Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Is minimalism inherently privileged?


I love my minimalism hobby, but I sometimes worry that I sound like a rich, privileged jerk when I talk about it. You can't consciously, freely reject "too much" unless you have access to too much to begin with. The basic ideas of minimalism just don't work if you don't have a certain level of resources.


Buy It For Life
Rich people often criticize poor people for making bad long-term choices, such as buying $25 boots that fall apart in two months instead of $100 boots that last 10 years. But if you only have $25, and there's no way you could get together a spare $100, then you don't have the ability to make that choice, even if it's better and cheaper in the long run. As Linda Tirado explained in her post, Why I Make Terrible Decisions, and her follow-up book Hand to Mouth, being poor is so immediately expensive that it can be impossible to escape the trap.


"Have Nothing In Your Home You Do Not Know To Be Useful or Believe to Be Beautiful"
To feel free to discard things, you need the confidence that you will always have easy access to anything you need, when you need it. Hoarding is unnecessary and self-defeating in a world of abundance, but it's a natural and rational response to scarcity.


Stop Trying to Do It All
I enjoyed Greg McKeown's book Essentialism, which instructs us to fight the instinct to keep all doors open and please all the people, and say "no" to all opportunities that don't align with our core values and goals. Basically this is like schedule decluttering. Of course, this assumes that you have plenty of opportunities falling into your lap all the time to say no to, and that you have the option of saying no without, say, losing a necessary income stream.

So, is minimalism useless?

I don't think so. It's been meaningful to me and my other rich jerk friends! Knowing that my privilege makes it accessible to me doesn't mean it's bad or wrong.


Crucially, it's not a hobby/pastime/mindset that makes things worse for other people. It sucks that it's expensive and time-consuming to do the right thing for the earth, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it if you can. If anything, it's a net positive for the world (in a teeny, tiny, itty bitty small way.)


I do think I need to be careful of thinking of minimalist lessons and tenets as cure-alls, because they don't help in all situations. Times in my life when I've been overworked, underpaid, stressed, and stretched thin, the last thing I needed was some silly rich friend brightly saying, "Have you tried decluttering? You know, you should really only buy organic veggies. Why not put a little lavender in your bath and soak your cares away?"


A minimalist attitude not only requires, but is a natural consequence of, a true sense of abundance. Its lessons are most revelatory for people who already have plenty, but never realized it. It's totally useless for people who are actually facing scarcity. Realizing that I'm one of the lucky ones who has so much, it's up to me to fight to spread that abundance to as many people as possible. That's why I keep dating artists give to Give Directly.


If my interest in minimalism is in any way responsible for keeping this at the forefront of my mind, then it's doing it's job.

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