Thoughts on Minimalism, Zero Waste, and Class

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by on 2017-01-06 | License Permalink

Over the last few weeks I’ve been going through something of change as I become determined to declutter everything and regain some of the peace of mind that I’ve lost as I’ve accumulated half a decade’s worth of stuff in my flat. This entry is very much just getting a few thoughts rattling around my head and onto ‘paper’ so that I can sleep at night in peace.

I’ve always had a cognitive dissonance regarding Minimalism. At first glance, I find the execution of the lifestyle incredibly classist – a lot of modern minimalism focuses on condensing your old items into digital equivalents. The prime example is the bookshelf becoming the eReader (usually the Kindle because branding grumble grumble). Now, I know that thanks to the ‘miracle’ of modern Capitalism that personal electronics are cheaper than ever (ie don’t insult refugees for having smartphones) but the digital divide is totally a thing and has class implications. Amazon (that paragon of virtue) do sell their eReader at a relatively low cost but £56 (as of writing) is still a lot of money, especially if you’re struggling to get by. On minimum wage in the UK that would take basically an entire full working shift to earn. And that’s presuming you’re working that long and consistently, what with zero hour contracts destroying the ability of the working class to do much of anything except beg for hours from their employer. The middle-class person could easily adopt minimalism; just grab their eReader and destroy the book shelf. That initial investment still remains a potential barrier to access to many Proles, however.

Side note: Sorry for the multiple Guardian links, I’m not the biggest fan of The Guardian (white middle class liberalism for the most part) but their journalism isn’t too bad and they’re often within the first few links of a DuckDuckGo search on a given topic since they’re broadsheet and cover a lot of issues

What I do like about minimalism (aside from some aesthetics) is that is does begin to remove one from consumerism to a degree. The main danger, of course, is falling into a trap of going on a spending spree in order to transition to the lifestyle (see above Kindle). If executed with reflection and care, however, I understand the lifestyle to discourage unnecessary spending as a habit and encourage reflection. Which could often lead to personal realisations about the effects consumerism on one’s life as a rudimentary form of class conciousness. Maybe? I also enjoy how minimalism encourages creativity in thinking about space and its ability to be reconfigured given the right equipment (again, given the right equipment… barrier to access right there). I’ve been lucky in that I live in a ground floor flat with one other person for the last few years, and we haven’t generally fight for control of communal space. Lately, however, our social dynamic has been changing somewhat and I find myself being more and more reluctant to leave my room – the ability to reconfigure the space would be of extreme benefit in allowing me to dissociate its various functions and get into various ‘modes’ (e.g. sleep, work, relax etc).

Zero Waste kinda appealed to me a while ago since I’ve always been fairly against waste in theory but have felt paralysed to execute it properly. As Commie, I also think that Zero Waste as it’s been presented to me is overly liberal, and borders on the neoliberal. Lauren from Trash is for Tossers even says in her Tedx talk that "[She] lives this lifestyle for [her]". Obviously, it’s better for the planet – and she says in her talk that consumers are not being given a choice in some cases (e.g. cleaning products) but in other cases she simply switched to farmers' markets, weigh houses etc. for her food. What if you’re living in city suburbs where they’re not available? We have a single market that closes at the end of the day (y’know, when most people are still at work). Proles often can’t afford to bulk buy, and often they can’t afford to shop in places other than the supermarket for their food. What about the packaging used for bulk food? The onus should be on institutions for waste production, and they should be removing barriers to engaging with minimal waste. The 5p bag tax has done wonders in the UK, but surely it should be the supermarkets paying for it? They should be giving out paper bags, or canvas bags at a reduced cost, shouldn’t they? Instead it’s the consumer that bears the cost of when the forgot to grab their bag. My proposed model: tax the supermarkets on their consumption of plastic, and force them to offer discounts to people who bring in bags, which they’ve been able to acquire cheaply.

That all being said, I’ve always been a fan of thinking differently about waste, and repurposing things. I celebrate the Zero Waste movement for fighting back and demonstrating alternatives, as much as I deride them for being overly liberal in appearing to place the blame squarely on the individual.

The reflection-y bit.

If I think about these two things, I’m definitely gearing more and more towards them as shifts in my day-to-day operation. I’ll never be entirely minimalist - but I want my space and possesions to have a purpose. I’ll never be entirely zero waste until the revolution comes and waste is minimised by the state processes of my glorious Communist Utopia. I rarely drink hot drinks on-the-go. I already drink water from a steel bottle instead of buying it, and I do my shopping with a backpack and a tote bag. Occasionally I need a plastic one, but that’s growing much less frequent. Might be my goal to reduce it to zero entirely?

I want my space to be configurable, and my possessions to have an explicit purpose. I will need back-ups, so as to be Anti-fragile, but less stuff means more flexible with situation; means less tying me to a physical location; means more mobile.

I want to contribute to the trend of ecological awareness and reducing environmental impact by reducing household waste. I might keep a waste diary, actually. Anyway, expect a little bit more from me on this relatively soon as I simplify and repurpose my living habits :-)