Why?

Why do we have 1 in 20 unemployed in the UK, vast swathes reliant on meagre benefits to survive and unprecedented inequality, with all the problems that entails?
When you posit the question that way, a considered answer requires an examination of our education system, of why minimum wage is below subsistence level for many, and of why we have a system of governance designed to protect the rich rather than enhance living standards for all.

Advertisements

The Quiet Atrocity of Collect Them All

Inspired by a recent poster’s suggestion that the everyday phrase ‘collect them all,’ “gave them the shivers,” I explore these three words which embody the thoughtlessly-excessive mindset cultivated by brands and perpetuated by the folk that buy them.

Following the Industrial Revolution, costs of production fell with more efficient methods of manufacture, and the advent of cheaper, lower-skilled labour. By the time of the Great Depression, over-supply had been a significant problem facing society and the birth of the throwaway age was born. To use that produced, we would have seasons of fashion, such that even if the car or skirt still performed its function, it would be discarded as owners wanted something newer. Keeping up with the Joneses in full swing, product quality began to dip to encourage rapid consumption and replacement.
Collect them all is the legacy of this movement. Rolling off the tongue easily, accompanied (in my head at least) by Tony the Tiger’s enthusiastic tones, it enters through the back door of the mind – without the slower-thinking frontal lobe having the opportunity to assess the toxic consequences its acceptance entails. 
From attempting (and never quite managing) to collect them all in my younger days, I’m attuned to the onerous obligation undertaken by the would-be collector. How many times have I wasted money and attentional energy in buying a packet of stickers or box of cereal in the aim of getting something new? Not too many more than the number of times I felt a crushing disappointment (remember, I was young!) in unpacking a(nother) duplicate. At what point do you realise the expenditure of additional resources is an exercise in futility? 
Often when people find themselves in debt – and I’ve been there, I assure you – it is the little day to day purchases that take their toll. Tiny, repeated, bad habits of over-expenditure and unthinking consumption, day in, day out, produce mountains over time. We can shift them, but it is never easy. 
Advertising’s tripartite phrase is the industrial capitalist’s utopia, encouraging us to buy things we don’t need, things we probably already have – under the illusion that we’ll use them all up and it will be okay. It makes sense; there’s no additional cost, right? In reality, our minds are so programmed to chase materialist novelty that a new thing comes along, persuading us to part with our hard-earned cash and relegating our part collections to needle-in-a-haystack-flea-market-tat, if not the bin, let alone a stressful I’m-going-to-complete-that-one-day-display positioned alongside all the others. We end up with more than we can use, adding to a culture of excess, and, doubtless where novelties from food purchases arise, the obesity problem. 
The choices thus far have been shown to affect us as purchasers, and us alone. There is a wider impact, that on the environment. 99% of the things we use involve the production of waste: effluent from factories, harmful pesticides and landfill, in varying ratios. As an advocate for minimising waste responsibly, the amount of resources caught up in frivolous, unnecessary purchases is scarcely imaginable. And even if it is recyclable, because of the manufacturing waste and the transportation pollution, recycling will never be better than not using resources in meaningless ways in the first place. 
The movement is long underway – if you’re reading this, you’re probably a part of it – to extract maximum value from our resources, to determine expenditures which will maximise joy, purpose, or both. Increasingly these arrive in the form of experiences. It is my hope that over time ideas such as ‘collect them all’ will be relegated to the scrap yard, first as unnecessary, and, finally in their resting place as parodies of an archaic system in which consumption appeared compulsory. 

Buckaroo in a Ghost Town

Last week, my iPod shuffle finally gave way. Eighteen months ago, it was around £20 and honestly, the temptation to throw it away was strong. The idea of returning it to store so they could charge it and try to find a fault didn’t seem like the best use of my time; I just didn’t want to do it. That said, it has a handy clip so it stays on the waistband of my shorts as I run. I love that it shuffles songs too; gone are the thousand decisions that made suffering possible by virtue of a screen. Considering it is under warranty, I waited until I had to visit the bank also, and took the time to return it earlier. The testing period quotation was half an hour. 

