Post-consumerism Department: This young man's "not a minimalist, though I look like one."

Here’s an interesting post suggested by Ran Prieur. The name of this unnamed author’s site is interesting: lackingambition.com. But I’d say his About section contradicts the title. Likewise, I’d say he is a minimalist, no matter how you parse the word. What’s interesting here, to me, is that this young man really does seem to be post-consumerist, in that he claims he doesn’t have the usual instinctive lunge to buy. Does that mean his “hunter/gatherer” self is also disabled? Nope. He’s just very very discerning, which, in his case, seems to come down to always noticing whether or not a current choice fits in with a long-range plan. I find this attitude both refreshing and rare.

Minimalism

February 2, 2012

by “a financially independent 28-year-old”

 

I’m not a minimalist. Though I look like one. I think possessing superfluous objects can improve your life, even though I don’t own any yet.

I haven’t lived in the same place for more than 12 months since I was 16 years old. And when I move I sell off, give away, and throw most of my things out. I’ve never decorated a room. I own two pairs of shoes. I wear plain, solid t-shirts absent of pockets or logos. I have three pairs of pants, and a drawer full of one type of sock and underwear. I have a couple hoodies and sweaters, a full-length black cashmere coat, one winter hat, a couple of pairs of shorts, and that’s it. Oh, there are a few rarely-worn shirts, ties and suits in a closet at my parent’s house for special occasions.

I use these clothes to go to class, climb mountains, go to the beach, sit around the apartment, fix houses, and everything else I do.

If it were socially acceptable I’d just wear the monastic brown robe with a rope belt.

My father has asked me about my lack of variety, “Don’t you care about what people think about how you look?”

My response is, “Yes, I do. I want to be thought of as utilitarian, and confident enough to be unconcerned with the types of people who might think less of me based on my wardrobe.”

I like showing up for a group mountain hike where inevitably everyone’s wearing specialized wicking techno-clothing, boots that cost more than my monthly rent, carrying giant back packs, and usually someone even has carbon-fiber walking poles. Meanwhile I’m there in my sneakers, cotton t-shirt, with my lunch stuffed into the leg pockets of my cargo pants and a big bottle of water in my hand. Guess who’s usually the first to the summit?

My other possessions are few. Some kitchenware, some second-hand furniture I’d be happy to abandon if I was moving again, less than 30 books, some bathroom stuff, a 5 year old laptop, a top-of-the line gaming/media pc that I built, and a desktop humidor for my cigars. I have a small, well-maintained ten year old sedan and an “old-fashioned” cell phone. And a small toolbox for refurbishing houses.

But I don’t keep things simple because I think it’s virtuous or liberating. I just do it because I move so frequently, it’s not worth hauling everything around, and since my number one goal at this stage in my life is freeing myself from the necessity for paid work, I only buy something if it is fulfilling a specific need that I can’t otherwise fulfill without buying it. That winds up being very few things.

Which is why I find a few posts on Leo Babuata’s beautiful site where he writes about minimalism a bit surprising.

Consider what I wrote above, with all sincerity, and then consider Leo’s musing here:

There are people who claim never to want stuff anymore, who just don’t care about cool clothes and gadgets and bags and notebooks, who have moved past desiring things.

Those people are lying.

Unless you’re a certified Zen Master, you never move beyond wanting stuff (and even the Zen Masters have their temptations, I’m sure). We’re humans, and we have desires. When the new iPhone comes out, I lust over it just as most technophiles like me do.

Apparently I’m either a liar or a Zen Master. He writes in another post about his desire for consumer gizmos:

Christmas has come and gone, and in its consumerist wake thousands of people are left holding shiny new Kindles, iPads, iPhones and iPods. New toys that are fun, useful and beautiful all at once.

And while I see the attraction of these devices — I’ve been tempted myself many times — I also know that they are some of the best marketing devices ever.

I have absolutely zero desire for any of the stuff he’s mentioned. But if I did, I wouldn’t have some inner struggle to keep me from getting it, I’d just go buy it.

I once took a history class with a professor who was quite interested in museums, curation, and how people relate to objects. He wanted us to think deeply about why people go to museums and why we value all this stuff. When I go to the Museum of Fine Arts and look at King Henry VIII’s suit of armor, isn’t that kind of a silly thing? It’s just a bit of metal that someone fashioned and an historical figure wore on a few occasions. Yet we build multimillion dollar cathedrals to house all this stuff so that we can all just go look at it.

We admire the craftsmanship of the metal work, the beauty of a painting, and somehow the objects help the imagination and provoke thoughts that might not otherwise ever have occurred to us. There’s something pleasant about being next to something real that connects us to a past that often times can feel more like an imagined novel than an actual series of events that has lead up to our current state of affairs. King Henry’s helmet was removed from his head, placed in an armory, sat in a collection, crossed the ocean on a ship, sat in storage, and then was put on display where it was so close to me I could smell the metal it was forged from. It makes him more relatable, more like a human and less like a character.

I believe beautiful objects in a private home can serve similar noble purposes. Whether they be historical artifacts, pieces of art, or objects with an inspirational level of craftsmanship. – Whether it be a hand-carved humidor or the world’s best designed flatware. They can inspire us to the greatness of their craftsmen and constantly remind us of the beauty that humans are capable of.

When I do finally settle down with some sense of permanence, and when my investments have secured my retirement with some confidence, I would enjoy acquiring some well-made objects of antiquity and works of art. And I would like every object in my home, down to the most trivial of things, to be of the greatest quality available. Whether those be things I make or things I purchase. Though my objection to general clutter and the extra cleaning and maintenance duties that come along with more objects and more space will likely, naturally keep all my possessions to a minimum.

But I certainly don’t “lust” after these objects I’m not ready to acquire. – Never mind lusting after modern productions of consumerism that are marketed at me. That’s something I not only don’t feel, but I don’t even understand. How could anyone desire something that takes them further from their greater goals? – Especially something as silly as a telephone.

I suppose, in sum, my point is that the real value of minimalism might not so much be in the ease of living that comes with having few possessions. But rather, in the ease of living that comes with not even desiring those possessions.

I appreciate that minimalism is largely a backlash to consumerism. And I agree that chasing consumer fads will ultimately leave anyone unsatisfied and worse off. But not all objects and possessions are the result of living in a consumer-based society. And I do think the possession of some objects, even the superfluous ones, has the potential to improve life.

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2 Responses to Post-consumerism Department: This young man's "not a minimalist, though I look like one."

  1. Susan McElroy says:

    Over the past decade, I, too, have mostly ceased being drawn to shopping and buying things. I never shop anywhere but at garage sales or flea markets, or second hand stores. I tend to wear the same comfy clothes over and over for years. When I think of having “brand new” things, it just makes me unsettled. I can’t imagine paying “brand new thing” prices. I’ve only had one new car in my life. No new homes. It IS wonderful not to want such things. Not to have that craving that I must somehow subdue to the demands of my wallet. I just don’t want more stuff anymore.

  2. I’d never thought about museums this way before.

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