed simply send their things to the landfill. I hope the majority of people are considering all the myriad places that their material possessions could go.   Clothing swaps are great, as is the RE-Store run by Habitat for Humanity or local consignment store, As We Grow. Keeping things in good order and thoughtfully choosing people/organizations that could use the items is a great move. 

Orangeville Buy/Sell on Facebook, I’m told, is an amazing place. Clothing donation bins are great, but they are also a for-profit recycling business whose material contents are often shipped to the Global South where it can sometimes cause other problems. Textile waste is one of the leading causes of pollution in the world. This is connected to problem 2: overconsumption/production. 

Indeed, problem number 2 is equally, if not more important. Are people truly changing their consumption habits or are they merely clearing their homes of unwanted things to make room for new things that will become obsolete somewhere down the line? What about all the things we acquire that we don’t even BUY? This means free promo items that you receive at work, or elsewhere (corporate “loot” bags, for instance). Sure, it’s nice to get a new travel mug every year from our produce supply company, but you really only need one- two at most, if you’re super busy and neglect the dishes. But therein lies the problem- if you have two you’ll eventually end up having to wash TWO travel mugs instead of one. So why not just take care of the ONE item you have. This idea is the philosophical core of minimalism. 

Allow me this small tangential point: most disturbing for me is the reality of “home decor” trends. Don’t get me wrong – HomeSense is a very useful store. I shop there. But it also invites people in to “overhaul” the look of their spaces, and for a great many (read: also me), that means using credit cards to buy things that were made in questionable conditions across the world. Most “new” “trendy” things spark joy in people. That’s why consumerism is a collective addiction. But there is something much more precious and special about seeing someone’s living room filled with family hand-me-downs and photos.

For some reason, at some point, Westerners were taught that the more space we have, and the more things we have to fill that space, the happier and more successful we should be. Naturally, this is not true. While there is nothing wrong with having collections of things that we cherish, do we really cherish the seven extra baking trays we own? What about the derelict tool box that holds light bulbs that no longer work? Or disorganized drill bits (I’m speaking specifically of my very sweet husband). 

It is from a great position of privilege that we suffer from “too much stuff.” And therefore it is our responsibility of be very conscientious about when/where/why/how we buy things. We need to be buying remarkably less and making do with what we own. A discussion around our consumerism is a fundamental microcosm of the crisis facing humanity. It also acts as an important window into how we must approach ‘conservation.’ Our provincial government wants to see us go back to growth patterns of the early 2000s. Those were the golden years of money-making for Doug Ford’s developer friends. It was when Pier One Imports, HomeSense, Winners, etc., popped up in parking lots across the GTA and put every locally owned small shop out of business. It was when 21st century capitalism was injected with a steroid called excess-capital liquidity. Luckily we have all now understood the consequences on our economy and our planet. 

So let’s TIDY UP and conserve. Let’s conserve our water, our farmland, and the material possessions we already own. Innovation crosses all sectors of life: household economics and macro-economics alike.

I’m painting an old mirror this weekend and writing our MPP (again) about Bill 66 – how about you?

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