Category: Consumerism

A Thought Experiment, in response to Marie Kondo’s method.

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© j.hart Paper collage: what my books & files feel like to me sometimes!

Imagine, for a moment, that everything you own at this very point in your life is all that you can or will ever be able to own. Every piece of clothing; all your jewelry, every shoe or pocketbook; every stick of furniture; every bit of makeup; every kitchen utensil, tool, plate, glass, or knife, all the tiny objects that fill the drawers in your house (pens, pencils, notepads, keys, candles, flashlights, etc.); all the cleaning supplies, iron, and ironing board; every sheet, towel, pillow, carpet, curtain, tablecloth; and, of course all the electronic gadgets: computers, phones, printers, televisions, etc. all are irreplaceable!

Imagine that the vast worldwide connections which bring a flood of goods, from factories all over the world, to your local store (or to the local Amazon warehouse) have been disrupted. Perhaps the factories in China, Central America, India, Japan, etc. have all closed and the workers have returned to simpler economies of farming and making products to be sold locally. Maybe the fossil fuel is finished and the global economy is one of luxury items only, transported with great effort and expense.

The question this thought experiment suggests is: now, what would your relationship be to the objects that you own?

It seems to me that Marie Kondo hints at the care and gratitude we should have for the objects that surround us (and that we would have if they were irreplaceable) when she suggests giving thanks to each object that we have decided is not bringing us joy and is on its way out to either the landfill or the thrift store.  But as I mentioned in a previous post, she fails to draw our attention to the more important focus of our gratitude, and that is to the Earth’s resources that were used (and never replenished) to allow the object to be created in the first place, and to the work that people across the globe exerted to make the objects that fill our lives!

Since Netflix started airing Maria Kondo’s series, thrift stores all over the world have been inundated with truckloads of items that people realized that they didn’t actually need (and which weren’t bringing them joy!). However, there is no guarantee that the items given away to second hand shops will not also end up in landfills with the tons of “trash” generated during a Kondo session of tidying up.  https://www.mamamia.com.au/tidying-up-marie-kondo-waste/

Marie Kondo never actually says that her clients should stop shopping, so what her program shows is a type of addiction rehab or detox reality show: the client downsizing with Marie has one brief moment of clarity and relief; but we, the audience, know that tomorrow, when sweet little Marie, her translator, and the film crew leave, the shopping will resume as will the hoarding and the self loathing. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jan/10/marie-kondo-you-know-what-would-spark-joy-buying-less-crap

Which brings me back to my original question: what is (for the Earth and ourselves) a healthier relationship we should have to stuff? And what is a more responsible way to reduce our stuff?

Some suggestions:

  1. Stop all shopping (except for food) for a period of time. I am two months into an attempt to not shop for a year!
  2. Reduce your possessions responsibly; it is important to feel the consequences of your shopping choices:
    1. clothes can be cut up and recycled as cleaning cloths, or remodeled for longer use, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJYjRbwzzDA
    2. take clothes to the thrift store in smaller numbers over a greater length of time, say three or four pieces at a time every week.
    3. if you have room in your place, clean and pack up the extra clothes carefully in see-thru bins according to type or style (e.g. all dress shirts together, all work skirts in one bin, all sport tees, etc.) and use the extra clothes to refresh your wardrobe as older clothes get tired looking or worn out.
    4. it is important to feel that the joy that objects gave you can be transferred to other people by donating bras, reading glasses, good winter coats, shoes, and clean bedding to your local homeless or women’s shelter. And please donate it in as good condition as you would want if you were to use it!
    5. old pillows and blankets can be donated to your local ASPCA.
  3. For tools and small machines (mixers, toasters, microwaves, coffee makers, etc.), consider setting up a tool library in your neighborhood! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tool_library
  4. And finally books can be donated to your local library, or sold to your local bookstore for cash or, often, for exchange for other books!

It may be clear by now that what I am suggesting to change our way of reducing stuff is a very labor intensive and time consuming process. But that is the point! The hypercapitalist economy we live in disguises the true price of goods by allowing them to be bought quickly, easily, and cheaply: a few minutes online, a call to Amazon, a recording of a credit card number, and the item is yours!

