College soup. I’m in it, my friends are in it, my enemies are in it, and my professors, to some extent, are also in it. We are flavoring some kind of knowledge stew. Marinating.
You’d be lying if you said college didn’t change you. Sure, maybe it made your already-perfect self better. But I don’t think so. College takes you, whatever kind of vegetable you are, and throws you into a pot.
You are a broccoli. In the stew are broccoli like you. In the stew are also carrots, cauliflower, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes, and I don’t know, maybe some beef or pasta. You’re tossed in the same water and stock. You’re all coated with the same herbs as your neighbor, but you are a broccoli, for chrissakes.
You got up and left your little broccoli family, your broccoli school, your broccoli neighborhood. You left your broccoli friends and broccoli job. Now you’re just a part of the stew.
Stewing. Stewing can be a lot of things. Stewing is:
Floating in the stew, trying to figure out what you’re floating in
Trying to bump next to other broccoli
Getting caught on a carrot or a potato and deciding that maybe you’d like to be a carrot or a potato
Constantly forgetting that you were a vegetable before you got stuck in the stew
Tossing in other flavors — maybe if you just added enough rosemary or sage, it would taste more like the kind of stew you like
You might decide that you don’t like the flavors you’re absorbing. Maybe, you hate them so much that you jump into freezing cold water and try to get uncooked. Maybe, you just completely leave the stew and come back to your broccoli home, pretending it never happened.
Or you decide you like the stew very much. The stew wouldn’t be the same without you and all the other vegetables and other foods that swim with you. The flavors are all unique and perfect just the way they are, and you’re so excited to be marinating in it.
Finally, you break free from the stew for a while. You meet your broccoli family and friends again. They greet you, because you look great! You look cooked! But they hug you, and they realize… ew. You smell like a green bean. And is that… ew! Tomato! And they push you back out because you’re just another one of the stewies now. You don’t belong with the broccoli anymore.
But hey, even though your broccoli family doesn’t support you, there are other broccoli in the stew going through the same thing. And besides, you have cauliflower and carrots and pasta to help you through it! They’re great, too.
You’re not gonna forget that you were a broccoli, but you’re not gonna become a green bean. You’re just part of the stew now, and you will create more and more stew as you grow.
Sleep refused to let go of me that morning. I was six minutes late to my nine a.m. How I stumbled through grammar review and summarizing techniques was beyond me.
I then descended from my comfortable, dangerous bed — because it had claws on the bad days, and it did not let me go. I did not quite understand how I had gotten to the floor, but I stood there nonetheless, and I let my feet guide me to the window.
A thick fog coated the trees rolling over the hills before me. Some of them had already turned, fiery reds and oranges you can’t capture in crayon scribbles or brushstrokes. And I knew it was going to rain.
So I donned my thick green sweater and walked to the coffee shop, the sound of the espresso machine and the scent of fresh brew holding me up. I don’t remember what I ordered, only that the barista seemed flustered because they were all out of cardboard sleeves.
I let the hot cup burn the palms of my hands; it was warm and I felt cold, I felt nothing. I held the door for a man who had some pep in his step, and he said “I hope you have a great day,” and I nodded once with a bob of my head, and I stepped back out into the fog.
The walk back to my room might have been the longest walk of my life, but it wasn’t so bad, because I had company in the elevator. A quiet girl silently acknowledged me, absorbed in her music, and I wanted to ask her how she’d dyed her hair rainbow colors, but I didn’t think it polite to ask. I told her “I hope you have a great day,” and she nodded once with a bob of her head, and I stepped out of the elevator.
My legs brought me to the door, to the room, to the soft bean bag chair on the floor. It didn’t take much time to decide what music to play — something loud and female and punk, something beautiful. I collapsed into the chair. Thirty minutes. You’re allowed thirty minutes to feel.
