In Praise of Things

I was at a new friend’s (lovely) apartment for the first time last night and there was a moment that struck me–he looked around his home and said, “We’re really big fans of things.”

photo (1)I was struck by that this morning as I looked at my shelf of beloved, carefully chosen mugs–each one bringing joy for a different reason–the cheerful turquoise chevron, the pug mug with a pun.

A big trend right now in lifestyle-type places on the internet (or: the internet feeds of some of my friends) is minimalism, an eschewing of things. But this disavowal of things only makes sense for those who have the security to get more things if they need them. (This is not to absent myself from the trend–I KonMari’d the fuck out of my house and am happier for having done it.)

photoThe thing that these edicts miss is the security of things when you’ve grown up (or had long periods as an adult) wanting. Things are part of how we make sense of the world, and how we make our houses homes. Things are how I make my always-freezing, often dark, apartment a cozy, cheerful, colourful home.

I’m not championing late-stage capitalism, or consumption for the sake of consumption, but I am saying that things are important, that comfort and coziness and security are important, and that it’s oblivious and sanctimonious to call on people to get rid of something they haven’t used in six months if they couldn’t possibly replace it if they needed it next week. And that this call for minimalism with the implied you can always get another is, itself, an insidious form of consumerism.

It strikes me as a particularly neoliberal form of consumerism, wherein citizenship is entirely entwined with consumption through “the citizen consumer whose contribution to society is mainly to purchase the products of global capitalism” (Guthman & DuPuis, 2006, p. 443). Like how the body in the neoliberal context is subject to a constant tension between the duties to “achieve both eating and thinness” (Guthman & DuPuis, 2006, p. 443), so too is our relationship to things subject to a paradoxical tension. We’re supposed to find a balance between eschewing materialism while contributing to society by continuing to purchase the products of global capitalism. You’ll notice, perhaps, that minimalist blogs (say, anything you see on Apartment Therapy) while sparse are never cheaply decorated. That is one way to find the balance–have few things but make sure they’re expensive things (you’ll never see, for example, a lifestyle maven using anything but a VitaMix where a $30 blender would do the trick). The other (at times complementary) method is to keep few things but treat nearly all things as disposable. Haven’t used your food processor in two months? Get rid of it! Whoops, want to start making your own hummus the following week? Better get another one.

The only people I’ve ever met who express disdain towards things are those who grew up wealthy enough to easily replace them. Lost your phone for the third time this month? It’s cool, it’s just a thing, no need to stress. Wrecked your top by not following laundry directions? No big, I’m not that attached to material goods.

The long and the short of it, really, is that it is an immense privilege to be able to treat things as simply things.

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One thought on “In Praise of Things

  1. I have seen minimalistic bloggers and vloggers that truly cherish what they keep and emphasize keeping what they love as well as ones who are very unattached to their things. Personally, I search for a balance between enjoying and distancing myself from things. Going off of one of your examples, I wrecked my good top which means I lost something I enjoyed. It’s sad and maybe I can’t just replace it, but it’s also not something to stay stressed about.

    I do love your point at the end! There is such a privilege with being able to just replace something or buy something only when you need it then get rid of it while there are many people who may not even have the money to buy the thing to begin with.

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