Waste not, want more

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Minimalism and Making Room for Rice

I have been itching to tackle consumption and minimalism in a post for some time and putting off actually doing the tackling. A recent blog post by Karim Osman that generated many comments got me back in gear. It discussed the merits of minimalism and emphasized getting rid of things, purging, clearing out and otherwise freeing your material and digital self. There are after all environmental, financial, and personal reasons to keep it simple. He wrote:

Back then I spend most of my money on clothes and footwear. Yet I never knew what to wear and always wanted something new. Over the years I lost my obsession and went from 50 to 6 pair of shoes. Do you still remember which shoes you had 5 years ago? Not really right? That’s how “important” they were to you. Remember the trip you did with your family or friends 5 years ago? You probably do! It was definitely worth spending money on that because it’s something you’d never forget.

I generally agree, though I think there is something to be said for keeping some generally useful but unused things when they aren’t getting in your way. A costume box/ridiculous items of clothing, a couple of dresses that I can rarely wear places, blankets, and buckets come to mind. The used Tupperware veggie-serving tray I bought two years ago that has not yet been used could probably go. But it doesn’t have to if I think I will be out buying a new one within a year to serve the same purpose. Of course, if that serving tray starts dictating that a larger home is in order, it’s time to reevaluate.

Purging is great, but the biggest problem on my list of modern temptations I deem sinful, is that we’re as good or better at accumulating things again than we are getting rid of them.

But what I’d like to take to task is the questioning look, spark of anger, or downright disdain for those who work hard to get life down to the necessities plus a few items of great pleasure, and stay there; those who want to avoid buying new stuff; or those who limit the luxuries available to their kids (while they can). People seem pretty quick to judge those that make an effort not to consume. There are minimalist-types who are preachy about their life choices and that can be annoying and inspire retaliation – that’s not really what I mean. I’m more concerned about the general belief system that underlies the uninvited judgment on those who try to keep it simple.

A Globe and Mail article by Rachel Jonat prompted my original draft. It chronicles the story of her Vancouver family  and illustrates this potential for judgment:

Family and friends have been supportive, skeptical or adamant that we are making a huge mistake. We have been gentle with our words on the subject, and often tell people that it’s not for everyone.

I documented our journey on a blog (theminimalistmom.com)  and found it to be the best way to connect with other minimalist families. There aren’t a lot of us. The home is mostly a female domain and women tend to be shoppers, gatherers and collectors. Deciding to live with less and not spend money as a hobby or an emotional pick-me-up has alienated me from a few friends. While I don’t preach about it in person, several friends have read my thoughts on the subject on my blog and have quietly stopped inviting me to social events. I’m okay with this. My closest friends, regardless of their affinity for minimalism, have been supportive even if they are holding onto over-stuffed closets themselves.

It strikes me as pretty powerful that she’s actually experienced warnings of a “huge mistake” and alienation from friends as a result of this shift but it doesn’t surprise me. Though my life is not nearly as pared down as hers sounds, some of the most awkward times for me have occurred for similar reasons. For example, when I’m talking to a person who loves gadgets, has all the newest technology and thinks that I should too, it can be difficult to explain that I don’t feel the need, would prefer not to spend the money, or like to keep it simple without provoking a defensive reaction or a mild insult. I recognize that this person has no more than many others and I try to be respectful about it, making fun of myself, but that doesn’t cure the discomfort, or sometimes, the judgment.

I’ve certainly taken flak from certain members of my family for discouraging presents, random unnecessary items, and – most prominently – for refusing to buy a rice cooker, of all things. The rice cooker has now become my minimalist logo. I have no moral vendetta when it comes to the little space machines, but to my mind the principle is simple: I need and have pots. Pots cook rice well. Right now I don’t mind getting up to turn down the heat or check whether it’s done. I am not a rice fanatic that could justify to herself the purchase of a rice cooker. I’m sure there are others who reasonably could, like I justify my camera. Likewise, I don’t have a kettle. Pots are good at boiling water, too. However, I continue to receive comments about things like the cooker that would change my life. I’m stubborn, I’m cheap (I am cheap, but that wouldn’t stop me), or I’m a contrarian. Actually, I just really get off on not having stuff I don’t need, and clutter is my mortal enemy.

