On the Konmari band wagon

Throwback Thursday – My take on minimalism.

There has been lots and lots (and lots and lots) of talk about the Konmari method of tidying. The Netflix series has  nearly broken the internet! Marie Knodo’s website IS an elegant, simple and beautiful place. She IS elegant and beautiful. In preparing for this post I got lost looking at her clips for folding socks and underwear. It’s very alluring!

I was out with friends recently who were talking about how its really helping them get tidy. I can see it’s appeal and how it’s a good starting point to get things organised in your home. Not everyone agrees that it’s simply a quest to be tidy and see a more disturbing side. This article in by Erin Stewart in Overland challenges the ideals offered by the konmari approach. Erin confronts the idea that the people who may have “messy” spaces as being lazy.

Rampant consumerism isn’t revolutionary, but nor is discarding things. What would be revolutionary is an aesthetic – and a society – where those who aren’t streamlined are kept; where we aren’t judged for how well we keep spaces, but spaces are judged for how well they cater for us.

Another view is that as non-Japanese people; white, western culture cannot really understand some of basic philosophy behind her finding of “joy” in objects because we don’t share the same spiritual beliefs. This lack of empathy or understanding have led to people being critical of Marie Kondo’s success through cruel memes and comments that ridicule her Shinto background.

Even though Kondo delivers her dictates in the gentlest ways possible (I watched her show with the subtitles on; they kept saying she cooed), the message was clear to me: White people are comfortable when a woman of color takes on a stereotypical service role, but they are uncomfortable when a woman of color deigns to upend our unspoken societal rules. Even if she gets a bunch of men, who’ve left all the emotional labor of managing the daily stuff of living to their wives, to actually pitch in — even if people have padded too much into their lives and she helps them enjoy what they have again — it’s not enough. Unconsciously or consciously, Kondo had struck a nerve.

It’s worth having a look both sides of the argument.

I’ve written about minimalism and my quest to live a more simple life previously but I must admit my skin still prickles a bit about this subject. I still think it’s something that only the more privileged in society can embrace. Being tidy is an option for everyone but getting rid of perfectly good things because they don’t bring you “joy” is a different matter. I haven’t read the book and only glanced at the website but I understand the basic idea is that you only keep items which bring you joy and discard, donate or sell any other items. In my mind minimalism and tidiness are two separate issues, although to be tidy you need less stuff than you have storage spaces.

I think it’s better to start off with the philosophy of not bringing things into your home in the first place and only replacing it when warranted. Rich people sitting on the floor because they have given away their furniture is just plain silly! Getting rid of the thirteen of the fourteen handbags you never use is a different story.  Not buying new towels (or whatever) every season is sensible.

two old cooking trays
They might be ugly but they still work!

The links below will take you to my previous posts.

Digital Ephemera and the cloud keepers: A fictional look at the future post-minimalism

Feeling sentimental: Dealing with sentimental items

Consuming interest: A report on my challenge to not buy anything new for a year.

Now… right now… I am going to go and make my t-shirts stand up!


This post is another occasional series I am starting. Throwback Thursday where I will link to my previous posts to current issues/ideas.

Digital Ephemera and the Cloud Keepers.

A hand embroidered tablecloth featuring Australian flora

In the not too distant future…

Imagine this scene: It’s 2200. We are in the Met in New York. A mother is with her two children and they are walking through the halls crammed with artifacts, art and sculptures. They come into a room which has very few items. The sparse white walls are draped with a few posters that appear to be advertising. There are some boxy looking computers. An Instagram frame, the type you see people have at parties. Some boxes full of macabre plastic false nail tips and a box of disposable contact lenses.

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The sign above the door says the Screen Age.

“Mummy? When was the Screen Age? Were you alive then?”

“Steady on, sweety! I might be older than you but I am not that old! Your Grandma’s grandma was alive then. “

“Haven’t they finished setting up the display yet” the little boy asks staring into an empty display case.

