Ask Umbra Book Club: Is minimalism just for the rich?
Photo: doug88888Dearest readers,
Welcome to the second day of our conversation of The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Living Guide by Francine Jay. You can catch up on our earlier discussion here. You don’t need to have read the book to chime in with your thoughts, although it was a useful and quick read!
Today, I thought we could chat about how the book at times felt quite subversive but also came across as a bit elitist in parts. Chapter 2 begins with such promise: “Contrary to what marketers would have you believe, you are not what you own … automakers pay advertising firms big bucks to convince us that our cars are projections of ourselves, our personalities, and our positions in the corporate world or social hierarchy.”
It would’ve been a great moment to talk about how to develop a resistance to advertising, or an antidote to our culture’s wild hunger for cheap, convenient goods. Am I an ingrate for wishing her book focused even more on the countercultural aspects of minimalism, when one could also argue that minimalism itself is subversive in this day and age?
As for elitism, Jay writes in the introduction about streamlining your schedule so some of it becomes “open, empty, and free.” My main qualm is that free time is a luxury — poorer people can’t afford upper-middle-class timesavers like childcare, housecleaners, or people to do yard work for them. I’m reminded of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, in which the author goes undercover and works low-wage jobs to refute the argument that poor people just aren’t working hard enough. When she isn’t working two jobs, she’s busy looking for housing or better work, getting fast food because she doesn’t have the time or facilities to cook. For people who can’t afford to live near their jobs and have long commutes, or work multiple jobs, having a breathlessly busy schedule isn’t simply a matter of having overcommitted.
Similarly, lower-class people may not have time to research which types of wood are harvested sustainably, or which products are recyclable (as Jay urges). While I think Jay and I both hope shoppers will make more educated choices and keep production and disposal in mind, ultimately our culture needs more transparent labeling and better business regulations to enforce things like less packaging. And buying local and organic (or from farmers markets) is great, but a single parent working two jobs probably doesn’t have time to go to a farmers market and the grocery store. What do you think? Is minimalism a little bit hoity-toity? Or is it truly something we can all get behind?