Matt Marshall

2 Posts with Tag classism (All tags)

Thinking about 'Stuff'

I've been thinking about stuff and my relationship with it. It mostly kicked off when I read Rhiaro's post about nomadism, but if I reflect a bit then I think it's been brewing for a while.

Unlike Rhiaro, I am not a nomad. I like visiting new places, and I love the romanticised concept of 'travelling' but there's always been a financial and a class barrier to me engaging on that type of physical journey (for the most part). She would disagree, but I tend to think that overly-romanticised travel is pretty classist. My experiences have always, therefore, lent themselves to building up a 'home base'. A sanctuary (sounds pretentious but emotionally I think that's probably most accurate) into which I can retreat during anabolic periods of my life.

This obviously lends itself to having more stuff. I moved to my flat Sep 2011 and brought with me three books, a new desk lamp, my clothes (which all fit into a single chest of drawers), my desktop computer, my laptop, a desk and chair. A year later, my desktop was deceased and I had a new laptop. I also brought in my bookcase with all its books. As my experiences grew I needed to acquire more and more things to deal with them; formal date? New shirt (cheap). Winter? Coat. The room in my flat certainly isn't the smallest room I've ever had but it's gotten to feel a bit more cramped as time has progressed.

My point is that, although I totally love the idea of minimalism and I extoll any philosophy which encourages us to stop buying stuff we don't need or truly want; stuff like challenging yourself to own less than 100 things is going to lend itself to spending more in-the-moment as you prepare for less eventualities. Unless your minimalism is incredibly functional, it's a middle-class minimalism for those who can afford in very literal terms to be flexible with their situation. Maybe I'm just misunderstanding minimalism, but it seems to me that if plan a day out and don't bring a pack with a water bottle and some food then you're saying you can afford to spend that in-the-moment without much thought to your financial situation. Maybe it's not a lot of money for you to drop £10 on lunch that day, but that £10 for some people could be put to better use. I am definitely guilty of this.

Aside from deriding the middle-class form of minimalism, I do appreciate the aesthetic of less clutter. I do, however, have to juxtapose this for my love of personal effects and boxes of ephemera both aesthetically and emotionally. I love when you walk into someone's house and they have stuff that they've clearly had and cared for; for years! I love that just by being owned by a person, a mass-produced item can take on a personality and characteristics from its mundane place in the lives of people. People have experiences and histories, which can usually be captured by the items they associate with them. Treasure chests of memories are a trope for a reason.

On that note, my colleague and comrade @tripsandflips and I had a discussion about this the other day and she made an interesting point which got me thinking about that. Books aren't books if they're not being read. The more I think about it, the more I agree with this sentiment. As much as I love stuff's history, I think I have trouble letting go. Some of the books on my bookshelf haven't been touched in years. Some of them are very special to me, but as I think about them I begin to realise that it's the story that they contain that is special. I might release them from their shelfy prison to let them be books again. I've come up with a solution to help them on their journey as well -- instead of using the first page to claim ownershop of a book ie "This book belongs to XYZ", I'm going to try and start off logging the tome's personal history. I'll write "This book has been enjoyed by Matt Marshall" and encourage others to leave their mark. I think that'll be a good practice to try and start.

My final point of tension is that I've begun my journey into crafting and trying to produce things for myself an others. This in itself lends to having multiple tools and stores of materials around. I used to get around my desire to craft by telling myself "Programming is your craft. Go build cool digital stuff!". I can no longer do that, though. I need to smell the beard oil and feel the bone dust caught in my pores.

I'm not sure where this ramble through my thoughts on stuff has lead. If I was truly honest with myself, I'd say it's probably a precursor to my taking a census of everything I own that isn't stored food. So... expect lists I suppose?

diary stuff reflection minimalism classism

Thoughts on Minimalism, Zero Waste, and Class

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 :-)

minimalism classism class zerowaste liberalism