That was when the rain started. It rose up over the music, so much so that I put my coffee down to open the window. I scooted everything over so I could sit on the windowsill, staring out at the tiny figurines that were cars and buildings and people, and I took in everything the day had been so far. Everything the day before had been.
The words of the song seemed to taunt me, but I wasn’t upset because they were so familiar to my heart that morning. I wondered what he was thinking. I wondered why he had lied to me, why he hadn’t done it sooner.
And then it was time for my group discussion, so I finished my coffee and crept off the windowsill and sat down at my desk to discuss racism and self-determination and performance activists. I’m sure I said something of value, but I don’t know, because my head was under water.
(Modeled after Toward Amnesia by Sarah Van Arsdale)
For those who’ve been following me for a while, you might know that I’m mid-way through my first semester of university. My primary area of study is in mass media and communication, and lately, I’ve done a lot of thinking on the kind of media I consume and how it affects me.
Every part of my education is completely online. Yes, I’m living on campus, but I’m going through posted video lectures, PDF readings, zoom discussions, and countless links every single day. I never realized how much of my education up to this point had been through face-to-face interaction.
I’m an independent learner. I like to take home information, sit with it, analyze it, and come back having understood it. From there, I can work with it and answer questions about it. I find it strange, though, that I’m struggling to do that same thing when all of my work is online. I feel that now, the only way I learn is by internalizing all of the media my professors and instructors throw at me. When you’re taking 15-17 credit hours, that can be quite a lot dumped on you.
Some of the positives, though, outweigh the negatives. Because my courses are loosely related, I’m able to link topics like identity to leadership practices and media studies. A documentary I watched for my American Identities class helped me communicate in a discussion led on sexual assault awareness. Online/synchronous learning allows you to do something we don’t have time for in physical classes: I can absorb the information, reflect on it, and apply it to the rest of my knowledge.
Every day, we’re spinning a web of the media we consume. How we feel about the information in our minds shapes how we perceive the world. If I only read my Twitter feed, my world will be all about Donald Trump (if you looked at Twitter right now). If I only watch Ratched on Netflix, my world will be spooky and badass.
But something I haven’t been doing, and something a lot of my fellow students aren’t doing, is stepping back from the media. How much can you consume before it becomes your whole world? Am I going to return for winter break, only to lecture everyone on how to diagnose a conflict and conjugate French verbs in imparfait?
There’s something to be said for academic immersion. I cannot relay how grateful I am to be in an environment where everyone’s priority is on learning and becoming better versions of themselves. My friends have big dreams, and they want to make the universe better, and I have so much respect for nearly every person I meet here. But we are not just our studies.
Social media targets mental health in such a positive way right now. It’s great! You can find any number of resources for hotlines, or how to practice non-fluffy self care, or mindfulness activities. What’s missing from the conversation is how the best course of action regarding mental, emotional, and dare I say physical needs is to rest. It might sound silly, but resting is the one thing we overlook when we ask, “how do I feel better?”
Current society (in broad terms, yes) prioritizes doing. Doing anything. So when faced with an issue regarding our health, our first reaction is probably, “what can I do?”
Listen well: there is nothing you have to do. Humans are so bad at intuitive healing these days. Honestly, sit down, feel your body, listen to your mind, let your emotions sit. Slow down. Ask yourself these questions:
What is my body saying I need? How can I manage that right now?
Are there thoughts in my head? Is there a way I can organize them?
What am I feeling?
Why am I feeling this way?
Is there something wrong?
Am I just fine, and this is a check-in?
Have my habits changed lately? Is this positive or negative change?
If you don’t think you’ll answer these questions without biased, consult someone close to you. Often, the people who love us are the people who notice the most minor changes in demeanor. Maybe they’ll have something to offer about concerns or triumphs in your life.
Give yourself respect and love in trying times. Remember that it’s okay to feel kinda crappy. It’s okay to have things to celebrate, too. Allow yourself to feel and just exist, because you are human, and that’s all you can do sometimes. Much love.
