This is a guest post by Megan Auman.
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.
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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.