18 August 2005

Is Nothing the new Stuff?

Minimalism isn't a new idea. In fact, it probably wasn't originally even an idea. Not having anything because you haven't got any money isn't an idea, or if it is, it's isn't a very good idea. So I don't think I can call not having much stuff minimalism. Minimalism is about having not much stuff in a deliberate way and calling it Art (which is another bag of mess entirely).

Since the advent of TV, we have all become brainwashed into being consumers. Buy this, buy that, smell nice, attract (wo)men and so on. Advertising makes us believe that if we don't buy the newest thing, we will be shunned / sacked / dumped / killed / eaten / none of the above. Now, I might just be a bit slow, but as I near the twilight of my existence (30), it is beginning to dawn that having stuff isn't all that great.

Consider this; you go into town on Saturday, wander round the shops and you buy: 1) A glossy magazine because a) (m) it has a picture of a bird with big tits on the front, or b) (f) it has an article on how to have multiple orgasms. Cost: £3.50.
2) 3 DVDs for £20, regardless of how many times you've seen them or how crap two of them are.
3) a new video game for £30 because it involves killing Nazis or something.
4) a new shirt / blouse for £50 because the label has some acronym on it that may or may not mean it's good.
Total Cost: £103.50.

So you're walking home, on a bit of a high because you've got some new stuff. You spend the rest of the day watching the DVDs, reading the magazine, playing the game until you get stuck and then go out in your new shirt. The new day dawns. The DVDs go on the shelf, the magazine joins the pile on the coffee table, the game stays in its box because you don't like the gameplay (i.e. you got stuck on Level 1) and the shirt, after being washed goes into the closet, never to be worn again.

So that £103.50 has resulted in maybe 12 hours of gratification. And all you're left with if the memory of some crappy movies, a frustrating game, a magazine full of adverts you skipped past and a shirt that still smells of tequila / cologne / vomit / Red Bull.

Now we get to the rub: How many times in the next 5 years will you watch those DVDs, read that magazine, play that game or wear that shirt? Five? Ten? Twenty? The answer is probably five, at the very most. But do you sell them, or give them away, or the throw them away? No. They get put in a cupboard because of one of the following reasons;
1) it might be useful for something,
2) I'll read that again,
3) I can watch that movie whenever I want,
4) I have a nice shirt to wear when I go out.

But do you ever do any of those things? No. Because next Saturday you go out and spend £103.50 on another lot of crap you'll never use.

So, what is the alternative? Show a little restraint, keep the money, stay in the house all weekend and feel superior about how much money you're saving? That's an alternative. It might not be for everyone, but at least when you're 75 and the government pension is bringing in £50 a week, you won't have to lose your dignity by wearing a lurid green fleece and help pack shopping in Asda.

There is a lot to be said for not consuming. When you first take the plunge, you realise that you don't really miss wasting two hours watching some crank-the-handle-release-the-movie Hollywood shitbuster, or flicking past adverts for penis enlargers / overpriced stereo equipment / mobile phone bloody ringtones / sports cars / 0898 numbers. You can spend it doing something else that requires less money and will have some tangible result. Which is the problem. Not buying stuff is social suicide if you're a teenager. If you don't have the latest phone-the-size-of-a-grain-of-sand, complete with annoying ringtone, or latest £400 trainers, or a nose job, you may as well wander through town naked, spraying people with liquid manure from a bucket. But it works fine when you're in your late twenties / early thirties, married, a tiny version of you (or two), possibly a starter home and money is that thing you used to have.

The problem is that the economy is driven by how much stuff we buy. If we stopped buying things, the web of belief and probability that is the world of finance would grind to a messy halt. Which is fine in many ways but has all sorts of messy repercussions like rioting / looting / general lawlessness / wearing of leather / killing people for their shoes in an apocalyptic wasteland.

So, I guess that if leather is not your thing, you have the money and living on cabbage when you're 70 sounds OK, keep buying stuff. But for everyone else, don't buy stuff. You'll thank me later.

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