Minimalism in a Capitalist Economy
The title for this post probably sounds like it could be radical and politically-charged, and you're probably thinking I'm going to come down hard on capitalism and claim that minimalism is anti-capitalist. Wrong. Minimalism and capitalism can coexist harmoniously when we approach each one from the right angle. And unlike other Western minimalists, I'm not going to chastise anyone for being a consumer in a capitalist economy.
I've read a lot about minimalism in the West and one thing I don't like to see other Western minimalist authors do is try to shame people for being consumers in a capitalist economy. While I can agree that I think we largely have too much stuff, I don't have any interest in making anyone feel bad for their purchases. Consumerism is necessary. Mindless consumerism, though, is not so necessary, but it happens. We're generally overworked, underpaid, always stressed, and sometimes acquiring excess stuff happens as a byproduct of emotional escapism. That's okay, and it's correctable with a dash of minimalist practices.
This post is primarily meant for a US audience as our working class struggles to find comfort in late stage capitalism, but it might fit other countries' economic circumstances as well. Here's how minimalism can help you catch your breath in a capitalist economy:
Minimalism shuts out the Noise
Achieving a minimalist lifestyle can help us avoid or escape altogether the stressors of late-stage capitalism. We've been told all of our lives in every form of media that we need to buy, buy, buy, but as minimalists we can effectively plug our ears and shut out that message. What do we need to buy so urgently? Probably nothing! (Okay, maybe a few pretty storage containers once we've successfully decluttered our homes of the excess stuff overflowing from the closets and garage.) But in general, the constant barrage of messages telling us to buy just because doesn't work so well on minimalists unless it's something we actually want.
And for everything we don't want, we can:
- Unsubscribe from marketing emails (yes, including the 50% off sale emails)
- Hide/mute the tempting brands we don't want to see on social media
- Mute the TV any time an ad or commercial plays
- Recycle promotional junk mail without reading it
Minimalism buys for Quality
One thing I like to see from other minimalists is that since they've removed the excess from their lives, they've switched from buying for now to buying for quality or buying for life. What is "buying for now"? It's what capitalist messages try to tell us--to buy something cheap and quick to make do for now. Instead of eating up this message voraciously, many seasoned minimalists instead take the time to find objects they can buy for quality, or buy for life. Capitalist systems won't collapse if we shift to making more sustainable purchases and buying things that are designed to last a lifetime. Capitalism also won't collapse if we buy stuff used or secondhand.
To buy for quality, we can:
- Say no to fast fashion
- Say no to disposable/single-use items
- Keep money local by supporting crafters, artisans, and mom & pop shops
- Research and buy from reputable, sustainable companies
- Seek out items that come with warranties when buying new
- Seek out well-made items secondhand when buying used
Minimalism sometimes doesn't buy at all
Along my minimalist journey, I've had several no-spend months where I have halted all unnecessary purchases. I've done this to save money for large purchases, to put money into an emergency fund, and to pay off bigger debts. Taking a week or two, or a whole month (or more) off, from spending money on anything I don't truly need has always helped me catch my breath and get back above water if I've been put in a bind. Creating financial stability however we can helps us survive and have a chance at thriving in a capitalist economy. It just takes effort sometimes to avoid buying anything we don't need to survive.
My husband and I call our no-spend efforts the "APESHIT" method - Active & Passive Earning & Saving, Halting Inconsequential Transactions. Here's what we mean:
- Active Earning - Day jobs, the 8-5s that pay the bills.
- Active Saving - If there's something left at the end of a paycheck, it gets put into savings.
- Passive Earning - Any investments or payroll deductions that go into Roth IRAs or 401(k)s. Granted, any investments run the risk of loss, but it's a net to fall back on all the same.
- Passive Saving - We set aside a percentage of our net pay to go into savings accounts automatically on a schedule that coincides with our paydays.
- Halting Inconsequential Transactions - This is where we stop buying things we don't need to survive, such as frequent dinners/desserts at restaurants, hobby-related items, and so on. If it isn't a necessary food item or a bill to pay, we don't spend money on it.
Minimalism isn't really at capitalism's throat. I have no interest in passing moral judgment on capitalism in general as an economic system, to say one way or the other that it's good or bad. It does present challenges for the working class in the US which I can say with some certainty, but I find that being a minimalist helps me avoid most of the bullshit that comes with the US's particular implementation of a capitalist economy. It took me years of minimalist practices to get my head above water financially and figure out how I can work minimalism into a socioeconomic system that I can't change all alone. Instead of minimalism working hard against capitalism, it's possible to let the two coexist and work together a little more harmoniously than we might expect. Good luck, and when in doubt: go APESHIT! ;-)