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.

Activity Posting 4– Comment on Everyday Sociology Blog

I found an article on Everyday sociology that talked about campus racism (http://www.everydaysociologyblog.com/2013/11/racism-on-college-campuses.html). Here at Michigan tech we don’t have much of an issue with racist displays or pranks of a racial nature. I would consider Michigan tech to be a generally tolerant place. We don’t have the racial issues that other universities, like the one mentioned in my article, have to deal with more often. The comparable article I found was a little on the non-scientific side, but never the less came up 3rd in a google search. So (reluctantly) I read the article and I was floored at the tone of the piece.( http://www.teenvogue.com/my-life/2013-12/college-campus-racism). It seems that the students interviewed in the piece were oblivious that racism happens on college campuses.

One of the things that struck me in the Everyday Sociology piece was the “Subtle” things he mentioned that are quite common in university dorms. The big one I noticed was people having rebel flags in their room. I kind of had an awakening moment and all of the possibly racially offensive things on this campus became obvious. I remember back to my freshman year. One of my neighbors had a rebel flag hung up in his room. I personally don’t think it is racist. I feel strongly about that opinion as well. It is simply the flag of a country that existed for a short period of time and people who owe their heritage to that country have just as much right to fly that flag as a person who has heritage in Czechoslovakia. I digress, the point of the matter is didn’t bother anyone in our hall, or anyone in general. I sat under that flag and played xbox many a day, people came in, the RA’s stopped by to say hey, other RA’s went by on rounds. I then began to think of social events I had seen… Cowboys and Indians…Cinco De Mayo (celebrated in a mocking manner)…and it was more than likely that someone dressed up as an offensive version of Obama for Halloween. I had the sudden realization …Shit…Racism does happen on this campus. Not in the direct form like harassment or blatant showings (hanging nooses in public places), But never the less all of the rebel flags and offensive costumes I have seen here and there was, when looked at it from a new perspective, pretty damn racist.  I was flabbergasted. I was just as oblivious as the people in the teen vogue article. I did not think at all about the subtleties that the author of the Everyday Sociology article was talking about. This pisses me off because I think of myself as being a pretty observant person.

Why is this? I mean why is it that college students don’t always seem to see the offensiveness of things that are all around them. When I first asked myself this question I answered quickly; because it doesn’t offend them. Partially true, I would have to say that there are some things that are offensive that don’t offend me. So if someone walked by and saw a rebel flag, which is “offensive” to society, they may not be offended personally and less likely to say something about it. The other thing is the sociological norm to not want to rock the boat. Even those who were offended did not speak up and say anything.

From what I have gathered from my short venture into the subject of on campus racism, I think that awareness is the key to putting an end to it and a zero tolerance policy from universities. The only caveat to this idea is the idea if free speech on college campuses. I think that raising awareness of on campus racism would help to lower the amount of occurrences.

Post 3

Identity is much more than something that gets stolen when you use your credit card online. A person’s identity in the sociological definition is a person’s conception and expression of their individuality or group affiliations. My personal Identity changes depending on the context of where I am. Whether I am on campus, at home, downstate with my family or at work I act accordingly to my surroundings.

When I am at home at the fraternity house I am extremely casual. Ill dress in whatever clothes I want. I might make a bawdy joke or speak with more casual language. I may drink a little more than I should or be rowdy.  My fraternity brothers and I are all very laid back people and this type of casual unprofessional behavior does not bother us. We are all very casual at home. College is stressful and it’s nice to have a place to come home to where you can relax and not worry about using casual language or dressing nicely.

When I am on campus I try to clean it up a little bit. I wear nice clothes and try to look presentable. You never know who you can run into on campus and I think you should look good and behave well on campus and in class. During classes I am quiet and attentive as to not disrupt class. I participate in discussions and try to speak more eloquently than I do at home.

When I am at home with my family in Detroit, I try to behave as if I was on campus. I don’t have to dress as nice, but my parents do expect me to have manners and speak well. 

At work it is whistle clean all the time. Dressed to impress and using professional language at all times.

I find it almost comical how much my identity changes depending on my context. I usually am wearing jeans boots and a flannel shirt every day. And I’m never caught dead without a hat. I speak pretty coarsely and I don’t sugar coat anything. I am a firm believer in speaking your mind. Straight questions deserve straight answers. At work it is almost a Jekyll and Hyde switch. I speak eloquently. I dress well and I never wear a hat. I am courteous and professional when I speak my opinion even if I disagree.

This change can be defined by the sociological norms of both my peer group at the House and my peer group at work. When I am at the fraternity house, there are almost no sociological norms. We have a great propensity to live and let live. People swear, walk around with no shirt on, drink openly and tell you to your face that “your Idea sucks”. If I had to break it down I would say because we are all such good friends that we can act like this and feel comfortable that no one would take offense. The complete polar opposite of this is when I am at work. The people I work with in an engineering environment are all highly educated. They may or may not have lived in the same environment as me in college; I do not know what they may find offensive. It is these unknown facts and the fear of ramifications that drives me to uphold social norms. I hate wearing a suit. I find it unnecessary and unless I am giving a presentation or addressing someone of great importance. I still wear a suit to the career fair though, this is because everyone else is and I would look silly to the representatives if I showed up in flannel and boots.