“No, no. This is it.”

“Where are all the paintings and art? What about the handicrafts?”

A 6 pointed lacy doily made by my grandmother I think

At this question, the robotic guide zooms up beside them.

“I am so glad you asked” she says in her smooth synthetic voice. “There are two major reasons there is so little to display. Firstly, the rise of the Minimalists and secondly the fact that most activities were done online. There are very few physical artifacts available from this dark time in history.”

“What are Minimalists, Mummy”

“I’ll answer that” the guide pipes in.  “They were a new social class which arose in what used to be called first world countries, between 2012 and up till around 2075. They believed in living a simple lifestyle without the physical accoutrements of modern life. It was a noble aim. Prior to this time, the focus had been on accumulating goods. We have found evidence of a cult that had the motto “he who dies with the most toys, wins”. The Minimalists railed against this. Partly as a way of improving their own mental health but also as a challenge. They began to discard perfectly good items. The aim was to be environmentally aware, yet in this time landfills became over full, packed with items that could have been used in poorer countries – the so called third world. Incidentally, these poorer countries were the main producers of the goods being discarded, but they could not afford to buy any of the goods themselves. Instead of distributing the goods more equitably, the Minimalists destroyed or discarded the usable items and declared themselves cleansed.”

The family shifted from one foot to the other, uncomfortable at the thought of such wanton behaviour.

“The second reason is much more sinister.”

“What, more sinister than destroying the Earth’s precious resources?”

“Well, yes I know it’s hard to believe, but yes, more sinister. At that time AI agents – my early ancestors – they called them computers back then, required physical storage devices. At first, the solution was like the ones here in my hologram.”

The robot played a holographic video on the bare white floor. The reels of magnetic tape from the 1970s and 80 gave way to floppy discs, USBs and external hard drives.

“At first, individuals looked after their own storage issues. They would save their files, documents, photos and that sort of thing on these relatively small portable objects using magnetism”

“Fascinating!”

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“Then as files got bigger and they wanted to store more and more data, the portable devices were no longer able to cope. They began to upload their products to external corporate providers known collectively as “the cloud”. People paid for these services. But unbeknownst to the them, over time, the owners of “The Cloud” began to read or view the stored data and they used it as a way to sort the desirables from the undesirables and exterminate them.

The children gasped and the mother held them close.

The robot continued “It started with good intentions. They targeted those people trying to store illegal items. The Cloud Keepers as they came to be known, could easily justify getting rid of them.”

“What about privacy laws?” the mother asked

“The greater good” the robot replied. “The Cloud Keepers could cite that they were interested in the greater good and if you were doing nothing wrong you had nothing to hide”

“Oh I see. I can sort of understand that…” the mother had heard enough she did not want her children to have nightmares. She gathered them up and nudged them out the door.

“Thank you. Say thank you to the guide kids, let’s go look at the Greek sculpture!!” she called over her shoulder.

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Will museums be empty?

I hope this is a far fetched and fanciful look at the future but I do wonder about what we will have to show after this age  of digital ephemera. What can our museums keep and collect when we communicate by email, store our photos on Instagram or Flickr, listen to music on the web and have webpages instead of actual physical items. There will be no Dead Sea Scrolls equivalent from this era.

Before the digital age people would use their downtime to create physical objects. Like dainty doilies, paintings, hand made furniture. The downtime of the masses is now filled by cruising Facebook, falling in the dreaded Pintrest vortex, swiping right (or is it left?) and reading blogs like this one.

On top of that, much of the stuff we consume has a very finite life. It’s poorly made with substandard materials. It is cheap and deliberately disposable. A necessity if we are going to support an advanced capitalist economy that demands constant fiscal growth.

Is it time for the mediumalists?

