Has there ever been a time in our history — and when I say our, I’m speaking about this our, not the whole of the human race our, we our, we reading this, living through this strange time, this our of social media and world wide webs, of Amazon and Apple, of planned obsolescence and the intentional degradation of all the things we own — where we’ve been so completely and totally surrounded by all the crap we have accumulated over the course of our lives? Have we ever been so constantly reminded by all these things we swore we couldn’t live without? The mountain of brown boxes with the clever little Amazon smiley face, the constant trips to the recycling bin, ( you ARE recycling through this, aren’t you?!) that seem to appear as if by magic each day on our doorsteps, on the edges of our driveways? Every morning we wake, we’re targeted by algorithmically chosen advertisements for products that our smart devices have Jason Bourne’d themselves into learning that we “need” and need immediately at 20% off, if we sign up for even more ads, of course. Problem is, it’s working. We’re buying more than we ever have before in our history, and this time I mean the whole our, the collective our, all we spend happy humans scattered into just about every corner of the planet, save the little bitty bits of rainforest where those few, wise humans living in tribes refuse to have any contact with this modern society we’ve built up. We’re panicking at supply chain issues, we’re hoarding toilet paper, we’re dumping literal islands of waste into landfills at a rate that defies all records. Every year, in the United States alone, we send over 290 MILLION TONS of solid waste to landfills, and this rate has been going up every single year since the early 1960s. Add the rest of the world into that mix, and that collective “our” I was talking about, all we humans that aren’t hiding in the rainforest, we produce 2 Billion, yes with a B, tons of solid waste every single year. Every. Single. Year.
Oof. All this is to say, more than ever before, we, the Sarah and I we, have been thinking more and more about wanting and needing less and less. While this pandemic has forced so many of us to purchase more things from home, for the home, it’s also had a bit of a back-firing effect on us here. We’re noticing, more than we ever have, just how much stuff we truly do own. Being surrounded by all the shit we’ve added into our lives over the years, literally surrounded for two straight years with almost no absence from it, has been a glaring and terrifying reminder as to just how many things wander into our lives without us really paying attention to it at all. Part of this, I will absolutely concede, is the more ephemeral nature of the things we’re being sold. iPhones are designed to wear out and slow down and hardly work at all on a schedule pretty consistent with their new releases, clothes are made with the cheapest materials by the cheapest labor and designed to wear out, rather than last and last. We’re a single serving society, and the cost of this fact is not only the landfills bulging at insane rates as mentioned above, but our very own closets doing the same, all the while our pocketbooks shrink, and shrink. In short, I want out of this cycle, and we’ve been more mindful than ever before about ways to climb ourselves out.
A few months ago, on one of my Signal Fireside Chats (if you’re not signed up behind the little paywall on TylerKnott.com, this is a perfect time to remind you just how rad it is, we do a discussion thread every single Friday and they are revelatory, wonderful, and often therapeutic) I asked all of you lovely readers for tips, tricks, and thoughts, on living a more minimalistic lifestyle. In no way would Sarah and I ever pursue a truly minimalist mindset, to be honest the effort is just too intense, and my brain power is better served in other ways, but we are striving for less, for something much closer to minimalism than the maximalist lifestyle that’s the default these days. Your ideas, theories, and tips were massively helpful, and we’ve adopted quite a few of them. Couple this with the fact that we’ve been helping prepare things for the refugees from Afghanistan, and we’ve been undergoing a shift that’s just a touch short of a complete purge. We’ve gone through closets, drawers, boxes, and crawl spaces, we’ve gone through just about every category of crap and reduced, removed, sometimes recycled, and sometimes donated. We’ve found, oddly, that in this process of removal, it’s also highlighted things we do genuinely need, and that has been a strange realization. We’ll get rid of a few low-quality versions of something, and then replace 5 with 1, one made of high quality that will last for years. 5 for 1, that ain’t bad kids.
This, I think, is where things have gone with our minimalism. We want to own a few great things, rather than a house full of mediocre. We’d rather have a few items of clothing that are perhaps a bit more expensive but made in a way that they’ll last ten times longer than the cheap version, we’d rather buy one nice thing rather than 10 things that will eventually fade away. Problem is, this is extraordinarily difficult. How do we achieve this with our mobile phones literally produced to begin failing when the new models are announce? How do we own even something as massive as a refrigerator, when the ice maker begins falling apart less than 2 years after owning it? Living in a world architected to keep you buying, a world where as old as this makes me sound, “stuff’s just not built the same anymore,”what more can we do to lead to this holy grail of Less? No really, I’m asking, what more can I do? How can we, the big world wide we, not only purchase less but consume less? How can we stop the slippery slope slide where one purchase leads to ten others? Buy the phone, you need the headphones, which need the dongle, which leads to the Spotify account, then to premium. Buy the TV and you need the subscriptions, the HBOMax, the Netflix, the Hulu, the Prime, and every single cable channel requiring its own platform, buy the clothing and you’ll most likely have to buy the very same items 15 more times in the next 5 years as they become threadbare and destroyed. It’s a cycle, and it’s a vicious one, and I am at a loss for what to do.
In the meantime, we’ll just keep purging, doing our best to donate 5 things and replace it with 1, but I know this isn’t helping the problem, it’s just passing it off onto someone else. My only hope is that if it’s all landfill destined anyway, maybe, just maybe, I can give it to someone who has nothing at all on its way. Maybe, but I don’t know. Bottom line, Tyler Durden in Fight Club hit the nail on the head when he said “the things you own end up owning you,” and in truth, I’m losing all interest in the things I own. I just want less, and less, and less, and how strange that it’s getting harder, and harder, and harder, to live that way?
If Nirvana is the freedom from all desire, what is the word for the freedom that comes from owning nothing at all? My goodness, what a thought that is, what a golden ideal to strive for, however wildly unrealistic it is.
For now, I’ll do what I can, how I can, and ask for help from those who just might be better at it than I am. I’ll feel a tiny sliver of pride that I’m typing this very essay on a laptop that I’ve forced myself to keep since 2014, despite the fact that it only works when plugged in (making it not really a laptop at all), and it’s as sluggish as a tranquilized panda. Take that Apple.
As I grow older
I’m losing all interest
in the things I own.