Minimalism is the act of eliminating the unimportant in order to make room for what is important. That seems simple enough at first glance. However, a deeper look at the subject reveals that there may be a darker force at play.
From The Minimalists to Marie Kondo we receive advice to throw out or donate our old stuff. It doesn’t matter if the items are perfectly functional or if we could use them up in time. These things contribute to the chaos in our lives so they must be eliminated.
But what happens to the things that we discard? Many of us, either through impatience or lack of time simply throw these things into a dumpster. Others who realize that it only passes the problem on to our overburdened landfills choose to donate the items instead.
And what happens after the house is clean and simplified? The things we choose to keep eventually wear out, forcing us to purchase even more. In some cases we may go on an acquisition binge that doesn’t stop until we find ourselves overwhelmed with stuff again so we repeat the process by eliminating even more.
Who benefits when we throw our perfectly functional stuff away, only to replace it when we wear out the items we actually keep? Our wallets certainly don’t but the companies that produce the items do.
Let’s ask another question. What would happen if, instead of discarding our excess, we placed a moratorium upon future purchases until we used up the items we already own? Who benefits the most from that scenario?
Our finances would benefit because we’ve stopped buying stuff we don’t need. Our finances would benefit again because the act of using up and wearing out our current overstock of possessions would eliminate the need to buy more for an extended amount of time. The landfills would benefit because we wouldn’t send things there until the absolute end of their useful life. Donation centers would even benefit because it would reduce the amount of donations they have to sort through and discard in the search for saleable items.
Big Business wouldn’t benefit, however. Their sales would go down because we wouldn’t purchase near as much. The clothing industry would take a major hit because they could no longer persuade us to buy the newest fashions. Even the appliance and electronics industries would feel the pain because instead of buying “newer, bigger, and better” we would hold on to the things we already owned instead of discarding them for new. The only industry that might benefit from this new paradigm would be the storage industry—until we used up our excess to the point where we no longer needed the storage, that is.
While minimalism in the short term may benefit us with clean homes and empty spaces, the questions I’ve asked above make me wonder about who truly benefits in the long run. It makes me re-think my decisions in the past to discard the things I’ve discarded.
This also makes me wonder if my grandparents were smarter than I gave them credit for. They used the things they acquired until those items died and then recycled the pieces into other things to extend the usable life of their purchases even further. I’m beginning to wonder if we all need to start doing that.
To be honest, I would be surprised if I discovered that there was a conspiracy to encourage us to throw away our stuff just to entice us to buy more. That said, I do believe that we need to rethink our actions when it comes to the pursuit of minimalism.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.