The Minimalist Movement and Why it Needs to Catch On Soon

There is a movement right now that is beginning to gain traction. The main point of this movement is to reject the social norm that having more material goods makes one better. The movement is called the minimalist movement. Followers of this movement commit to living without spending frivolously on consumer goods and investing in quality not quantity of the goods they buy. This sociological norm that the movement is out to reject came about in 1950’s America and was perpetuated by advertising and the ability to borrow money or buy on credit.  This over consumption that has plagued America for so long that it causing Americans to carry way more debt than they need to. Some may say that this is a financial issue and that Americans need to learn to budget their money more effectively. I would argue that this is a sociological problem. The social norms of this country have changed. No longer is having and using only what one needs the norm. The new social norm is to consume and dispose of more than one would need. Waste and excess have been the norm for modern Americans for too long and if the minimal living movement does not get more to reject the norms of overspending soon the American people will continue to carry more and more debt and consume even more than ever. I will argue that the origin of these consumerist sociological norms can be traced back to the great depression and were perpetuated by the automobile markets of the 1950’s.

In order to truly understand the minimalist movement one must understand the sociological norms that the movement is trying to reject. The origin of the consumerist market and norms of overconsumption can be traced, ironically enough, to the great depression. This may seem like and odd place of origin for consumerism due to the scarcity of money and employment at this time. The lack of capital amongst the American people fostered a minimalist lifestyle not by choice, but by necessity. Once these people of the depression came into money in post war America they had a great urge to spend and they possessed the capital to spend it. During the great depression thriftiness was the sociological norm. People did not have the wealth to spend frivolously and had to fix what they did have. Unemployment was at an all-time high and most households could only afford the bare necessities. This put a great emphasis on material belongings as a sign of prosperity and wealth in their culture. Those who had the most were the most prosperous. If we fast forward to the 1950’s this concept of material based social status was still the norm. The only difference in the eras was that the consumer possessed the capital and means to consume.

The 1950’s were a great time for this nation. The war had just ended and the American people possessed a buying power that they had not possessed in a long time. There was great availability for people, veterans especially, to get low interest rates on car loans and mortgages. The first credit card was released in 1950 introducing people to the concept of buy now pay later.  This concept detracted from the importance of saving money, sending Americans into a buying frenzy. The frenzy was no more evident in any market than that of the automobile. In 1950 car culture really took hold in the US. Cars were made better and faster and due to advancements in manufacturing and the aforementioned low interest rates, they were more affordable than ever. The introduction of the interstate system and drive in movies made the automobile an integral part of the American culture. Cars were bought in record numbers. Families began to buy more than one car per household. The sociological norm of having the best car was deeply engrained in the culture of the 1950’s.

Image

The manufacturers of cars then took notice of this and were very careful to make subtle changes to model years in order to profit off of the need for a new vehicle as seen in the figure above. The sociological norm and social pressure to have the newest car fueled the urge to buy a new car. The fact that it was obvious that one’s car was not new set it in stone. This type of planned stylistic obsolescence is still present in the manufacturing of cars today.  If Americans today are going to break the cycle of overconsumption we are going to have to reject the sociological norm that newer things are better.

Now that the norms that the movement is trying to reject are clear we must ask ourselves, when did the minimalist movement come to be? The origin of overconsumption began in the 1950’s, however it took the oil crisis of the 1970’s to begin the minimalist movement. The movement was not in its full form, but the main concept and mindset came to be in the 70’s. In 1970 oil was scarce in the US. Owning multiple cars that were big, high performance muscle cars could be a great financial burden as seen in Figure 2. The price of oil skyrocketed in 1973 thus sparking a mass movement to spend less.

