Has Consumerism Tainted Minimalism?

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.

6 thoughts on “Has Consumerism Tainted Minimalism?”

  1. Yes, I think consumerism has tainted minimalism. A whole new industry has developed due to the minimalism movement.

    I agree with you on that we should not throw everything out in pursuit of minimalism. Your blog post and the previous post on reducing living expenses reminds me of the lifestyle of those who did well throughout the Great Depression. Typically, they were farmers and could survive better than the city folk.

    I always find it interesting to read about how things were reused- clothes were mended until they could no longer be mended. Then they were turned into rags and rag rugs. No food went to waste, either.

    Sadly, we have become a spend-thrift, fast food, fast fashion and throw-away society driving solo in gas-guzzling SUVs down America’s interstates living what we’ve been duped into thinking is the American dream. Sorry- getting off topic!

    1. This is very true, Essie. That said, while I used to sew and craft in the past, I have no real desire to do that any longer. I am terrified at the thought of canning food (my lack of cooking skills are legendary) so I am asking questions in hopes that I can come up with some answers like “is it wrong to use something up as much as one can and discard it instead of acquiring tools or sewing quilts by hand if you aren’t crafty?” and “if you hate to sew, is it worth it to collect the old clothes you would discard with the intention of creating a quilt or whatever out of them when you don’t have the motivation to actually do it?”

  2. I think a lot of it is just the nature of consumerism and the capitalistic market that we live in, which is ruled by the law of supply and demand. Of course the ideal solution of consumerism is to use marketing to create “new needs” by education people about problems that they did not even know they had that can be fixed with whatever they are trying to sell. But when it comes to minimalism, that poses a slight problem as it is hard to make money by selling less stuff to people, or at least at first. Personally I think that could be why Japanese Marie Kondo style minimalism is the rising star of consumerism minimalism, as it turns the focus away from what one really needs to how the things make you feel. Thus it is seen as safer to companies as it is only a consumer rebellion against cheap crap so they sell them better stuff for more money, and then encourage them to let it go when they grow tired of it and replace it with more better stuff that now sparks new joy into their lives.

    1. I do believe you have a point, John. As an overall trend, however, I find that concerning. Replacing our things because they no longer “spark joy” – that can be an excuse to replace almost anything, which leaves us in the same boat we started. I suffer from this myself, especially when it comes to technology. Just the other day I saw a “writing machine” advertised with an e-ink screen and a very long battery life. It was on sale, of course, to heighten the FOMO. As I pondered the splurge I realized that it was not only needless, but designed to be obsolete. The only way one could remove files from the machine was via email or cloud services, so when the standards for that changes the machine would be useless. Even the oldest laptop can handle a simple text editor; a floppy or smaller USB stick could retrieve the files with ease–no internet connection required. It would definitely last longer.

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