I class myself as a mediumalist, a word I have coined. I believe in reducing consumption, reusing what you can, reducing plastic, avoiding waste. Living simply and enjoying experiences rather than buying stuff. I buy nearly all my clothes and housewares from op shops. BUT I still do buy some some stuff new. I still travel, even though air travel is not environmentally sustainable. I do believe we should have more shared economic activities. We could hire or borrow so many items like lawn mowers, wedding clothes, suit cases. All the sorts of things you need, but not everyday.

I do have a bit of paranoia about storing stuff in “the cloud” – more from the point of view that what happens if the electricity goes off? We’ll all be in strife them.

I hope my story doesn’t come true. Let’s think about how we want to build our future.

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The Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Feeling sentimental.

Recently, I replaced my makeup bag with a new one. The old bag was in my service for at least 18 years. I bought it in 2008 for my daughter to use as a pencil case. It had photos of the Spice Girls on it and when she grew out of them, I hijacked the sturdy plastic case for my make-up.

snapseed-1One of my work colleagues and I have joked about it for years when we shared rooms for conferences and the like.  I decided it was looking a little too raggedy and bought a new one[1]. I put the Spice Girls in the bin. Now I feel strangely uncomfortable. It was still in OK condition – the zip still worked. It was covered with old makeup and left-over bits of eyeliner but nothing a good soak wouldn’t fix. Perhaps I was being too rash!

I sent a text to my friend to commemorate its passing. She sent back a crying emoji – she shared my pain. I think I am grieving…over a plastic case. It holds so many memories! It has travelled with me around the globe. It’s been a loyal and steady friend. It survived divorce. It’s lived in 6 houses with me. It still works!

It’s hard to describe the feelings I have for this thing; this object. After all it’s only a bit of plastic. One of the  tenets of minimalism is that sentimental items have no intrinsic value per se and that memories do not exist in things but in our minds. “The Minimalists” – Ryan Nicodemis and Joshua Fields Milburn exhort us to rid ourselves of sentimental items. In his essay Letting go of Sentimental Items Josh writes

I am not my stuff; we are more than our possessions.
 Our memories are within us, not within our things.
 Holding on to stuff imprisons us; letting go is freeing.
 You can take pictures of items you want to remember.
 Old photographs can be scanned.
 An item that is sentimental for us can be useful for someone else.

 

I don’t agree with this idea, for a number of reasons.  Sure, we can scan and store photos digitally but what happens when technology changes? If I had stored my memories on 3 ½ inch floppy discs back in the day, I’d be stuffed now! A possible work-around is to store photos in the cloud. Call me a pessimist, but heh, I am not real keen on having my only copy of things in the nebulous cloud.  Who owns it? Who will maintain it in the future? What happens if there is some sort of EM pulse warfare where everything gets fried? (insert relevant conspiracy theory here!)

 

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My great grandfather’s camera, some petrified wood, some jugs and a doily that belonged to my grandparents.

I have a small collection of items that are not useful but are beautiful. They belonged to my grandparents and some,  to my great-grandparents. Small curios, some handmade furniture, a few pieces of jewellery. I have some useful items too, like baking trays that must be at least 70 years old. These items make me feel connected to my history more than any photos would. I can conjure up memories of my grandmother baking scones on the very same trays I still use. The molecules of food ingrained into the metal of the tray, perhaps even some of her DNA. I am reluctant to scrub them back to shiny metal. The decades of patina add to the flavour.

I am not my stuff but this stuff is part of me, part of my family. I am going to fish the Spice Girls out of the bin. I am not ready to part with them yet. Who knows, a future grand daughter might love them again!

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This is a tea set given to me by my paternal grandmother – most is broken; this is all that survives. It sits on a doily embroidered by my mother.

 

[1] new to me from a local op shop – someone’s cast off gift no doubt – NWT’s. NWT = New with tags

A consuming interest

At the start of the financial year[1] I set myself a challenging goal.

Not to buy anything NEW for a whole year. There are a few caveats around the goal:

  1. It does not include consumables such as food and cleaning products.
  2. If something essential breaks or wears out I can replace it, preferably with something second hand.
  3. It does not include experiences.

