by Heather Kallevig
The American Dream was established on principals of freedom, equality, and the pursuit of happiness. Initially these concerned religion, commerce, and day-to-day activities. As time wore on, the pursuit of happiness became more about property, a nice home, and items to fill that home. The 20th century is marked by many accomplishments, failures, and trends. One of the major trends was consumption.
Especially during the second half of the century, Americans’ buying and spending increased at a shocking rate. As wealth spreads globally, so does consumption and awareness of the problems it creates.
In the 21st century we are seeing the start of a new trend, one that celebrates minimalism. We are attracted to quality products, conscious capitalists, and tiny houses. This perhaps may be the inception of a new trend, one that is healthier for people, our future, and our planet. If you are considering a minimalist take on life, below are three benefits of this lifestyle.
Each year 35 million cell phones land in the garbage, 25 billion Styrofoam cups are not recycled, and the average American is responsible for 65 pounds of clothing tossed in the landfill. These are the result of a consumptive society.
Think about the activities you participated in over the past week. Now consider the items that were used and thrown away. Whether it was disposable food containers, plastic decorations for a party, or bags at the grocery store. (The average American uses 300 plastic grocery bags a year!) These are only a few examples of the items we are creating, consuming, and tossing. If everyone in the planet lived at the consumptive level of Americans, we would need 3 planet Earths to support the resource need for goods!
Next consider the items you’ve purchased in the past year. How many of those things do you use on a daily basis? Weekly? Monthly? If you haven’t used it in the past six months, do you really need it?
World household consumption increased fourfold in the years between 1960 and 2000. 60% of this consumption took place in the US and Europe – regions that account for only 12% of the world’s population. The consumption class is a group that has been growing since the 1960s. As developing nations gain technology and wealth, the consumption class will continue to grow, stressing our already over-taxed resources.
Minimalism is a growing response to the negative impacts of over consumption. By choosing a minimalist lifestyle, you decrease the goods you purchase, and minimize the items you need. If everyone adopted a minimalist lifestyle, it would have major environmental benefits for our planet.
George Carlin, a famous comedian, had an infamous bit about “stuff” and the encumbrance of having more. As he sardonically stated, “The meaning of life – trying to find a place to keep your stuff.”
Minimalists choose a different meaning of life.
Whether its clothes, tools, gadgets, or trinkets – people have things they’re attached to. The problem with this attachment is you cannot get away. When the time comes to relocate, whether it’s to a new house, state, or country – the more items you have, the more stressful the move!
You also have to spend more time and money taking care of these items. Consider the amount of time you spend sweeping, dusting, cleaning and repairing. Now cut that time because you have fewer things. You can instead enjoy yourself doing something fun outside with your family, friends, or pets. Using the same idea, reflect on how much money you have spent on items you brought home, stashed somewhere, and soon forgot. If you had not wasted money on more “things” you may have instead applied those funds to travel, charity, or built up a healthy savings account.
Choosing a minimalist lifestyle can be liberating. Decreasing your “stuff” gives you more freedom with space, freedom with time, and freedom with money.
Shorten the workweek
The American public works harder than any preceding generation. According to the Center for American Progress, 85.8% of males and 66.5% of females clock in more than 40 hours per week. While 134 countries worldwide have laws regulating the workweek length, the US does not. Americans are also taking fewer holidays and sick days. The image below by the Center for Economic and Policy Research compares work days and holidays across several developed countries. The US is at the bottom level of the chart.
So why are Americans working so hard? You may assume it’s the passing down of the age-old American work ethic, but researchers are finding new reasons. Many argue the increase in work is a result of our consumerist culture and our growing consumption class. The more things people want to buy, the more they must work to afford them.
By choosing a minimalist lifestyle, you can live with much less money and can significantly decrease the time spent in the workplace. The overall health benefits of this decision are invaluable.
The minimalist movement is gaining the attention of people at all wealths, ages, and cultures. Whether you are attracted to the freedom, the affordability, or the opportunity to lower your footprint, minimalism is a choice with innumerable benefits. By reconsidering our values and choosing to deny consumerism, we break away from an existence tied to “stuff” for a more fulfilling, enriching lifestyle.
The minimalist movement is growing, and there are many helpful leaders to follow. Check out The Minimalists for more helpful information.
In the end, choose simple living. Choose Minimalism.
20 Something Finance
Center for American Progress
Center for Economic and Policy Research
Center for a New American Dream
Facing the Future
National Wildlife Federation
World Watch Institute