Image

There were many campaigns to get the American people to cut back. This was the first time that the norm of excess was challenged, By the American government no less. The American people began to associate cutting back with being patriotic. Slogans like “Don’t be Fuelish” really drove home the fact that one would be hurting the country and acting foolishly if they did not cut back at least a little bit. Auto manufacturers for the first time began to market cars with fuel economy as a selling point. They began advertising economy cars as being the hip thing. These social pressures from the American government and auto manufacturers cause the minimalist movement to be born.  The minimalists of this era drove smaller economy cars and were committed to living with no more than they should. These early minimalists came from all walks of life from hippies living in communes sharing everything and consuming next to nothing or a suburban man who sold his V8 muscle car for a more economical model.  This type of thinking and type of cutting back is what founded the movement and really got the ball rolling.

The modern day minimalist movement takes many forms and does not only pertain to the automobile markets. There are those who take the movement to the maximum and refuse to own cars or make any impact on the environment at all. The minimalist movement does not revolve around these extremists entirely; it instead encourages people to accept a reasonable amount of minimalism. The central idea is to reject the sociological norm that has been perpetuated for decades that more is better and that those who possess more are somehow better off than those with less. People who follow the minimalist movement invest in quality not quantity and try to buy local or domestically made goods when possible. If a minimalist needs a truck for their job they are going to buy a truck. Simply going without is not the name of the minimalist’s game. They would however buy a used model that would still get the job done but cost them less. This type of need conscious spending saves the minimalist money in the long run and cuts down on the amount of debt they carry.

This movement is pivotal to the future of the American people because of the great strain that our overconsumption has put on the environment. The sociological norm that more is better has caused mass production of cheaply made plastic goods and over packaging to run rampant. These goods are often made overseas to cheapen the cost of mass production. These goods take lots of fossil fuels to be shipped to their point of sale. The packaging from over packaged goods fills our landfills at a record rate and the synthetics used to make these goods do not decompose for thousands of years. The figure below shows that the amount of fossil fuels burned has increased over the years at quite a steep rate. This is owed to the growth of the global economy and the fossil fuels burned to move goods from their point of manufacture to the point of sale.

Image

Those who chose to live minimally contribute to this problem less than the average consumer. This is the overall point of the minimalist movement. It does not call for all people to give up all of their possessions and live in a cave. It simply asks everyone to cut back a little bit on their spending and buy only what they need. When it comes time to buy something buy quality not quantity and buy domestically made goods or locally made goods if at all possible. It’s not calling for a drastic lifestyle change from the nation. Conversely the movement will have a drastic impact if most Americans commit to consuming and owning less material goods.

The conclusion of this argument is one that is simple in concept. In order to assure the future for the environment and the financial wellbeing of this country, Americans must reject the sociological norm that material possessions are related to social status. We don’t have to give up too much, but it would do a world of good for all of us to cut back a little.

Sources and interesting links for anyone who would like to learn more:

Minimalism in general:

http://storyofstuff.org/

Finding a reasonable amount of minimalism:

http://www.becomingminimalist.com/find-a-rational-minimalism-that-works-for-you/

The 1950’s auto market in america:

http://www.autolife.umd.umich.edu/Design/Gartman/D_Overview/D_Overview4.htm

The environmental impact of overconsumptiion:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jun/21/overconsumption-environment-relationships-annie-leonard

 

 

 

Advertisements

Post 6: Attend a Meeting

      For this attend a meeting post I decided to attend Africa night at the Continental Firehouse Club downtown. I have to say it was a very interesting experience and I am glad I went. This event was put on by the African students association here at MTU. They had a DJ who played African dance music the whole night and overall there was a great group of people there.

      First off, going to the club in general is not really in my comfort zone. I have a slight case of agoraphobia (fear of crowds/crowded places). So diving headfirst into a packed club was a bit stressing at first, but I found a less packed spot to hang out and socialize. It also stands to say that club culture is not really a culture that I identify with. I am what some would call a hillbilly. I like my country music and rock n roll. I have never like popular music or top 40 kind of music. It all sounds the same to me. I would much rather spend my night out having a few Budweiser’s in the honky tonk listening to Skynard while hotly debating Chevrolet vs Ford with the guy across the bar. But as my uncle used to say if you’re gonna be a bear be a grizzly, so I decided to hit the club on a night where my race and culture would not be the majority represented. As if my country ass needed to stick out any more in the club.