Recently, I watched a Ted Talk called How Culture Drives Behaviours with Julien S. Bourrelle. Julien discusses how in different countries, people behave differently. They display different types of affection, facial expressions, activities, etcetera.
It got me thinking, you know, what is the midwestern culture? I’ve lived in the Kansas City area all my life. Surely I should know what my own culture is, right?
A simple Google search told me that aspects of culture are as follows: symbols, language, norms, values, and artifacts. I’m going to break down each aspect and describe to you what exactly my culture is, and what I can take from it.
-Nonverbal symbols: are gestures. Midwestern Americans greet each other by a high five with friends, a hug with loved ones, and a handshake for business-like encounters. I typically flash a peace sign, or give a little fist bump. I’m not really one for physical contact, which is usually off-putting for my fellow friends and family.
-A prominent American symbol: is the American flag. Duh. And often, in American schools, you’ll stand every morning, put your hand over your heart, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Every morning. For me, this action has always been too militaristic and strange to wrap my head around, so I sit down. (Not to disrespect the Armed Forces, but because it’s weird.)
-Certain religious symbols: are common to the U.S., mainly the cross, or the crescent moon, or the star of David. You might also see a pentacle or five-pointed star with a circle around it, or any other number of religious markings. I can only imagine how alarming it would be to arrive here from, say, Morocco, where the primary religion is Islam.
-The American attitude: is this: “If you don’t speak English, I’m offended.” Now, I hate that, but it’s true. I swore to learn at least two other languages before I graduated college. So far, I’m 1 down, 1 in progress. But many Americans never learn anything but English. The only place I’ve encountered such diversity is Disneyworld, where you could hear anything from Mandarin Chinese to Portuguese to Arabic. I’ve never understood why America is so set on speaking English, which came from… England. And why did we omit the English accent? America, you’re dumb.
–Noise: Are you in public? Then you really should be quiet. Unless you see someone you know personally, in which case, it’s totally acceptable to go, “Ohmygosh, hiii!!!!!!” But if your child is too loud, you should do something about that. But not too loudly. However, it’s fine to mow your lawn at 6 a.m. Yes, a.m. and p.m. Because we like being confused. Anyway, you can be loud at a concert and at bars, but only certain concerts and bars. And if you’re at a restaurant where they aren’t playing music so loud you can’t hear yourself, you may only speak in mime. Got it?
–Laws: There is only one: move to the right side of the street, the stairs, the road, politics—imeanwhat?
–Table Manners: Elbows on the table are usually considered poor behavior, but everyone does it anyway. Don’t talk with your mouth full, but everyone does it anyway. Eat too much food, feel terrible afterward, but everyone does it anyway. Oh yeah, and when you’re done with your meal, crumple up your used paper napkin and toss it into your plate. (But always pass dishes to the RIGHT.)
–Sexuality: All forms of sex are wildly appreciated and accepted, but NEVER TALK ABOUT IT. NEVER. Don’t mention sex in the classroom (except to explain what parts do what), don’t mention it with your family, don’t talk about it with your friends, don’t read about it, don’t even THINK about it. Unless you’re watching television. But you better not be a virgin in your 20s??? Because then you’re a prude???
–Body Image:Be skinny. No, not that skinny, because you don’t want to look like you have anorexia. It’s okay if you have anorexia, but just don’t look like you do. Look a twinge above it. Your ideal weight is hungry. Oh, but that’s only if you’re a girl. Because no one wants a man to look like a stick! Men must have MUSCLES. They must be INTIMIDATING and STRONG. Being weak makes you less masculine. But also, you should be sensitive. However, on social media, we’ll use #thickthighssavelives and market our clothing brands as plus-sized (though sizes only go up to 10).
-Productivity: Basically, always be doing shit. 25/8, do stuff, all the time, and post that you’re doing stuff, and tell your neighbor you’re doing stuff, and train your kids to be involved in 8 sports and be president of the student council and write three books by the time they’re twelve and meal prep like a bawse (even though meal prepping can take more time when you spend hours making pretty boxes to post on pinterest). BUT make time for those leisure photos at the beach! Have cookouts so you can show off all the money you spent on the perfectly manicured lawn that your dog will destroy.
