Within this context, some middle-class folks driven, perhaps, by the desire to do something rather than accumulate and consume, seek an alternative. They want to live simply. They wish to borrow from an idealized, romanticized peasant life (an abstraction to be sure) and live with less. Look at the peasant, he is happy, well-fed and has little. So the thought goes. Though not without its issues, I see merit in the idea. It may turn out to be a gesture of goodwill and nothing more but it has to be better than the current avarice for material goods.
There are books, lectures, and websites dedicated to this “new” practice. Some strive to reduce what they own down to 100 objects. Others try to purge one object per day for a period of a month. Where do these objects go, I wonder? Regardless, I respect the discipline of the Purge. Most of what we own is discarded when we die. There may be some things bequeathed to our survivors but much of it is tossed.
Unlike the Pharaohs and Emperors of the past, we won’t be taking it with us. I am always reminded of Tolstoy’s story where his protagonist has a full day to carve out as much land as possible with his plough, dies, then only requires six feet of earth. That story has always sat well with me.
There is a futility to our quest for possessions, wealth and status. As we earn an income we are required to stimulate the economy through the acquisition of goods and debt. Simple living is a good counter to this trend. So what would it look like?
For over twenty years I have been carrying cases of books that I have never opened. I have moved them from one residence to another multiple times, always intending to return to them. Apparently they hold some important information that requires me to keep them. This is where I started. I have reduced this meaningless collection significantly and I am now down to two bookcases and 25 boxes in my closet. I want to further let go and purge. They serve no purpose other than to remind me that they are there and I am not reading them.
Compared to some I have very little. My standard of living is certainly comfortable but I could do with less. My CD collection is very large. I have neither the time nor inclination to listen to all of the music I own. There is just far too much. I spent thousands of dollars over the years amassing them and now they sit there in a rack behind where I sit. I originally thought that I would convert them all to MP3 and then conduct the purge. However, that prospect seems daunting. They will be next to go, some day.
Decorative objects, pictures, photographs and memorabilia have all been tossed as I am not terribly sentimental. They were remnants of another life I lived. Do I live like our model peasant? No, I surely do not. However, I hear his call. Utility and functionality are my new mantras. Maybe a minimalist life style within the context of our contemporary materialist baroque is an act of resistance. I feel better, now. My guilt is purged.