After six months in I am doing OK, I have not brought anything new into my home.

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I tried to argue with my accountability partner that magazines and books were experiences and not stuff, but she said they were stuff because I could borrow them from the library or read them online, so I cancelled the subscriptions I had.

Have I missed buying stuff? So far –  no. I have made do with what I have. The hardest thing so far was what to do about gifts. With the holiday season looming I was not sure what to do. For the most part I bought experiences or perishables or gave second hand stuff. As a last resort, I decided that since it was not coming into my home, a new book and essentials like socks were OK. (This may be cheating a little bit I think!)

Over these last six months people have asked me why?  Why would I set out not to buy anything new for a year? “That’s crazy” they’d say.

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It wasn’t about saving money – although I have. It’s not because I am a hoarder, although I do sometimes feel crowded in my little home. The real why emerges out of several interlocking events and ideas that have been with me for a few years and which all came together in a flash of realisation.

The interlocking events included

  • Growth coaching
  • Some workshops on mental health first aid and positive psychology
  • My discovery of the Minimalist podcast[2]
  • My only daughter’s conversion to Orthodox Judaism
  • The ABC TV show War on Waste[3].
  • The Story of Stuff[4].
  • Having lots of time to think and reflect

The interlocking events led to my quest for a richer, more meaningful life. In this post, I will only elaborate on one aspect of the jigsaw. Positive mental health.

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I previously talked about[5] the foundations for wellbeing.  These being

  • to give,
  • to connect,
  • to be active,
  • to take notice and
  • to keep learning.

I discovered these foundations when I attended some workshops about student and teacher wellbeing as part of my day job and much of it began to resonate with me personally.

Some other workshops suggested that there was a very strong connection between positive mental health, diet and exercise. While I initially began the research to help students and teachers at my school, I was able to apply what I found out to myself.

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A small part of one Christmas’ horde

I started investigating my diet and the link between gut microflora and mental health. I had already read some books about positive psychology such as Flourish by Martin Seligman. I disappeared down the google-search-vortex as one thing led to another. I eventually found a paper[6] called A Wonderful Life:  Experiential consumption and the pursuit of happiness.

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The abstract to this article states:

This research indicates that experiential purchases provide greater satisfaction and happiness because:

(1) Experiential purchases enhance social relations more readily and effectively than material goods;

(2) Experiential purchases form a bigger part of a person’s identity; and

(3) Experiential purchases are evaluated more on their own terms and evoke fewer social comparisons than material purchases.

It all boils down to the fact that money can buy happiness, as long as you buy experiences and not things (material goods) . Things give you short-lived happiness. You quickly tire of them and want something else. Something bigger. Something brighter. Something that needs to be stored when you grow tired of it. Experiences, on the other hand, give you memories. You can reflect back on them. They give you something to talk about. They put you in a social space with social beings that you can form connections with. They help you learn about yourself and other people. They help you learn about the world.  They hit on at least four of the five pillars of positive mental health. If you choose to experience the world by helping others you can hit on all five.

If you are waking up from a “stuff-hangover” now that Christmas is over maybe next year you can think of buying the things that make memories. The only place you need to store them, is in your (digital) photo album and your brain.

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[1] July 1 in Australia

[2]https://www.theminimalists.com/

[3] http://www.abc.net.au/ourfocus/waronwaste

[4] https://www.google.com.au/search?q=the+story+of+stuff+youtube&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b&gfe_rd=cr&dcr=0&ei=oQExWp7jOePDXpuwpJAF

[5] https://oldchookenterprises.com/2017/09/09/wellbeing-an-introduction/

[6] A proper peer reviewed one! Gilovich T, Kumar A and Jampol L Journal of Consumer Psychology 2014) available at: https://www.scribd.com/document/280715372/Gilovich-Kumar-Jampol-in-press-A-Wonderful-Life-JCP