Half an hour to spend in the city centre of Wolverhampton. I’ve not done that in some time and had no interest in it today. Some time ago, I may have careered here and there, out one storefront and into another with a slightly embarrassing, shallow buzz I’d inevitably regret later; pointlessly moving from shop to shop was a five-days-a-week habit for my ex-wife and I. And even if I had managed not to waste money, I’d certainly wasted time. 
Not today. Today, I was oblivious to the bustle of the shopping centres and walks; buildings I’ve stepped into one hundred times or more held not the slightest motivation for me to do so again. I scarcely remember seeing a single one of them. Wolverhampton has become a ghost town to me. 
And so I passed the time peacefully, walking leisurely in the sun, stopping for a brief sit down on a deserted bench and enjoying a podcast. This wasn’t the mere absence of want, it was the absence of wanting to want. The search for pacifiers and novelty, gone. I am entirely content with what I have; I am Buckaroo, loaded up, threatening to spring if I’m laden with further possessions. I felt tranquil, similar to how I feel after meditation. 
As I returned to store, they quoted a further half an hour. Smiling, I replied, “No, thanks.” At the girl’s request, I jotted down my number. They keep things for two weeks apparently. I’ve a feeling they’ll keep this for some time longer. 

What If I’d Discovered Minimalism at 16?

What if I’d discovered minimalism at 16? I’d have practised it for 16 years by now, many more than the one and a bit in reality. It has provided the strength and inspiration to make real changes to things in my life that matter since I first read about it last year, when I realised it may help me to solve problems that had plagued me for years. 

I would never have learned to drive. Public transport has the potential to be brilliant; I love the idea of it. It affords us the opportunity to share an experience with others – even if it’s bad sometimes, contribute beyond ourselves and minimise environmental damage. There is no need to suffer the burden of possession in the way drivers do. The sacrifice of a few minutes’ travelling from your point of setting down to your destination provided an enjoyable opportunity for reflection, or time to reconnect and say an intimate goodbye in a way contorting your bodies to face one another renders impossible to replicate in car seats. The difference can be shown between the rising anger of the late driver as he feels he can direct his energy into making up lost time on one hand and the learned tranquility of the passenger who realises he has surrendered to Fate, and can perhaps catch an earlier bus tomorrow, on the other. 
Budgetarily, cars are astronomical – the initial cost compounded by the several taxes applied to their running and the additional resources in providing for their maintenance. Certainly, cars are more convenient for the most part than buses and trains, but when you add up the amount of time you have to work to pay for them, do they still offer the best time versus money solution?
The experience of driving offers a transparent bubble of irritation whereby we can see others as we sit impatiently in traffic with them, unable to meaningfully interact. It becomes about accomplishing our goal of arriving at our destination on time at all cost, a selfish attitude which breeds expectation and entitlement and leads to oft-seen road rage. (I write this as a city boy; I appreciate cars may feel more necessary elsewhere.)
I’d have stayed a bachelor. For over ten years, my ex-wife and I struggled to push water uphill in a dysfunctional relationship, despite both feeling we weren’t entirely happy from long before we married. This was settling. Settling into a marriage that wasn’t right, into a career that was sensible but not my mission in life, not my passion, because it’s what my parents did at that age, and provided, “a good start in life.” Our two children are miracles and I would never be without them now. However, these reflections disallow hindsight and their single tragedy would be the probable non-existence of my angels. 
I’d have saved, saved, saved. I realise now that I enjoy having money more than the things it can buy. In ten years, on my CeX account, I spent more than £20,000 on novelty gadgets, 99% of which added no value to my life, and the featured post on my blog, about my Diffusion retail regrets, illustrates a similar example. I enjoy higher quality experiences now: the foods I eat, the events I attend and the places I visit. I accept that it’s worth paying more sometimes to avoid stressors and have peace of mind, to quench a thirst in the summer sun. As a child, it was drilled into me to never spend on food and drink – rather material possessions, as, “at least you’ll have something to show for it.” Keeping company with this attitude has perhaps inflicted more disharmony upon my mind than any other. It set up a recipe for wasteful consumption which has taken many years to deconstruct and replace with something more meaningful, that makes me happy because it’s more in touch with who I am.
Would I turn the clock back? Probably not. I have many blessings in my life and I’d be unwilling to risk losing them to make improvements in some areas. My children are the deciding factor here. Were I not a father, I’d probably manipulate the hands of time back to the first months of the new millennium. As I write, I feel there’s something rather sad about that, if not too uncommon perhaps.
Having illuminated here a few examples, in reality just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the ways my life could have had more meaning down the years, I feel confident that continuing my journey as a minimalist will bring many years of intentional joy and purpose. I believe that as I get older I’ll look back on it as the seminal discovery in my life, and I’m so happy I discovered it when I did. What would life be like now if I hadn’t? That’s a piece I may write ahead, but as I run the reels of imagination on it they’re greyed in misery like a film noir of cliche. It creates a slightly uncomfortable feeling which is perhaps the biggest advocate for minimalism, the fear of being without it. 

