Ask Umbra Book Club: How sustainable is minimalism?
Photo: Mark GrapengaterDearest readers,
What did you think of the book, The Joy of Less, a Minimalist Living Guide, by Francine Jay? Did you enjoy it, and find yourself running to your shelves and drawers to get rid of things along the way? I’ve only just started to declutter, but I’ve definitely experienced the high that the author, Francine Jay, talks about feeling after getting rid of unused, unneeded stuff.
I like how, in the introduction, Jay says that minimalism isn’t about having an empty life; it’s about having space: “Space in our closets, space in our garages, space in our schedules, space to think, play, create, and have fun with our families … now that’s the beauty of minimalism.” What do you wish you had more space for? What would you fill the empty space in your schedule with?
I also like how Jay refutes some unspoken myths about things: that they have the power to turn back time; they’re a record of your life; they’re a measure of your success; they communicate your personality. Or that they can transform us into the people we want to be (“aspirational items are the props for a pretend version of our lives,” she writes on page 16). Acoustic guitars seem especially tempting. Do you find yourself trying to communicate your personality through your possessions rather than your actions?
At its heart, this book is about one of the things dearest to me: reducing your consumption. (Jay’s last chapter, “The Greater Good,” is about the environment and our consumer culture, and I’d argue that it’s the most important chapter and should come first!) She also urges the reader to buy local and buy used.
But two things popped out at me as perhaps not so sustainable.
First, the “one in, one out” method (e.g., give away an item of clothing when you buy a new one) doesn’t challenge us to question our rate of consumption as long as our rate of discarding stuff speeds up to match it — sort of like running through a revolving door instead of walking.
Next, her praise for digitizing your books, music, movies, and pictures. While things like iPads and smartphones do perform multiple functions, they also cost the Earth in terms of poisoning workers, creating trillions of kilograms of CO2, and the vast majority ending up in landfills (see this infographic on the iPhone). How do you strike a balance in your life between digitizing things and holding on to the paper versions?
Ultimately, do you think the minimalism that Jay describes (decluttering your home, room by room) is sustainable in your life, without a post-diet-like surge in accumulation afterwards? Or should we all simply try to consume less?
I’m eager to hear your thoughts — and do come back in a couple of days to talk about how minimalism can be both elitist and subversive.