I have to say the environment in the club was one of pure welcoming. Even wearing boots and flannel I received no dirty looks. Even though I looked out of place. The only time I received any criticism was from the bartender when I ordered a cold Bud and not an expensive high end mixed drink. That was all the flak I got all night. I talked to a bunch of people while I was there and the first thing anyone who was a part of the event said was thank you for coming. Even the DJ’s sign off at the end of the night was polite and friendly, a welcomed change from the brief “Goodnight everybody!” that is the usual sign off of rock n roll.

     The second thing I noticed when I walked into the club was that the music was different. It was good. It wasn’t the standard heavy bass club music that will deaf you for days afterward. There was bass, but it was much more melodic and there was a much greater presence of drums in all of the music. Sort of like American funk music. It wasn’t the standard American bass drum then snare hit riff that monopolizes most American music. It was interesting because a lot of popular American tracks were sampled over this kind of melodic drum back beat. I would honestly have never listened to these songs, but with this new arrangement I really enjoyed it. It was music it didn’t sound overly compressed or synthesized. Use of auto tune and electronic effects was tasteful. This was a stark contrast to the American version which sounded prepackaged and poorly recorded.

     In the end I learned a lot about myself from this experience. I learned that it’s not so bad to be a country boy in the club, and that some club music is tolerable if it is the right style. I also learned that the people who were at the club that night were some of the most polite bar patrons I have ever met. Overall my experience was great and I would gladly go back to any event at the club that they throw again.

Activity 5: Violate a Gender Norm

            This week my class decided to violate a gender norm. It was unanimous in my group. As soon as we sat down the group had volunteered me to hold hands with another guy in the group. There was no discussion, no debate, dudes were holding hands. We decided this is a gender norm because in lots of foreign countries men hold hands quite often, it is seen as a sign of trust. At first I was reluctant, but then I realized that this was the point of the exercise. That the pressure to not want to hold hands in public with another guy was socially constructed, and I would be no different after the activity was over. The scene was slightly hilarious. Me and James are not small guys, we are both well over 6 foot tall and over 200lbs. We knew we were gonna draw attention to ourselves. We decided to wait for a busy time on campus and we decided a route for James and I to walk. We left heading west out of the EERC towards the MEEM. As soon as we stepped out of the door of the EERC we noticed a middle aged guy immediately did a double take. He kept looking at us, shaking his head and looking back at us. He was fixated on us until our route doubled at the MEEM back towards the library. When we entered the library, James and I both noticed a student worker at the IT desk audibly say “What the fuck, are they holding hands?”. There was a middle age woman at the desk as well. She looked up smiled and looked back at her work, seemingly unfazed. We also got a lot of dirty looks in the library, lots of people tapping their friends on the shoulder and pointing us out, The observers let us know afterward that there were a lot more people staring after we passed by them.

            After the experiment was over, we decided to go and talk to the workers at the front desk of the library. They had seemed to notice the jig was up. So we went over to the fellow who decided to be so audible about his disagreement, he said, and I quote “I didn’t even notice them”. It was all the group could do to keep from laughing. I find it funny that when he thinks me and James would just keep walking he would have the courage to be so vocal about his disdain, yet when confronted by us again he wouldn’t own up to it.

            In conclusion I have found that two men holding hands in public is not socially normal on campus. This is an obvious conclusion, but however should be made. The real conclusion for me was people’s effort to not be noticed. Many people looked up at us walking then looked straight back down or the other way they did not want to be seen looking like they were against what we were doing. Even when they audibly opposed like the guy at the IT booth, when he was confronted he said he did not notice. This is what struck me the most. In my opinion if you don’t like something, say it, don’t say something and then act like you didn’t to seem politically correct.