-Money: Be so rich that you can afford a Tesla, which will make you feel better because it’s environmentally friendly, even though the electricity that charges your gas-free car probably uses natural gases anyway! Own at least three gaming consoles, never play any of them. Use #blessed when you post about the new Coach purse you bought with a credit card today. Be in GALLONS of debt but pretend you’re thriving. Buy “gluten free apples.”
-Education: You must get a college degree, and your entire middle and high school careers must be focused on getting a perfect ACT score. Take all advanced classes, be in the NHS and the SAC and the NRA — wait, is that the right acronym? — because if you don’t, you’ll never be on the dean’s list at Oxford and you’ll fail and you won’t make enough money to buy that expensive car and that house in Hollywood Hills and you’ll fail your parents and your children and you won’t hate your job enough to stay just financially stable enough to be trusted to have an insurmountable pile of debt that you’ll pawn off onto your children when you die from a heart attack that nobody knew you would have because you claimed to only eat things that came from God’s green earth #savetheturtles. Or something.
-Phone: The only acceptable device is the iPhone that came out this week. It it came out a month ago, it’s trash. It’s disgusting. But we’ll continue to make fun of you for buying the new iPhone because it looks dumb. You can’t win.
-Car: Like I said, Tesla. Or really anything that makes you look like you probably have a private jet to go with that, too.
-Food: Avocado toast! $7 Creme brulee latte with almond milk, but wait, don’t use almond milk, it’s bad for the environment! Coconut milk? No, there’s too much fat. Fat is bad. Use cashew milk. But make it yourself, because you don’t know if those are sustainably sourced cashews. Are you sure those coffee beans didn’t come from slavery? Fast food is the devil! Eat it really fast in your car, alone. Tell no one. Say you’re gluten free to make yourself more interesting at parties.
DISCLAIMER: This is SATIRE! I know I get a little joke-y on this blog, but rarely this much. So please take this with the teensy-tiniest grain of salt possible. I could rant about U.S. capitalism and glorification principles all day long. I hope you enjoyed. Please share this with that one angry uncle who always complains about the far left — it would quite honestly make my day.
If you’re on Pinterest or Tumblr, you have probably seen the “dark academia” aesthetic. I came across a few posts, and I realized that DA is something I’ve been a part of for my whole life. I’d like to explain with a list (because lists are just a part of this blog, and you know it).
Reading Alice in Wonderland, deciding I didn’t like the ending, and writing my own where Absolem convinces Hatter to jump through a portal and visit Alice instead
Filling notebooks with stickers, receipts, little scraps of pretty fabric or flowers, and any thought that pops into my head
Making a cup of tea or coffee when something doesn’t feel right
Always focusing better when it’s raining or gloomy outside
Loving long walks and picnics
Craving second-hand bookstores and thrift shops because I like to imagine the lives of the people who owned the things I purchase there
Keeping movie tickets, programs, concert bracelets, and railway cards in a lockbox to preserve the memories
A shelf of photo albums from my childhood
Late-night research about psychology, ancient architecture, or what it would be like to live in 18th-century London
Smiling at animals and calling them beautiful
Hearing “mystery of love” by Sufjan Stevens and realizing it’s an anthem for life
Planning anything and everything, down to the last detail, but always changing something someone else planned because it’s creative expression
My favorite color is dark forest/army green, and most of my room is denim, green, gray, and cozy brown
Giving each of my plants names, and some of them represent my friends, so if they aren’t doing well I check on the friend
Doing nothing on road trips but listening to classical music and staring out the window
Owning more jackets than any other item of clothing
Preferring to walk or bike rather than drive
Hating crowded places, but liking to watch crowds from a distance to see how other people interact
Keeping a frantic, giant mountain of different ideas in my notes app (but very well organized)
Hiding polaroids and small objects I find on nature walks in bags and jacket pockets, not finding them till later
Owning far too many pens, but organizing them by type… ordering refills of the ones I like
Insisting on visiting a city strip mall just so I can examine the Japanese paper in that one stationery store, holding a freshly-purchased notebook to my cheek because the pages are so soft
Learning better when I hear something out loud, rather than see or touch it
Spending hours staring out my window while clouds gather in the sky and a storm pours over the world
Watching the entire Harry Potter series every fall, making some of the foods they have in the Great Hall
Feeling guilty about keeping books I love because other people should read them, too
Highlighting quotes I love in “Looking for Alaska,” specifically the quote that says “NEVER USE A HIGHLIGHTER IN MY BOOKS!”