The getting rid of something can never be as hard work or time and energy consuming as the original making of the thing, but at least by taking some time and thought to place the object within the context of our local community; and making the extra effort to meet and see face to face whom will next use this thing that was bought so quickly and thoughtlessly, we can use the difficulty of downsizing to put a brake on careless consumption and make us think more responsibly about our purchases.

 

 

 

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The Fantasy of Tidying

blue hubbard web detail
How do you tidy the natural world? Eat it!!

Netflix has begun streaming a series of Marie Kondo visits with her clients to help them declutter their homes, all of which are in California. I just binged the full eight episodes, and it is definitely helping me with my wish to make this a “no buy” year!

I have been a fan of Kondo since I read her 2011 book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, but the suggestion of this series that working through one’s clutter, preferably in tandem with one’s spouse, will improve one’s life: solve problems in family relationships; bring more joy into the home; and eliminate the problem of clutter by creating habits and storage systems that will be continued to be used; and all in the short time one has with the in-person help of Marie Kondo, makes this clearly a TV show Netflix should file under the “sci-fi &fantasy” rubric!

The most egregious part of this series is the unspoken assumption that the hyper-consumerism that all these families support is somehow normal for the rest of us! These are wealthy people, not average working people. Most of these folks have houses big enough to support huge collections of clothes, kitchen supplies, shoes, books, bric-a-brac, toys, etc. (Interesting statistic from A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance: the US has 3.1% of the children in the world, but buys 40% of the toys worldwide!) But nowhere is the money that is needed to hoard the amount of stuff that fills these houses anywhere commented upon!

Kondo elides the darker, but truer emotions, that her method elicits: guilt over the amount of money and energy that allowed the stuff to be bought and to accumulate; anxiety over the inability to keep one’s head above the engulfing chaos; despair at the emptiness of lives lived for consumption; and grief over unfulfilling personal relationships. Instead we are given, in the figure of Marie Kondo, a Japanese Tinkerbell: perfect, petite, and with a constant smiling mask, who assures all her clients that they are okay, and that they will be successful.

The “system” Kondo uses is based on positivity (probably why it has been so attractive to Americans): the object is to make choices about what to keep rather than what to give up, though the pieces that don’t “spark joy” (a limited and poorly defined emotion) are dumped after being “thanked” for their service.  But never does Marie Kondo suggest that thanking one’s possessions for their service may not be as important as thanking the Earth for the resources it provided for all the objects, or thanking the thousands of people whose hands, sweat, ideas, and energy created the items that glut these homes! The source of our wealth here in the West is again made invisible!

And finally, as the focus remains tenaciously on the clients’ emotional state and how happy the Kondoma method will make them, the work of decluttering, which is a really hard struggle, takes place offstage. Nor is there any suggestion of a larger community who could use the stuff. Again, an interesting hint that the families only know other people in the same economic bracket as they are in; people who would not need any more stuff either or to whom they are too embarrassed to ask for help!

The assumption is that most of the bags go to thrift stores where it can be reused (though recent statistics suggest that much of what goes to thrift stores ends up in the trash as does recycling. But how much was recycled? And how much was trashed without any attempt to reuse? Recycling and reusing is not a part of the Marie Kondo brand.

There were a lot of intriguing hints of deeper issues in these first eight episodes: the gender roles, the politics of which played out with shopping, accumulation, and jobs in the home; the comparison of Japanese Americans, only a couple of generations here compared to Marie Kondo, a native of Japan; and the sadder struggles of the true hoarders whose spouses were enabling them and keeping them from dealing with their underlying and debilitating anxiety.

But for me in this blog, the show seems to be a warning against using a band-aid to make a gaping wound seem somehow more attractive! The basic problem is our love-affair with hyper-consumerism. The solution is as basic (and unpalatable) as stopping the shopping! Even the slogan: reduce, recycle, reuse may not be applicable if we are reducing from a completely unnatural level. It may be better for us to only buy necessities and to reuse as much in our homes as we can until we have worked through everything extra, which if the families in this show are any indication will be a long time!