I am keenly aware, however, that this approach will get more problematic as time marches. I remain unprepared for the battles I might endure if I were to have kids. I’ve got a mental rulebook regarding number of gifts, newness of gifts (used!), questionable nutritional quality of gifts, and pinkness of gifts (unrelated issue) that could really generate some tensions with grandparents and others. I’m positive it will generate closeted criticism, but I guess that’s parenting. Friends of mine have told me about their experiences, including grandparents mourning the loss of their right to spoil and people questioning the quality of life of a 14 month old without a relatively fulsome set of toys.

In case it’s not obvious, that worries me. Are we so concerned with justifying our own stuff that we insist that babies have it all, too? Do we really think that toddlers are missing out on childhood because they have far more toys than they can remember? Is my life less worthy without the rice cooker? Was I put on this earth to annoy people? Do people have some point that I’m just ignoring?

____

Apparently my writing could use some minimalism – my apologies!

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October 17, 2011 - Posted by | Consumption, Irritated, News, Waste | , , , , , ,

6 Comments »

  1. Gosh, isn’t it sad that people feel the need to actually criticize others for simple life choices that are frankly none of their business, and don’t concern them, impact them. They must somehow think it’s your responsibiity to assuage their consumer guilt by not demonstrating that one can, indeed, do without.

    One thing that will profoundly impact the way you think about owning STUFF is living in the developing world and seeing how well folks get along with so little–not only “get along” but often thrive–truly appreciate family and understand hospitality.

    Wonderful post, Rose–powerful and important!

    Kathy

    Comment by Kathryn McCullough | October 17, 2011 | Reply

    • Kathy, I’m so glad you mentioned the developing world. I don’t have the experience that you do, but I’ve long tried to be conscious of the luxury of my life. It’s crazy how pervasive the culture of having is – I catch myself in it all the time.

      As for criticism, I think in my case some people really just think I’m weird and difficult, though I try really hard not to preach (blog aside, haha).

      Comment by Rose | October 17, 2011 | Reply

  2. Rose, I really like this post, particularly your comments about not needing a rice cooker. I recall long ago learning from you that one does not need a rice cooker to make rice! Remember how surprised I was to learn that? However, I do like my rice cooker and still have not been able to figure out how to make rice in the pot. It never turns out! :). Speaking of potentially unnecessary appliances, it hadn’t really occurred to me that we don’t have to use a clothes dryer all the time- something you kindly suggested to me last month- you weren’t preaching, you were just trying to make suggestions about how to cut down the hydro bill. Since then, I’ve ditched the dryer and have quite enjoyed doing laundry the “old fashioned way”. Thanks Rose!

    Comment by Jeany | October 28, 2011 | Reply

  3. I waver between two extremes of consumption– I actually enjoy shopping (especially thrift), but then at other times I feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff we have… and it makes me want to donate EVERYTHING, post haste. The thing is, we don’t really have even a fraction of what other people seem to have these days (tech stuff, gadgets, etc.) We just have no separation between our living stuff and our business stuff… and nowhere to put things that are only used occasionally (like holiday decorations or winter camping gear, for example). I wonder what our lives would look like with a garage! 🙂

    PS: I’m on the side of no rice cooker, too. But I do have an electric kettle, which I use about 5 times every single day. It just heats up the water way faster than a pot can! Plus it’s red. 🙂

    Comment by Dana | November 6, 2011 | Reply

    • Your kettle sounds irresistible (closet kettle-lover)! I find it easy to sway between extremes, too. I hate shopping so much that when I’m somewhere with a lot of stuff that I’ve been “meaning to get” I can go a bit crazy, to save myself from ever returning. Sometimes that works out okay, sometimes not so much. I don’t know how you guys do it with the space necessary for work! That would make me nuts with the limited space.

      Comment by Rose | November 6, 2011 | Reply

  4. […] my inner burn to recycle, reuse, avoid buying, and decrease the flow of stuff to the place that stuff goes to die, it may come as no surprise […]

    Pingback by The Wedding Dress that Keeps on Giving « Waste not, want more | November 26, 2011 | Reply


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