I’m going to stop here… but I think I’ll do a part 2 later because I really enjoyed making this list! Comment any dark academia things you do in your life and why you like it. 🙂
I do not pretend that I am “more woke” or “less white” than other white people. As a person with a readership and following, and as someone with white privilege, I’m using my platform to speak about the issue everyone sees but does not recognize. If you are a person of color who has more to add to the conversation, please do so in the comments below, and I will edit this message. Do not be afraid to correct me, as it is not my place to presume or understand your suffering and oppression.
One of the most influential messages I’ve seen in recent days was a video from Chaz Smith, who became popular on Vine from his funny “pronouncing things incorrectly” videos. Now on YouTube, Smith took a break from his usual comedic content to make a statement about 3 things white people can do right now to help fight racism.
I find myself struggling between wanting to help and not wanting to step too far. After all, it is not a white person’s place to speak for people of color.
It is not a white person’s place to speak for people of color.
However, what Smith said in this video really struck me and helped me realize something. “When white people speak to other white people about problems that people of color have, your words have greater weight and influence with them. You have influence, or a privilege (white privilege), that I, as a Black man, may not have with them.”
Let that sink in for a moment. There are so many white people who do not listen to people of color. The ones who do? It’s our job to pass the message along to the people who won’t listen. No, we do not claim to know or understand the prejudice, violence, and injustice toward Black culture or identity. But when their voices are not heard (and they aren’t being heard), we as people in a society from a place of privilege MUST speak louder.
Choosing not to speak up makes you part of the problem. Yes! Don’t click away. If you do not show with your words and actions that you are against the problem, then you are part of the problem. Not choosing a “side” means that you are choosing the side of the oppressors. Not acting means that you are fine with the hate that is being carried out through speech, media, action, or non-action.
A quote (I don’t have an original source for this, so if someone could help me I will edit this later) I’ve been seeing lately is, “It is not enough to not be racist. You must be actively anti-racist.” I try to think about this from a minority point of view.
As a queer person, comments like “I’m sorry people don’t believe your identity,” or “It’s so sad that 12 transgender people have died of violence in 2020” do not comfort me. So if I say, “I’m sorry George Floyd couldn’t breathe,” that does nothing. Stop feeling sorry, white people. Start acting sorry. Start being angry.
I’ve compiled resources and quotes from friends and from activists who have spoken out about this issue. All of their social media links will be posted next to the content. Thank you to anyone speaking about this.
“You came to this land to escape torture, injustice, and slavery from your king. You then inflicted all of that on anyone who was different from you. Anyone who got in your way. America is a land of hypocrites. How many have to suffer before you realize it and make a change?”
In tears, she said this: “I just watched the video of one of the bystanders who was standing there fighting with policeman, to try to help George Floyd. That grown man, when he was dying, called for his mama. Called for his mother. And it didn’t start with George Floyd, and it’s not gonna end there. Unless you all speak up because this has been going on for years. So don’t, with this fake outrage, if you don’t really mean it.”