Love & Consumerism

Love & Consumerism

Recently I have been having long and heartfelt conversations with various single friends and family members (as well as privately with myself) about our solitary states. We all seem to be searching, relatively unsuccessfully, for a mate. Depending on the age, the desire to find the right significant other can be as traditional as wanting a spouse with whom to raise children, or as simple as meeting someone with whom to become a companion to share the later years.

When we ask ourselves precisely what we are looking for in this other person, the list can turn out to be startlingly long: intelligent, educated, good looking, healthy, thin, active, good sense of humor, similar interests to our own, wealthy, of a positive happy disposition, creative, capable, ambitious, good dresser, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, relaxed, sexy, affectionate, considerate, helpful, self-assured, original (but not too weird), politically aware and on the same wave length as we are.

And, of course, what we don’t want generates an equally long list: no heavy smokers nor alcoholics, no addicts of any kind, no slackers or drifters, no grifters or liars, no depressives or complainers, no neurotics or psychotics, no fascists or conspiracy theorists, no overeaters or junk-food junkies, no sexual hangups or STD’s, no financial problems, and no criminal history or bad habits.

So we are all looking for perfection, but the question for me is: why do we think that we deserve a mate that has all these stellar qualities while each of us is wonderfully flawed? What if this expectation, strangely out of proportion to reality, is, in fact, merely another aspect of the brainwashing of the consumer society to which we are habituated?

Many of us have used online dating services and apps like Tinder that are structurally not much different from Zappo shoes or Amazon. They work with a series of filters that focuses the available data to conform to our desires, but if we are not clear about what really makes us happy, then the filters and the ensuing data are useless. These services are quick and convenient, but I’m not sure love, affection, or even sex are really made more satisfying by being either fast or easy!

The whole process is being complicated by the rapid change in our mores, which outruns the changes in our values. In fact, the more stable values, that are embedded in our religions, philosophies, or communities, have been denigrated and marginalized for a long time. New is touted as far better than old;* and the virtues that have guided humanity for millennia are considered outdated and an obstacle to progress!

We are being encouraged to create our own values, a job that is far beyond the capabilities of most people. So most of us follow the crowds, doing what is popular and accepted in our peer group. For many of my male friends, they find themselves at sea as they try to figure out the new customs around the #MeToo movement. The irony is that these guys are exactly the ones that are least in need of being worried about their actions, as they are, in their nature, respectful and supportive of women.

The less aware men treat the women’s movement as noise; and they continue to learn how to relate to women by watching pornography, which creates a culture of disrespect, especially for younger people, of sexting, booty calls, and unprotected one night stands. (A quick note about pornography: pornography is the ultimate “spectacle” as Guy Debord describes it. To create the spectacle, the substitution of the image for the actual, the camera needs the “money shot”-where the man can be seen ejaculating-but this is not where pleasure or connection is to be found in real life any more than the enjoyment of food can be found in the endless photographs of meals and dishes on Instagram! In both cases, eating and sex, true enjoyment is not found in the seen, but in smell, taste, and touch, all of which is unavailable to the camera!)

It would be nice to finish this post with some great advice about how to find a lover or mate, but I am also feeling overwhelmed by all the advice available in the media and online, and I don’t want to add to it. We seem to be in an endless pursuit of improvement and happiness, and, again, I have a nagging feeling that this is just another facet of our lives as isolated consumers.

So I, for one, intend to concentrate more on how I can help other people, and to substitute gratitude for worry. And, of course, I will keep dancing!

*Though Nassim Taleb has an interesting question on this: what would you expect to be around one hundred years from now? We might answer: the internet, AI, self-driving cars, fully automated homes, but we would be wrong. The correct answer is whatever has lasted the longest to date: wine, cheese, leather shoes, glass goblets, portraits, dance, music, and all the other things that the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were familiar with!)