My Interpretation of Core Minimalism

Minimalism is not counting for counting’s sake;

Minimalism is not an attention-seeking medium;

Minimalism is not a religion;

Minimalism is not practised by perfect preachers;

Minimalism is not a crusade against materialism, it requires no enmity;

Minimalism is not a parasite upon materialism, the movement can exist entirely independently to it;

Minimalism is not bound by rules; 

Minimalism is not the answer to all of life’s problems. 

***

Minimalism is a state of mind practicable by anyone, anywhere;

Minimalism is an awareness that greed causes mental suffering;

Minimalism is prioritising people above money and things it can buy;

Minimalism is interpretive and will have a different meaning for you than it does for me;

Minimalism is an opportunity to declutter your life, so that we may focus on what is truly important to us. 

Courage in the Shadowy Recesses

Excess has always been my biggest weakness; the twin ills of impatience and greed have plagued me from adolescence through to present day. Notwithstanding my grandmother’s insistence upon it, moderation has been an alien concept which, finally, slowly, is dissolving into familiarity. Time and again, I have acted in ways my conscious mind disagreed with, instead feeding the powerful subconscious drives, analogous to a junkie desperate for a fix. You know it’s bad for you, but you do it anyway. 

For fifteen years, I abused sugar to egregious proportions. In a typical day, I may have eaten five cake bars, four double deckers, a cylindrical Cadbury cake designed to serve 4-6 people and perhaps a large Bakewell tart. My ex-wife rightly tired of my binge eating, which left me unable to enjoy her wonderful cooking or engage intimately too many times, such was the bloating and nausea that followed this habit. Not to mention the money it would cost – around £150 a month in petrol station or convenience store extras. On more than one occasion, I binged and vomited. This was never my intention, just an unfortunate, if predictable, consequence. 
I suffer from a (at times) debilitating psychosomatic disorder which I am convinced is partly down to increased sensitivity to sugar resulting from gross overconsumption. I had wanted to kick this habit from late 2009 through to July 14th 2016, which was the first day of my cutting out of high-sugar treats altogether. I had failed hundreds of times; this would be different. It was my time and I would beat this. My condition improved almost immediately but returned in December and after a slow reintroduction became horrendous around six weeks ago – lo and behold, after increasing sugar through fruit and in an act of unconscious masochism, three days of cake and chocolate. I quit before a habit set in. I believe I’ve learned from it and so long as I remember what’s happened, I’ll never return to it – but the damage was done and I’m still paying for it today. 
Excess spilled into time management too; I began going to football matches more often in 2013, until it became home or away every single week, and family life majorly suffered. I had all these reasons why I went but the truth is I succumbed to excess again. 
Sickening levels of materialism came into play – something that has always bothered me though I couldn’t codify it until I read the excellent Stuffocation by James Wallman last May. Year upon year, I’ve fallen for the fashionable charms of Diffusion retail (see the featured post on my blog), and finally the depth of the problem hit home after I bought twenty pairs of jeans and trousers from there, one Saturday morning in Feb 2014, because they were so cheap I felt I had to. I had the money to waste, it was something psychological, something deeper that was pained by this spree. Excess won out again; it is important to label it as such, as when the foe is familiar, we can better recognise him. 
The Ancient Greek philosopher, Democritus, wrote, “The brave man is he who overcomes not only his enemies but his pleasures.” Bravery, traditionally, is regarded as action. Taming the lion, taunting the bull, confronting your boss, even playing chicken heading towards a cliff top edge. You may argue a level of stupidity in some or all of these actions, however all are motivated, in part at least, as a show of one’s bravery, one’s courage. 
Yet, I suggest to you that a deeper courage exists, in the shadowy recesses of our minds: the courage to control our desires and exercise discipline. A thousand rockstars now passed on will attest to the difficulty of this, and the more abundant your resources that can enable abuse of for example, alcohol, drugs and sex, the harder the battle to say no because the here and now financial cost provided no practical constraint. Less extreme examples pervade our everyday lives; having just one piece of cake; sticking to the three cigarettes a day as you continue to wind down and quit; staying faithful to your partner when temptation presents itself; adhering to the shopping list as you pass the treats aisle…the list is endless. 
Controlling these excesses changes how others see us; we project strength over weakness, and to some degree, that matters because how others relate to us informs our self esteem. Most of us, me included, want to be liked, respected. More importantly though, it changes how we see ourselves, how much we respect ourselves and when we attain the right level of that, we are able to set and maintain meaningful boundaries with our desires and with other people. This is the sort of discipline that begins with a series of isolated decisions and slowly builds momentum to achieve that mental detachment and assuredness that leaves you the master of your own happiness, the key to which resides in your own pocket. 
For me, the battle goes on and I see now it will always be a case of reigning in desire until such desires wilt under the strength of habitual discipline. I know that I can be around sugary treats and have zero temptation to partake of them; I have gotten there again quite quickly, and this gives me the ongoing belief that I can take control in other areas of my life. The continuing practise of minimalism, too, is a strong ally in that it provides repeated chances to exercise discipline. Saying no to the rapid-thinking emotional centre of the brain and retraining habits that lead to unhappiness are two of the hardest things we can do in practice, and when we do them, the simplicity and happiness we are rewarded with is indescribable, utterly without compare. 

Why I Love My Pre-owned iPhone 5S

Eighteen months ago, in CeX, Clapham, I bought my 5S. It was in fairly good condition – it was hard to find one without cracked glass somewhere – and it worked. It doesn’t overheat, reset itself too often or lose charge in minutes. 

In the seven years before the iPhone came out, I had owned perhaps 130 mobile phones. I’d buy one, trade it, put a little cash down and get another, again and again and again. Always searching for that novelty value, knowing anything more meaningful would never surface. It was entirely devoid of purpose. Then, all mobile usage was novelty for me. I didn’t really need to be texting and calling too often, I didn’t need to play any games and I have never been a big camera user. 
Then came the iPhone and in it’s effortless superiority, it killed the phone-changing game overnight. It also spawned an utter addiction in basking in its alluring glow for hour after hour every day. Instead of changing on a fortnightly basis, phones lasted longer, with the occasional switch to Samsung Galaxy or Blackberry models, until the newest one came out. My name was on that. At its worst, I had five mobile contracts at one time. Paying them off long after I’ve stopped using and sold the handset began to grate after a while. 
Those wasteful days resurface only as lessons learned, remembered with no shortage of bafflement as to what the hell I was doing. I need my phone more than ever now. I have used eBay often, and my 5S holds sharp advantages here over Android phones, let alone the dying Blackberry. It is a little quicker to use, and less prone to viruses, leaving me less prone to continually worrying my data may be stolen or worse. I use my 5S to write, connect meaningfully with people and log in to websites to reorder medication, check bills, engage with online banking and play two or three games I’ve had for years and still love. 
At the same time, the iPhone 7 and its derivatives hold no sway for me whatsoever. They may be a little quicker, a little bigger, a little more impressive looking if you like that sort of thing, but I’d much rather have the money saved and the knowledge that if my 5S goes wrong, it’ll cost a fraction of the £700+ an iPhone 7 would cost. The fear of smashing the screen would dissuade me from using it freely; rather than owning the possession, it would own me. Once gripped by the Diderot effect of spiralling consumption, I am free. I will never go back.