The Life-Changing Magic of Anticonsumption

Decluttering is having another moment.

As Tidying Up with Marie Kondo makes a rapid ascent into binge-worthy, must-see TV via Netflix, a whole new audience who never read her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – the 2011 bestseller now published in more than 30 countries – is brought into the minimalist fold, scouring their stuff for anything that ‘sparks joy’ then ruthlessly letting go of everything else.

More people taking responsibility for their stuff can surely only be a good thing, but is there a danger now that decluttering itself sparks joy? That the process is so enjoyable and fulfilling that it’s possible even the most minimalist among us are unintentionally acquiring stuff secure in the knowledge that we have this future, fun escapist activity to turn to?

In 2018 humanity had used a year’s worth of resources in seven months

We are awash now with places ready and willing to facilitate the disposal of our stuff. Charity shops, recycling centres, eBay, Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace, swap meets and more are queuing up for us to offload, but this growing secondary market is a partial symptom, not a total solution.

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Decluttering is the first stop, a natural landing stage for what comes next. While 30-day minimalism games and regular pruning can help maintain the decluttered garden, the land to be reached beyond is one of changed perspectives, fresh ideas and new, rarified pleasures.

The rate at which we are consuming the world’s resources is speeding up. In 2018 humanity had used a year’s worth of resources in seven months. When we’re using nature nearly twice as fast as our planet can regenerate, the response can’t be cycles of perpetual decluttering. The answer is anticonsumption.

This seemingly fundamental shift is nothing to fear

Such a radical rejection of consumerism, and the perpetual buying and consuming of material possessions, increasingly seems to be the way forward out of what is becoming an ever-hotter mess. For most of us, and especially for those of us living cushioned, comfortable lives in the west, this is a major, frightening step.

Anti-consumerism is a big one. A mental and behavioural shift overlapping with a range of environmental, anti-globalisation and civil rights activism, it is also a pathway to post-consumerism; the idea of a whole new way of living that transcends consumerism entirely.

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Perhaps no more than late-stage minimalism, this seemingly fundamental shift is nothing to fear. As we embrace intentional living, the changes in behaviour we embed along the way stack up, rendering us naturally further and further away from the all-consuming creatures the world compels us to be.

But it’s easy to fall backwards and find ourselves decluttering again for the umpteenth time, despite our best efforts. This is not the end of the world (just yet), but when we find ourselves staring yet again at our full garages, groaning bookshelves and bursting kitchen drawers, we may see the act of decluttering itself sparking joy.

So let’s enjoy the process and feel the benefit. But while we’re knee-deep in dust and forgotten purchases we must ask ourselves, how on Earth did we get back here?

Presented at The Minimalists Newcastle upon Tyne Local Meetup Group. Event hosted by Ernest on 25th February 2019.

Leigh Venus

Photos: Key photo author’s own, article photos unknown – please contact Leigh for credit or removal.

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