Thursday, August 19, 2010

More minimalism

"A new movement toward minimalism — in which people get rid of almost all their stuff — has the potential to be green and economical. It could also be really annoying." So sayeth Anna North of And, as you may guess, I agree. Once again, minimalism is in the news -- or at least the blogosphere. It's absolutely no surprise to me. Obviously, my living in a tiny apartment has imposed a kind of minimalism on me: if I can't afford it or can't fit it, I can't have it. (Of course, that doesn't exactly cure me of "but I want it.") And my living in a tiny and therefore cheap apartment stems from my tight budget, which in part stems from a larger economic downturn that's putting the squeeze on everyone. I know that I'm not alone. There are many of us who were backed into a teeny-tiny corner, if you will; we simply cannot afford more -- in any sense of the word. So there are those of us who are making the most of our "small" situations, and then there are those who not only make the most of them, but embrace them and celebrate them. (And sometimes, annoyingly, try to tell us to do the same.) These are the people that Anna refers to, the "new locavores: people who get rid of all their stuff." People who get rid of all their stuff (or "PWGROATS" -- jeez, you couldn't get rid of a few more letters?) have more reasons for being PWGROATS than they do pieces of furniture. Some people do it to save money: Tammy Strobel, profiled in the New York Times article cited by Jezebel, has gotten her and her husband out of $30,000 worth of debt by downsizing what she already had, and by spending less through buying less. The Strobels now live in a 400 square foot apartment in Portland and get along just fine on her salary of $24,000 a year. There are also those who purport to live small in order to decrease their carbon footprints, although this motivation and its practice are subject to question: Kelly Sutton of "The Cult of Less" (who talks with BoingBoing here) "admits to burning up some carbon by shipping his possessions to buyers around the world, [but] purchasing less stuff that one must then throw away is certainly good for the environment." So you win some, you lose some.

The Strobels in their Spartan but happy home. (Photo by Leah Nash for the New York Times)
Then, of course, there are those who are PWGROATS because they're damn moochers. Chris Yurista, a DJ from Washington, DC who was interviewed by the BBC, downsized so much that he was able to give up his apartment and live out of his backpack -- on his friend's couches, that is. As Anna puts it, "More upsettingly, Chris Yurista's less-is-more approach appears to rely on other people having more — his friends have to maintain apartments so he has a place to sleep. If minimalists are truly self-sufficient, it's hard to argue with their choices, but if their ideological purity depends on others' lack thereof, it's a little suspect." Of course, no matter what the motivation for PWGROATS, the thing that really gets my groat -- I mean, goat -- are those who take their anti-stuff stance so seriously that they look down upon those who RLTSA (rather like their stuff, actually). This is the mindset that I read into a previous article I discussed here at TAA. Still, many of those in the cult of less realize that the decision to do without is theirs alone. Jezebel commenter SR-12 says it nicely: "It's one thing to encourage people to examine their habits, but what they choose to then do with that information is nobody's business but their own." She continues, "I own a lot less stuff than a lot of people, and a lot more than the people in the article. The important thing is that I pay attention to it and think about what works for me. Also I feel like nobody acknowledges that there is a middle ground between conspicuous consumption and self-imposed poverty. That middle ground is where I live." Of course, I also like Jezebel commenter dellbot's snarky advice to PWGROATS: "The way I see it, if you're going to do this, go big or go home. Get rid of everything (job included) grab a bowl and a robe and throw down Buddha style." Hah. Via Jezebel, The New York Times, BoingBoing, and the BBC. (Special shout-out to The Kissing Bandit, muah!)


  1. This is great, and very true. Although I like the idea of downsizing, I really do love my art and my special objects. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Plus, if I buy something, I'm helping the economy, right? Where I would advocate minimalism is in the case of new parents, who get sold a real bill of worthless goods for a child who barely needs anything. Now, that's a wasteful industry. I know this because my kid is nine already and I'm STILL trying to move all that crap out of the house!

  2. I don't know if I could do it.
    Plus, I'm bothered by these articles about people who live with less when the articles are generally about middle to upper class people (college educated white people usually) rather than people who have no other option but to make do. It's usually presented as some novel idea when there are people who live in sparse places without cars and cable because they are simply broke.

  3. I've been in the position of living in small spaces because I could not afford anything more, and up until very recently, everything I owned was still from my extremely-poor-student days. At the time I couldn't wait to be able to afford a bigger place with more stuff. Now, after 2+ years of a bigger place with more stuff, I realize I was much happier when I had less -- it involved less stress, at least for me. I'm not one to tell anyone else how to live, but I'm very happily downsizing back to a small space (but that doesn't mean I'm willing to part with the stuff I really like, nor should anyone else feel compelled to!). I've just made a decision that if I want to keep at my current career which involves public interest work, I have to stop living beyond my means.

  4. Yeah, minimalism probably isn't fun when it's forced on you by your life's circumstances. But I totally choose it! I loved my things at one time (I still love some of my things, but a lot less of them). I could afford way more, but I would rather spend my money DOING fun stuff than HAVING nice things. Nothing wrong with spending money (if you have it to spend) - and "helping the economy" by purchasing services and experiences. Agreed on how dumb mooches are. Unless they cook and clean everything :P

  5. Me and my boyfriend live in a TINY space - my boyfriend's brother's granny-flat. Poorly constructed and old. I used to hate it and always talk about our huge beautiful character home that we will have one day and how happy we will be in it, and we were house hunting beyond our means. And then I realised how callous I had been to my boyfriend (the breadwinner). All the sacrifices he had made so that we can have the life we have (he financially supported me through 5+ years of university)... and I was heartbroken at how mean I had been. Now I have embraced the space as our love nest. I cleaned all the dirty windows that had previosly annoyed me and mended all the nooks and cranny's that needed to be and when I think of our tiny little place, I can only smile with fondness. I look forward to a long stay.


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