Ed. Note: We are happy to share this reader response, which is part of a series submitted by undergraduate students at Loyola University Chicago from a course called ENVS 363: Sustainable Business Management.
At what point in human history did a human generation deem it okay to have the ability to recognize 500 different products names, but not know how to name our world’s continents? We have developed a culture in which we give value to items that carry little to no true value for us. The solution to exponential economic growth is to give value to the things that truly matter the most in life.
The minimalist lifestyle limits the number of material possession to only those that are truly important in one’s life. We believe in a consumer behavior where buying is the root to our happiness. If there is an issue, it can be fixed by replacing it with a new product. Consumerism is an empty, temporary solution to our everyday problems. Once we begin to value what truly makes us happy, then we will realize the answer to our life’s problems are not through continuous growth.
The minimalist lifestyle is frequently interpreted as a quirky movement among the youth based upon black white color schemes and Danish furniture design. This does not do justice to the true minimalist movement. A minimalist lifestyle tries to remove material possessions in order to create more clarity in one’s life. Having less clutter leads to less time spent in decision making. Valuable time that could be spent correctly for important projects or following one’s passions. Overall, devaluing material possessions in change for what you care most about in life: your family, hobbies, and your health both physically and spiritually. Minimalism decreases one’s financial burden by reducing pointless purchases and sourcing money to more valuable things such as college tuition or towards your first home. There are no true rules to living as a minimalist, but only that you only give importance to what makes you happy.
The creation of a national-level minimalist movement would have great implications on the current state of the economy. First, it will immediately seek to end the continuous economic growth that we focus in our current economy. There is the idea that growth, measured in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), runs parallel to the quality of life. This is evidently not true in many ways. As GDP continues to grow we have seen an increase in wage gaps, an increase in mental disease, an increase in the obesity rate, and an increased loss of land due to polluters. It is clear that GDP does not run parallel to a higher quality of life. Yet we continue to participate in hyper-capitalistic consumerism.
Minimalism does not mean it is the end of capitalism. It is simply means a limitation on the goods we are bringing into our lives. One thing to note is that minimalism does not require you to drop everything overnight. Minimalism can be expressed in the littlest of things such as refusing McDonald’s excess ketchup packets which you know will simply clutter your home’s junk drawer. Personally, I started small by switching from paperback books to e-reader versions. Now I can conveniently find all my books in one place and I have a little extra money in my pocket. I have gained a sliver of happiness with more free time and more financial assets. More importantly, the by-product of dropping paperback is less resources used in producing a physical book. One does not need to seek environmental justice; it will seek you once you begin to give importance to real things. Imagine a population simultaneously dropping the need to purchases that extra, unnecessary t-shirt from forever 21. It would not only benefit you directly, but minimize the socio-ecological impact produced in the garments supply chain as well.
I believe we give insufficient attention to the gears of our economy. Specifically, when it comes to dealing with a product’s supply chain. In an age of globalization, an efficient supply chain can be found in hundreds of locations across the globe. Things aren’t produced like they used to be. The more supply chain-links, the more potential to create a negative impact on the environment. We have created an economy that has optimized profit on enormous scales. This web of production comes at a great cost. For example, referring back to the clothing supply chain, the stages of production are deleterious to the environment. First, the production of raw material is costly in resources such as land and water. The shipping to their assembly point has an impact on the environment through pollution produced fuel consumption. The treatment textile goes under creates an impact on the environment through the release of toxic chemicals used in treatment. Finally, the waste produced by the product, post-production, has an impact on the environment by increasing the magnitude of landfills. Additionally, there is a social cost that can take form of unfair wages, unfair work conditions, cultural degradation, and the list goes on. The cost of growth seems to be substantially bigger when analyzed closely.
Minimalism does not present an immediate solution to our continuous growth. Minimalism is definitely not a reorganization that could occur overnight without having serious implication on the stability of modern society, though it is surely a guideline to a better future. If life wasn’t difficult enough, why do we find it necessary to clutter our life with meaningless junk. That junk we give value to, that expensive jacket I’ll wear twice, holds no intrinsic value to us and therefore does not promote happiness in any shape. It’s simply a temporary substitute to issues that seem to only get worse over-time. The solution to deleterious economic growth is simply to end it. Let’s enjoy what we have here and now.
“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.”
― Coco Chanel