Student Haleigh Davis:
“dear all lives matter, anybody that supports you whole heartedly is kind of crazy. take this for an example. if you have five fingers and one of them is broken, you don’t pay attention to all five fingers. pay attention to the one that needs it the most. and in case you did not know, the broken finger is the african american community. our lives matter to not all, and that is sad, and it should not be the case. some people think that we are treated and discriminated all the same when that’s not the case. you’ll never hear about a cop beat up a white school shooter. you’ll only see that when an african americans are doing nothing to harm the country. we cant play cops and robbers (tamir rice), you’ll see us pinned to the floor for an accusation of counterfeit money , and you’ll even see us get killed for no reason (emmett till). these are racial crimes , and the cops get away with it. that is it. that is why we fight. that is why we will not stay silent. Floyd was the last straw, and you’ll hear us roar.”
What you can do:
Sign and share petitions on change.org. There are several listed for Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others who have been wronged by the justice system.
Post about it on social media without “worrying that it will ruin your feed.” Your precious Instagram feed doesn’t matter right now; people do. Speak about it in an educated way. Don’t make it about you, and don’t expect someone to congratulate you for “supporting Black people.” The world should have been doing that already.
Donate to your local bail fund. Kansas City has one, but do some searching to see if there’s one near your city. It’s important to contribute if you can, because these funds help get those who have been detained without cause. Well, the cause is prejudice, and we won’t stand for it.
Listen. White people do too much talking and not enough listening. Listen to your POC friends, family, and influencers.
When you’re considering where to get a bite to eat, think of Black-owned small businesses first. They need your support right now. And with the pandemic, you should probably think of small businesses first anyway.
Reach out to any Black LGBTQ+ youth in your community right now. This specific group is at high risk for suicide. Most LGBTQ+ hate crimes are against Black trans women. Give them a hand, and tell them you believe and love them. That’s what they need right now.
Finally, keep in mind that your friends and family might have dissenting opinions about what’s going on… In a time where hate runs rampant, meet disagreements with love and understanding. Your grandmother may be upset at the destruction of her hometown, and you may think the riots are justified. If someone is projecting hateful speech, and you disagree, choose to listen to those projecting loving speech. Don’t give hateful people a platform.
I know that I am not the end-all be-all opinion holder on this subject matter. Most of this content is passing on what people of color have said – because I have a platform, I feel obligated to continue to push the narrative. It would be wrong if I didn’t take advantage of my website to speak up about this. Please, please, please. Above all else. Love.
Note: This essay has been edited from its original format as an academic assignment. I thought it fit for my blog. All citations are below – because this was written for a class, they are in MLA.
Imagine for a moment that you make a six figure salary. You can afford five-dollar lattes, designer clothes, and a half-a-million dollar home. Do you feel happy? Maybe not. Keeping up with material demands creates guilt, shame, and anger. You join a machine you didn’t design, and you wake up regretting it. With no other option, you choose minimalism. You give up the pursuit of stuff and accept the pursuit of life. This shows why people find minimalism so attractive. Creator of “The Minimalists” Joshua Fields Millburn decided not to take part in a corporate setting. “I realized working 60–80 hours a week to make the money to buy more superfluous stuff didn’t fill the void I felt inside. It only brought more debt and anxiety and fear and loneliness and guilt and stress and paranoia and depression” (Millburn). A minimalist lifestyle improves financial stability, increases emotional well-being, and contributes to healthy habits.
Picture it: you can’t deal with the mess in the house. You break down and decide to go through the closets, kitchen cabinets, couch cushions, and basement shelves. You might get tired, but the reward of decluttering goes beyond having a clean house. When decluttering, you can find lost things, save money by not needing to re-purchase found items, and make money by renting extra space or selling items you don’t need (“The Psychological”). You can sell found items or bring them to second-hand stores. Selling items like furniture or baby gear takes time, but it blesses someone else (“The Psychological”). Not only does living with less reward you, but for many, it offers a sense of financial freedom.
One blogger who desires to reach financial independence asked an intriguing question. “What if you had nothing? How much simpler would life be? Nothing to clean, nothing to fix, nothing to solve. Just you and your time to do whatever you want. How much more time would you have to pursue your dreams?” (route2fi). Some might gasp at eliminating responsibility and ownership. Have you ever heard a homeless person say they like homelessness? Someone in a comfortable $300,000 home might not fathom that. It may seem far-fetched to live with nothing, but people do it. Imagine what could happen if all your belongings sat secured in one backpack. With fewer bills to pay and less worry about debt, you might find more time to focus on the things that matter.
The possibility of feeling fulfilled while living with less may surprise some, but route2fi agrees. He said he traveled to places where the villagers seemed happy, even while living on $3 a day (route2fi). People below the poverty line often feel more joy than a person making six figures. These people live happy lives because they get what they need. That makes common American complaints like your McDonald’s order taking too long seem ridiculous. If someone with so little can experience joy, why can’t we?
When trying to see this joyful quality of minimalism, some try to create it by purchasing new items. Buying more to look like you own less doesn’t make sense. New minimalists make this huge mistake often — they throw out all their clothes and go out and buy a whole new set that looks more minimal. How about wearing clothes that make you feel confident and comfortable, which you already own? “Reducing a wardrobe down to a few painfully elegant cashmere-cotton blend tops is only really possible if you can put down at least $1,000 in one go for the creation of your ‘capsule wardrobe’” (Fagan). Americans started 2019 with over $1 trillion in debt, and the average American household in 2020 carries $9,000 in credit card debt (Comoreanu). Our culture perpetuates wasting money. To see how, visit this infographic to see how a person could spend 8 ½ years of their lives shopping (“Why We Need”).
Not only does materialism damage your wallet, but “people scoring high on materialism are more prone to compare themselves to wealthier others, this may lead to envy and a sense of inequity and anger, which also leads to diminished life satisfaction and happiness” (Lee, Michael S. W., and Christie Seo Youn Ahn). Retail therapy? It doesn’t work, at least not for long. The idea of purchasing something seems more attractive than the purchase. Buying stuff doesn’t make us happy. Often, we buy things because someone else did. Keeping up with the Joneses never ends — consumerism makes us insatiable.
As human beings, most of us want to stay in a positive emotional state. That desire to achieve true happiness can become entangled with the desire to compare. In his New Yorker cartoon, “Only the rich can afford this much nothing,” artist Mick Stevens illustrates that desire well. You don’t need to buy minimalism: how counter-intuitive. Minimalism encourages contentment with current possessions. People will get rid of their stuff to buy designer stuff, replacing it and showing Instagram. Even if they feel like minimalists, they take part in hidden consumerism. They still keep up with the next guy. The minimalism decor trend became so pricey and fancy that people with low income think they can’t participate— but minimalist Sophie Handy said in an interview that she sees this in a different light.
On her minimalist journey, “I realized that material goods just made me worry more. I have learnt to let things go. Things are to be used, and if they break, it’s okay, you can let go” (Handy). Letting go of objects clears the mind of clutter and lets you breathe easier. Think of commitments to clubs, events, responsibilities… Now imagine that every time you decide to own an object, you make a similar commitment with your mental and physical space. Letting go of useless things alleviates stress and commitment, leaving space for more important things.
Now, anyone new to this lifestyle might make a few common mistakes. Youheum of Heal Your Living said (in this podcast episode) to focus on emotional as well as physical clutter — she believes that emotional change makes minimalism valuable (Heal Your Living). Our mental health declines when we do anything for the wrong reason, and that includes throwing out everything you own because you feel like you should. If you want to become a minimalist for the right reasons, then make sure you aren’t throwing out the wrong pieces of yourself for the sake of looking good.
