Thursday, July 12, 2018

Is decluttering only for the wealthy? (How to be a better materialist)

Minimalist blogger Joshua Becker recently linked to a Wall Street Journal article about Baby Boomers downsizing. The story seemed to be aimed at upscale readers whose biggest downsizing headache is selling off their art collections.

On the other end of the scale is this blog post at This Simple Balance8 Tips for Decluttering on a Low Income (from a mom who's been there). This writer points out the difficulty of asking "Does this bring joy?" when the bigger concerns are "Is this still functional?" and "What if we can't afford another one?"

Our family lived on one income for a long time, and then on even less as we moved to self-employment. We did go through tight-budget, don't-say-no-to-anything times, especially when the kids were young and seemed to need different-sized shoes and clothes every time we turned around.

And even that, compared to serious poverty in this country and overseas, was really nothing. We still had lots of clutter and overload, partly because we got too good at scrounging, and partly because we figured we would eventually find uses for stored stuff. (Often we did.) We were also holding on to many childhood and family items.

So are minimalism and decluttering only options for those who don't have to get anxious about living with less, or about giving away possibly useful things?

I agree with This Simple Balance that some minimalist maxims and strategies work better for those who have more choices. But everybody needs a little of what Amy Dacyczyn calls "margin": clear spaces around things and events, so that we appreciate them properly.  And we may actually benefit when we use our imaginations to repurpose things, or our generosity to share them.

Many of us have stories of our children, or ourselves as children, cherishing one toy, or improvising playthings. When our oldest was a toddler, she used a kitchen chair as her toy stove, with a few yard-saled toy pots. A few years later, we found a large plastic "play kitchen" on Kijiji for her younger sister. Yes, they played with it, but it was an eyesore in the room, and it was always a mess. Then there was even more stress when they outgrew the thing and we suggested passing it on. That would never have happened with a kitchen chair, right?

We also need to claim the right to say "enough," no matter what our income. Someday, sooner or later, the whole economy could change so that we can no longer easily access consumer goods. We might be trading chicken eggs for plumbing work, and making over old clothes because we can't get new ones.  But even then, we have the right to live with, use, and enjoy just enough, and to say no to whatever multiplicity we're stepping on and tripping over. We should feel free to be That Family or That Person, the ones who always sing the same songs, play the same card game after meals, or stop at the same deli on weekends. Maybe your grandchildren will remember your one and only cookie recipe, or your beat-up hat. Call those things quirks, call them traditions, call them your signature item; but don't call them bad things. The author of Affluenza says that if we were a truly materialist (vs. consumerist) culture, we would resist buying new old couches and coats, because we're so fond of the ones we have.

For a few of us, choosing to live with less may start with trimming down the artwork. For others, it's cleaning out the basement once and for all. But the key seems to be, not idolizing, but learning to cherish.

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