Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sunday Reading: Minimalism as Product

via Pinterest

I feel silly using this months old article decrying minimalism as a product for wealthy people as a vague starting point for today's post. It's deeply flawed. It picks out one narrow type of minimalism - a particularly extreme version of the "minimalism as trendy aesthetic" thing I've sometimes referred to, where the desire for fewer, but much much nicer and perfectly Instagram-able things is the primary goal - and sets it up as straw man representing all minimalism. I've followed so many minimalist blogs in my time, indirectly encountered quite a few more that I don't particularly relate to, and even then, I don't think I've encountered a single self-identified minimalist out there that fully and uncritically espouses the particular snobby and image-centric brand of "minimalism as product" that this article criticizes. 

Nonetheless, I'm always up for another discussion about minimalism and possible criticisms thereof. For instance, I've previously touched on whether all of the general "ground rules" about quality and fast fashion are entirely correct, and whether my own motivations for beginning my minimalism-ish journey were a little too based on a desire to consume nicer things by consuming fewer things. Today's links are a bit broader than that, and ultimately a bit all over the place.

However one practices minimalism, I think it's pretty clear that the varieties that most Americans are familiar with (from Kinfolk, Marie Kondo, etc.) are a concept designed largely to appeal to people with a fair bit of privilege, economic and otherwise. Heck, just living in the USA, or in any wealthy country with democratic freedoms, is an immense privilege. Decluttering wouldn't feel as radical if consumption (and overconsumption) wasn't so easy. It wouldn't appeal if one wasn't initially swamped by an excessive quantity of stuff. It also wouldn't be remotely practical if it wasn't so easy, in practical terms, to replace what was being thrown out at the drop of a hat, if needed. It's also clear that many companies use minimalism, ethical consumption, or other progressive empowerment-type buzzwords in their marketing, without necessarily conforming to those ideals. As usual, r/femalefashionadvice has interesting discussions about these general ideas.

To what extent is my minimalism-ish a product of my privilege? I've mentioned that I'm a devout KonMari fan. K thinks it odd, and I doubt my parents would approve. They'd consider the gleeful wholesale discarding (and donating) spree that the process starts with unspeakably wasteful. I had a privileged middle-class upbringing and I think my parents would say the same about their own childhoods, but they also grew up in somewhat-rural Taiwan, in a time and context where consumer goods were not half as accessible as they were for me in America. Incidentally, my post-KonMari wardrobe was about the same size as K's, even though he only throws out clothes that are entirely worn out by years of use. My oldest items, which are few and far between, are from late college. His were from high school. (That may imply something about the quality of men's clothing versus women's clothing, as he has a very lean wardrobe where most individual items see frequent use.)

I had a distorted relationship with consumption and shopping, not to an extreme extent (no credit card debt, not that crazy an accumulation of items in the end), but plenty of money was wasted, unthinkingly, on things I didn't need and sometimes never wore. I've thought a bit about where that came from (including in my comment to Adina's post a while back, which I hope to spin off into another post someday), and I suppose the long and the short of it is that I kept finding myself in situations, academic and professional, where I felt out of place and rather "less than" despite how hard I worked to get there and how, by most objective measures, I was generally holding my own or outright excelling. Mostly, I was just being neurotic or overthinking things, but part of me always felt like consuming and wearing the right things would help me fit in, make things easier, and quiet those imposter syndrome voices inside. It's complicated. Getting out of NYC for a while during my clerkship has probably a good influence to counterbalance all that, because what's "normal" for my colleagues now is so different from what's "normal" at the firm. The legal community in adjacent areas and states is also... quite different from that in the city.

Alas, I feel like I'm never able to fully get to the bottom of any of these topics, however often I try to write about them or think about them. 

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