the antidote to consumerism isn’t minimalism, it’s art

This is a guest post by Megan Auman.

chair by Margaret Taylor for Uncommon Goods - click for info

If you’re reading this, you probably have some conflicting views when it comes to stuff. If not now, you’ve probably had them at some point.

This conflict can be summed up pretty simply as a desire for beautiful objects (whether that’s to make them or own them) versus a disgust with the rampant consumerism that’s depleting our planet.

This disgust often leads to an inevitable conclusion: “The world doesn’t need more stuff.”

And it’s this conclusion that often leads one towards the minimalist movement, which argues that the solution is to get rid of as much of our stuff as possible.

There’s no denying that our current levels of consumerism are unhealthy. We have an unhealthy relationship to stuff.

But I’d like to argue that getting rid of all our stuff is unhealthy too.

It’s the equivalent of fixing your addiction to food by becoming anorexic. True, you might be eating less. But are you really healthier?

Most of us need stuff in our lives. (Since the word “stuff” might trip you up, we’ll use “objects” instead.) Objects help communicate meaning. Objects help connect us to people – family, friends, makers – alive and dead. And objects provide aesthetic and sensory experiences that can nourish us.

Our need for objects is both culturally and biologically embedded, and it isn’t going away any time soon.

So what is the solution to the problem of consumerism, pollution, and waste?

It’s not minimalsim. It’s art.

When I say art, I’m not just talking about painting or sculpture. Any object that’s made, regardless of its purpose or function, has the potential to be art. Art isn’t a category. It’s a state of mind.

Our current production system is about producing the most stuff possible. Art is about producing special stuff. Stuff that is imbued with meaning, connection, and experience. Stuff that nourishes our minds and our bodies.

Our current problem didn’t arise because we put too much value on stuff. It arose because we don’t value stuff enough.

The sheer volume of stuff has made us lose our appreciation for it. We’ve lost our sense of wonder and attachment to stuff. We’ve lost the ability to connect with stuff on a deeper level. To form a relationship with an object. To understand the small miracle that has to happen for a truly extraordinary object to come into being.

For some, minimalism may be a completely fulfilling life. But for those of us with a biological predisposition to objects (or what Howard Gardner would call a bodily-kinesthetic intelligence), minimalism is unsatisfactory and therefore not a sustainable solution.

Last month, I visited twelve different museums in three different countries. I cannot even imagine a world without stuff. And I don’t have to.

Because the solution to our problem isn’t pretending that stuff doesn’t have value. It’s creating, seeking out, and embracing the stuff that matters most.

– – –
Megan Auman is a designer, metalsmith, educator, and entrepreneur. Her eponymous jewelry line is sold in stores across the US and online. Megan is the founder and editor of Designing an MBA, where she provides business thinking and education for designers and makers. She is currently on a mission to repair our unhealthy relationship with stuff.

18 thoughts on “the antidote to consumerism isn’t minimalism, it’s art

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post! I’ve always felt ill-at-ease with the idea that I needed to get rid of a bunch of my stuff to be virtuous. I don’t have all that much, but the stuff I do have brings me joy. I make an effort to only bring things into my home that contribute to an overall sense of delightfulness and wonder. But I don’t feel the need to purge my home of that beautiful handmade scarf just because I haven’t found a reason to wear it in a year. For me, striving to surround myself with art feels far more natural that trying to surround myself with minimalism.

  2. i LOVE this.

    i went from being a rampant consumerist to being a pretty passionate greenie, afraid to buy things new and feeling kinda trapped and self-condemning for wanting more, for wanting to indulge in certain things that weren’t 100% sustainable. my moral standpoint didn’t allow enough room for the freedom i need in my daily life, not to indulge, but to allow art in – not just art in the traditional sense, but art in the sense of objects that move me.

    when i buy sustainably now, it feels expansive instead of with an undercurrent of resentment, and when i buy something that’s not 100% sustainable, i’m filled with gratitude instead of self-judgement. and when i feel better about myself and my stuff, i’m a more positive presence and have more to give to the world.

    thank you for sharing this megan. it’s such an important topic.

    xo

  3. Read a great post from a minimalist on this same idea just yesterday: When Everything Is Your Favorite Thing (Joshua Fields Millburn (http://www.theminimalists.com/favorite/).

    I really love the idea of loving everything I have. When you do, you don’t want as many things. Participated in Project 333 (a minimalist clothing project) about a year ago, and it transformed how I shop for clothes. When I truly love my clothes, I want to wear them–but there are only 7 days in a week. I just don’t want or need so many now. So, I think your idea is the key to making minimalism work. Otherwise, you’re right: It just feels like deprivation.

  4. I’ve always loved pictures of organized clutter. Stacks of books, or cluttered cabinets. Those are art to me.

    I’ve always felt those were more real then if they are staged with minimal if eyecatching pieces.

  5. I kind of love this article. OK, actually… I REALLY love this article.

    I’m definitely not a minimalist, and it bothers me when people say that objects hold no importance and that people who are attached to objects are materialistic.

    The objects I’m most attached to are my art supplies, and my relationship with them is possibly the strongest relationship in my life — because they help me create things that delight me, and each piece of art I make feels like a love letter to myself. A message that I believe in my visions and my abilities. Which sounds sappy, but it’s true. I couldn’t do without supplies and tools for making sparkly things!

  6. Thank you – thank you – thank you!
    I do struggle with clutter and am currently trying to tidy my house for sale – it really is a battle – I don’t want to live in an empty house even short term!
    William Morris in his “The Beauty of Life” lecture in 1880 said “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” This, I feel, is as minimal as I ever need to be.

  7. I can’t believe I’ve never made this connection before. Of course the opposite of consumerism is art! This has inspired me to walk through my home with a fresh eye and find a way to get rid of anything that isn’t beautiful or useful.

  8. Our current problem didn’t arise because we put too much value on stuff. It arose because we don’t value stuff enough.

    YES! The problem is our disposable culture! Thank you for articulating that so concisely.

  9. Back to your comparison of objects to food, it’s like eating smaller portions of organic filet mignon, instead of double-stacked burgers with bacon. It’s okay to like food (and objects) but show your appreciation through quality instead of quantity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *