Looking in the Mirror: How Minimalism & Localism Force Us to Be Honest with Ourselves

I’m not a minimalist. I like stuff. I like shopping (well, I like shopping for office supplies and books; I don’t like shopping for clothes). But lately I’ve been trying to get rid of a lot of my stuff through this crazy little book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.


I wrote about the book yesterday, but I didn’t mention its key theme — to minimalize by touching everything we own and asking the question: “Does this spark joy?” The idea is to get rid of things that don’t make us happy, and the theory is that, when we’ve done that, we’ll be happier (and tidier) in turn.


So how does minimalism relate to localism? On the surface, it’s the opposite — localism involves buying things, and minimalism involves getting rid of things. But as I minimized my space, I found that they have a lot in common. When I had to get rid of kitchen utensils for foods I don’t really know how to make, or the dress I bought only because I was sad, I was forced to confront my own attempts to deal with my feelings and depression by buying things. And now, as I try to find responsible ways (consignment, thrifting, recycling, etc.) to deal with my leftover stuff, I’m reminded to slow my consumption and not get to this point again.


The same thing happened when I prioritized buying locally — the fact that I had to actually think about where to purchase things led to my buying a lot fewer of them. In the moments between reflexively pulling into Target or McDonalds or wherever, my rational thoughts had time to take over, and many times I realized that I was shopping to fill an emotional void, not because I needed what I’d intended to buy. Localism addresses that void by giving us time to think (and by making purchases more meaningful when we do make them); The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up addresses it by asking us to confront the emotions our possessions bring out in us, and to ask ourselves why.


While learning about the tidying process, I was reminded of The Minimalists, two men who visited Church Street Coffee & Books on their book tour and absolutely packed the house. (I’m not exaggerating; I’m probably lucky the fire marshal didn’t come in for coffee that night.) The fact that so many people show up to hear the Minimalists speak is partly because they do a fantastic job of running a book tour, but it’s mainly because lots of us are interested in finding ways to live with less. We’re beginning to understand that the possessions we bought to fulfill us and make our lives better might actually be doing the opposite.


I was creeping around on Instagram and found out that The Minimalists have developed a game to help us get rid of our stuff. The idea is simple: You find a partner to play with, and on the first day of the month, you get rid of one thing. Then you Instagram it with the hashtag #minsgame. On the second day of the month, you each get rid of two things, and the third day three things, and so on. It’s pretty easy at first, but by day 30 it’s more challenging. Marie Kondo is also walking people through her method using Instagram; you can find her at @konmari_method.


Gimmicks like this might seem like silly ways to deal with our consumerism, but I think anything we can do to help is a good thing. We’re very lucky to live in a culture of abundance, but that means we have to consciously fight to be mindful. It’s easy to get numb. It’s hard to wake up. Sometimes it’s a book, or a blog, or even a hashtag, that helps us to do it.


Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist: Think Independent, Buy Local and Reclaim the American Dream, creator of 30 Days of Local Praise and co-founder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @crollwagen.

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