Artist & Writer, San Francisco Bay Area

Less is More Work at First

I’ve taken on a little side-project and it is: examining things and trying to keep/use only what I need. Stuff. Clothes. Food. Not to an extreme; I don’t want to make proving something to be the focus here, like Look how frugal I am or see how much I love the earth or check out my self-control. I simply want to set myself up to buy less (moderation), to use what I have (resourcefulness), and to appreciate more (gratitiude). I have a feeling I’ll be better at this if I’m flexible about it, making sure I make living the focus of my life, not stuff, not clothes, and not food, even if I have to work at it a little more before I start making do with less. It’s not an easy transition for me.

Earlier this year, my family and I went through our house & yard to dispose of everything that didn’t belong. It was a one week project that necessitated a couple weeks’ preparation (cleaning, sorting, ordering the dumpster). Everything that was useful, we donated. Whatever was valuable, we sold. Recycleables were recycled. And yet: there was still a lot of trash. The previous owner of our home left a lot behind (he was elderly, and his adult children did their best to clean things up, and yet… so much stuff… .) Truthfully though, we had plenty of our own old purchases that went in the donate, sell, and trash piles too. Altogether, we filled a dumpster. Outdoor furniture (found at someone else’s curb as a giveaway) that could have lasted had we re-stained it. Broken plastic chairs worn down by the sun & split apart. Old pieces of wood. Worn out baby stuff. A rusted bike (why did we leave it in the rain & sun?) It was enough to feel pretty embarrassed about our full scale practice of American Consumerism.

I’ve recently been interested in paring down my clothes, too. It’s something I’ve done from time to time, but I haven’t had a framework to learn how to do it in a complete way that helps me figure out how to let go of that t-shirt I bought at Target five seven years ago, the one I loved at the time.  Or the sweater that I like the texture of but makes me feel frumpy. After much googling, I found the term “wardrobe capsuling” and with a little help, I’ve figured out how to get rid of a lot of clothes, store useful pieces I might use in a different season, and organize what I have left. Embarassing truth: I had eight paper bags full of clothes to donate, and three paper bags full of things to sell. Maybe I’ve had a touch of hoarding? Anyway, here I am again, facing my complicity in Greed. But I really did need lots of guidelines on how to wittle down my wardrobe properly. I’m sick of what I’ve accumulated over 20 years of adulthood. I know more now than I knew at first. I know what clothes I feel good in. I know what I know what works and what doesn’t. So I’m working at this little project, and so far so good.

This kind of thinking is a nostalgic throwback, like “back in the day when it was hard to replace stuff so hardworking people made things last.” And it sounds more responsible than I actually am. I’m not that handy and I’m rather erratic about managing my family’s needs (I get it done but it’s not always pretty). I default to what’s easy because I do a lot. It’s not lost on me that the freedom to think about trimming back excess comes from a life that has excess to begin with.
It takes time and resources to live like that, although at some point before my childhood in the 80s that’s how it was generally done (was it as far back as the 50s? Or 40s?). Things were made to last, and people didn’t think a life well lived was defined by quantity. As I started to write this post, I remember reading somehwere about how “making the choice” to live minimally is generally the domain of the wealthy (see: Middle Class Minimalism Sounds Off Key for Poor.)

And what about this message that’s out there that we have to spend in order to keep our economy afloat? Consumerism as patriotic duty? Buying more means more happiness? I just want less.

  • The Supreme Court and Citizen’s United
  • CNBC- American Greed
  • Sophia Copolla movies, especially The Bling Ring (I haven’t seen it)
  • See the images of electronics when they’re recycled en mass
  • people donating used and broken things to disaster hit areas
  • value & worth = money, not time, not health, not love
  • American religion = Consumerism
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