When it all gets broken down my identity changes to fit the norms that will allow me to be the most comfortable yet get the most done. If I dress casually at work and that is not the norm I may not be taken seriously and that will hinder my performance at the job. If I dress too professionally at a casual event the ramifications aren’t as steep but there will still be some funny looks and questions will be asked. I feel like my identity is a person who gets things done regardless of the social norms I must obey.

Idle Youth In Detroit

Image

I chose to analyze for this post the percent of children between the ages of 16 and 19 that are not in school or working. The sociological term for these children are “idle youth”. These youth are not contributing to the community and often are involved in gangs or criminal activities. The question I have is not what are these kids up to? I haven’t the slightest clue what they could be doing. I ask why is Detroit such a high percentage? I mean 18 percent is quite high. At first I thought it was a sample size issue. Maybe the surveyors only talked to idle youth in Detroit, unable to reach those at work or in school. Perhaps a city of greater size would yield a similar percentage. A larger city would have a greater sample size and yield a more accurate percentage amount. I was wrong, the city of Los Angeles was almost 10 percent lower than Detroit. Even though it is a much larger city. I then thought maybe LA is a fluke. It is an immensely larger city , maybe there are more aware of this issue and fund programs there to help youth find jobs or school opportunities. I was sure the national average would be higher than LA but lower than Detroit. I was wrong again. The national average sits right next to LA at a steady 9%. I was coming to the end of my rope. I was dumbfounded at how Detroit could be so high.so I did a quick news search about youth in Detroit. I found an article stating that due to budget cuts and citywide bankruptcy, the city was going to collaborate police precincts and consolidate bus routes. Eureka! I figured it out. The youth of Detroit are idle because they can be. If you look at LA, not a perfect city by any means, but they’re not broke, they aren’t consolidating police precincts and the public transportation seems to be in working order. In Detroit the police are more concentrated in some areas but not in others and there is less public transportation to take youths to work and school. This makes it difficult for youths to get to work or school, but easier for them to loiter around. These hardships easily explain why this statistic is so high in Detroit.

The Sociological Imagination

Everything one does in a day can be traced back to a sociological norm that has been engrained into your daily thought process. This blog post will follow some of the things that I do throughout my day and discuss how they relate to the society and culture that I live in.

Every morning I get up. That’s a standard for all people. However most people start their day with a shower. Whether it is to wake up or to be clean up before they go to class most people shower in the morning. This is to keep up the social norm of being clean. If one does not shower most likely their peers will notice and they may not receive the same respect from the people around them. I do not shower in the morning. I have to shower at night. This is heavily influenced by another sociological norm, my job. After waking up in the morning I drive to work. Owning a car and driving is almost socially required activity in our culture. If you do not own a car at least having a driver’s license is required to avoid social ridicule. If one cannot drive they could also miss out on job opportunities around them. My job relies heavily on my ability to drive.  My job is to clear snow for the university. I work in the cold and a morning shower after I wake up would just lead to me being cold at work later. The urge to work is sociologically imbedded into all of us from a young age. It is a part of our consumerist nature to desire money so that we can have the lifestyle we desire. The next event is not a daily occurrence, but it happens often enough to mention and relates to sociology. I work for Michigan tech grounds crew. Our society would consider it a blue collar job. I get talked down to by a lot of people while I am at work. It is mostly the people who call in work orders for me to accomplish for them. These orders are often moving furniture or picking up something for disposal. These people almost expect that I must be unintelligent or incompetent because my job is labor based. Ironically the next event in my day after being talked to like I’m stupid is to go to school. That is almost a given in our culture. People who have the means to go to school to get a degree in order to attain a job that they like and can afford to live how they want. If a person does not go to college they will not have the same opportunities available to them as someone with a college degree. These events are all based on sociological norms or biases that I experience daily.

There is great sociological stigma around going to work and the type of job you do. First, one is expected to have a job. Whether the job is to be a full time student, have a full time job, or in my case to go to school and work part time. Having an occupation is expected in our culture. Second, the structure of the job you do. In our culture there is heavy emphasis on being to work on time. In other cultures arriving to work in the morning on time is irrelevant. As long as an employee completes their assignments to a high enough standard what time they show up is irrelevant. Last, but not least, the type of job you do can create an automatic impression on those around you. As I mentioned earlier I work as a grounds crew worker for MTU. This causes a lot of people whom I work for to assume that I am not intelligent because culturally plowing snow is not a prestigious job. They do not take the time to think that maybe I am a student and plowing snow early in the morning fits my schedule the best and allows me to go to school during the day. They just assume that because I do physical work for low pay that I am less intelligent than they are. I always wonder when I am at work, what if the sociological norm was to base the prestige of a job on the impact of their job. What if all of the snow plows in the county just stopped working? The county would grind to halt, roads would be impassable, public services would stop, no mail, no food deliveries, no going to school. That’s what keeps me going each day. Yeah I make peanuts for pay, and the job is often physically demanding, people often talk down to you, but the second we all take a day off during a snow storm the university would be in real trouble. I look forward to exploring the origins of stereotypes and what makes society look down on some and up at others as we continue in this class.