Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Is Minimalism Elitist?

Lions at the Tower of London.
Because the kings of England were not minimalists.
I read something recently that criticized minimalism as elitist, or at least privileged. The article argues that our Depression-era grandparents would never have thrown out empty Cool Whip containers because they appreciated the potential usefulness of things. Minimalist used their (vast) wealth to buy whatever they need instead of reusing margarine tubs for leftovers.  I feel that is wrong, at least when stated as a universal description of minimalism. Minimalism can be frugal or spendthrift, elitist or populist, depending on the desires of the person who implements it.

Would my Depression-era grandmother have needed seven varieties of salt to make dinner? As a minimalist, I prefer to limit the varieties of food I keep on hand at any time. (Or at least, I'm working toward that. I have a pasta problem in my pantry. How many pounds of pasta does one family really need!) Would my grandmother have a stash of 40 different types of yarn or bolt fabric that she bought "in case" she found a project for them? (I'm trying to use it up, I promise! No new yarn unless I don't have anything that will work, and I have several bundles listed on ebay to try to winnow down my stash). The proverbial granny would have probably been shocked at how much I own, even as I have worked to reduce my surplus.

Keeping large quantities of unused goods on hand was a luxury those grandparents didn't have. Grandpa kept baling wire in the shed to repair garden equipment, but he didn't keep three new spools of it -- he used it almost as fast as he acquired it. That's why he kept it -- because he actually used it, not because he thought it "might" come in helpful "someday." I have kept things for "someday," and I have found the replacement part after I bought a replacement. Those Depression-era grandparents didn't have so much that they forgot what they had.

I think the quantity of things they owned is the difference between how our Depression-era grandparents saved things, and how we save things. As a people we have more than enough. Much more than enough. That grandmother mended clothes and saved buttons because that's how she made sure everyone had clothes to wear to school and church. She didn't cling to forty pairs of pretty shoes she didn't wear. She had little and she made it last. I think that granny would have laughed at my desire to wear pretty, impractical shoes once or twice a year. She would have spread my wardrobe to more people (how did I get so many t-shirts?)

Are minimalists elitist? Some of them. Some aren't. Some make the best use they can of the resources they own, and some maintain the most current styles, discarding the old simply because it is old. Is minimalism elitist? It depends on the minimalist.

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