junk pile

Charities are being overwhelmed by a flood of donations from Marie Kondo-inspired decluttering Netflix viewers. Many op-shops are refusing donations now, but what if people tidy up their consumption habits for good?

Marie Kondo advises people to hold their possessions close to their chests and chuck out anything that fails to 'spark joy'. (With some exceptions: tax returns, receipts and her Spark Joy book itself). The household order that results from decluttering is supposed to be good for reducing anxiety. Will it reduce consumerism too? 

A couple of other social trends might conspire to stem the affluenza waste flow that often ends up in the homes of op-shoppers. With many having decluttered their modern lives of religion and ideology in general, belief may be becoming defined by what we don't aspire to.

One such belief is minimalism (or new minimalism) - not much of an ideology but it's better than nothing! This is nothing to do with the neo-minimalism of modern art and architecture movements. Nor does it refer to schmick and streamlined interior design, but rather to the type found in Minimalism - Live a Meaningful Life, the website, books, podcast, and documentary. This more hipsterish minimalism espouses the 50 Things movement - the idea that we should only have 50 possessions that we call our own. These are likely to be clothes, some electronic gadgets including an e-Reader (e-books don't count) and a big suitcase. You can populate your minimalist home with old furniture but be prepared to leave it behind. It is a materially ascetic lifestyle they promote, probably made easier by dint of their being two childless men with 20 million customers supporting their freewheeling lifestyle.

Then there is the New Minimalism as found in the book by Kyle Louise Quilici -  New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living. According to the Washington Post this is "minimalism for the rest of us…[a] more practical take on the less-is-more lifestyle [that is] more about ending the cycle of “busy” than creating a perfect house.” For some op-shoppers this about their choices of style and statement. Reusing, up-cycling and the more-is-less lifestyle is an ethical choice that rejects consumerism but not aesthetics.

A related trend is compacting which is about not buying anything new for a year, only second-hand (socks, specs and undies are the exception here). Known as 'The Compact', a group of friends or neighbours take the pledge to embrace 'Mindfulness and Frugality Through Buying Used'. This is said to be both environmentally responsible and a great way to save thousands of dollars. It also encourages buying and sharing locally. 

To keep all this used stuff chugging along there is iFixit  - the global community of people helping each other repair things. Their slogan: "Let's fix the world, one device at a time". Their ethos is to repair rather than replace; to treat appliances and devices as long-term possessions rather than disposable. 

All these trends sound great until we apply Immanuel Kant's Test Of The Universalised Maxim: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law."

If nobody bought new stuff, where would people buy their second-hand stuff? How would op-shops make their money? What would happen to our economy, based on growth as it is? The tax-base, manufacturing and the retail sector would shrivel up pretty fast. On the other hand our oceans, forests and atmosphere could all relax and repair while pollution wasn't pouring in. 

On the face of it the above scenarios seem unlikely. If, however, the economy slumps as it is predicted to do this year, perhaps we will see people adopting some form of minimalism out of necessity rather than choice. People with less disposable income will hang onto what they have rather than replace it. Those who lose their jobs, can't pay their huge mortgages and sell at fire-sale prices could be forced into renting - or homelessness - while carrying significant debt. And if they choose to shop more at op-shops, demand for used goods could indeed outstrip supply.


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