Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Minimalism and the world of Charlotte Mason (second of three)

I recently read Lee Simpson's book about her year-without-buying-anything. Unlike some people who interpret that to mean "nothing new but used is fine," this Canadian woman set the bar a little higher: no additions to her closet, period. Not even underwear. An additional wrinkle was the fact that she had cleared out most of her work clothes in anticipation of a jeans-wearing retirement, but was suddenly offered a new job. Getting through a year on those terms required a great deal of creativity along with some humility, and it would have been understandable if she had pleaded exceptional circumstances and broken her self-imposed limits. She carried it through,  however, and on ending her experiment, she had also made herself more aware of (among other things) the huge environmental and human cost of clothing over-production and over-consumption.
Lee Simpson and Charlotte Mason agree on the value of keeping, cherishingappreciating things, and also of supporting craftspeople (such as knitters and weavers). Charlotte Mason is huge on sense of place, local economy, homegrown, artisanal--when it's the real thing, not just for the tourists. 
These aren't clothes, they're mats and tablecloths--but they're mostly handmade.

Simpson, unlike some who have written on fast fashion, does not differentiate between new and used items, reasoning that even something used will quickly be replaced as factories and sweatshops churn out more. This is the point where her beliefs and mine diverge a bit, and I think Charlotte Mason's opinion might fall between the two. I don't think that buying a pre-owned "something" magically creates another of its kind somewhere in Cambodia; and it is a worthwhile goal to give things a longer life and keep them out of the landfill, especially if a purchase supports a ministry such as MCC. The thrift store, for me, offers the creative potential of the overstuffed closet, craft shelf, and bookcases that I don't have, without the problems caused by buying new things. And of course, it stretches our budget. While Charlotte Mason was not a fan of bargain-hunting, she was always against waste, so I do believe she could have been convinced of buying used for justice and environmental reasons. I also think that you can do a decent amount of using the will, even from secondhand sources, by shopping with intention, buying what you need, and choosing the best quality you can.
However, I do see Simpson's basic point: that if we buy like crazy, new or used, we are repeating the values of the system that never allows us to say "enough." To break those patterns, we have to look first at the "maybe I don't need to buy anything at all"  levels of Sarah Lazarovic's Buyerarchy of Needs. (Using what we have, borrowing, swapping.) 
When Lee Simpson cut off shopping, she had to make the most of clothes and shoes that she might have otherwise ignored. That included a pair of red moccasins that suddenly became a "feature item" on her wardrobe menu, and the one good blazer that had escaped her workwear purge; but it also meant stained shirts hidden under other layers, and frayed collars disguised with silk scarves. The clothes were wearable, but under other circumstances they might have been discarded--like Simpson's tubes of cosmetics--before the last bits of usefulness had been squeezed out. Finding beauty and potential in your own closet is meaningful minimalism.

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