So, is minimalism anti-materialism? In my interview with Sophie Handy, she said, “Minimalism is an anti-capitalistic way of life. It’s about making good with what you’ve got, not buying more, hoarding more just because this is today’s norm” (Handy). Handy chooses to avoid the status quo because minimalism helps you appreciate the things you own without adding more. Buying something because it makes us look better has nothing to do with our desire to own it and everything to do with our desire to appear put together. However, no one with incessant desire feels put together. Minimalism teaches you to practice joy, not hunt for it, because consumerism causes an addiction to discontentment.
Like any addiction, quitting consumerism requires a replacement. Quitting alcohol cold turkey without a replacement habit might lead an alcoholic back to the bottle. Replacing time spent drinking with an evening workout or a good book helps curb the habit. Joshua Fields Millburn, for example, “developed new habits I love, habits I look forward to each day, habits that make me happy: exercise, writing, reading, establishing new connections with people, and building upon existing relationships” (Millburn).
As with any lifestyle, minimalism receives misconceptions. Chelsea Fagan of The Guardian complains, “The hyper-curated minimalism really only conveys one thing: ‘I wanted to take the very safest route to chic, cut away every possible misstep or risk . . . Time to reduce my look even further until literally every item I purchase tells people I could get something more interesting, but I have enough money to choose not to’” (Fagan). The author overlooks the key point: mindset, not glamour. A marble kitchen counter with one container of the finest bamboo utensils and a Bath & Body Works candle doesn’t define minimalism. It describes a decor choice. Home decor stores capitalized off of a movement that wanted to refuse capitalism. They’ve said, “Oh, the public wants crisp white walls and a single plant for decoration? We’ll sell it to them. Make the white paint expensive. Make the plants hard to find.”
Back to Fagan’s criticism — the media provides only a brief expectation on how minimalism should look. “The premise of minimalism in this way is very vague, and ever-shifting to accommodate the tastes and stomach for consistency of the individual practitioner, but the overall theory is the same: by paring your life down as actively as possible, you are almost guaranteed to appreciate what remains more” (Fagan). Fagan gets it right here. Minimalism doesn’t need rules. You don’t need a fancy magazine or influencer to tell you that, although it might help to poke around those resources. No one expects that you’ll uncover a magical life change after “converting” or whatever. It’s a lifestyle, the way some people drive a Jeep and some drive a Honda.
Minimalists fall into different categories, but there sits a fine line between avoiding wasteful consumerism and appearing on Survivor (Lee, Michael S. W., and Christie Seo Youn Ahn). When people first hear about minimalism, they assume it means maintaining a set number of items. A true minimalist doesn’t necessarily maintain a set number of objects . . . at least, no one made a Minimalism Bible. So many discrepancies exist about what defines “minimalist enough” that many try not to define it. You may not want furniture — some appreciate a dining room table or a bed or a chair. Forget the right and wrong here: focus on intentionality.
At its heart, minimalist design does not equate to a minimalist lifestyle (Heal Your Living). What a silly way to look at something! If you look at photos of a courtroom, does that make you want to practice law? No. If you look at a veggie dog, does that make you want to eat vegetarian? No — and frankly, as a vegetarian, I don’t want to eat a veggie dog. To know if you want something, you can’t just look at a few sparse living rooms. You must ask yourself what makes the most sense for you.
Focusing on feeling rich rather than being rich may seem hard for some, but it can happen (route2fi). Joshua Fields Millburn said that although his life may appear more fulfilling, “We all have the same 24 hours in a day. We all have one life to live, and that life is passing by one day at a time. The only real difference lies within the decisions we make and the actions we take” (Millburn). We owe it to ourselves to look at our lives, decide what we want, and decide our priorities. Minimalism can decrease financial troubles and help the world feel a little bit healthier… and a whole lot happier. So do you want stuff? Or life?
Lee, Michael S. W., and Christie Seo Youn Ahn. “Anti-Consumption, Materialism, and Consumer Well-Being.” Journal of Consumer Affairs, vol. 50, no. 1, Spring 2016, pp. 18–47. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/joca.12089.