The more I seem to talk, read, and write about stuff, the more I seem to position myself against minimalism. So I want to make something clear. I’m not opposed to minimalism.
I’m opposed to minimalism being presented as the ONLY solution for consumption, consumerism, and waste. I’m opposed to minimalism because it makes people who feel an attachment to stuff feel guilty for that.
I truly believe that there’s a number of people for whom objects make up a large part of the way we understand and experience the world. Objects lead to our physical and psychological well being.
This isn’t pure conjecture. I’m a huge fan of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which is backed by decades of rigorous scientific study. Gardner’s theory argues that humans have intelligences along a number of frameworks (such as spatial, music, and bodily-kinesthetic) and not just those that have been traditionally tested and valued (like linguistics and mathematics). One of my biggest complaints with minimalism is that it favors certain types of lifestyle and intelligence over others.
I want to take Gardner’s argument one step further and say that if we have intelligence along these multiple frameworks, then we also derive pleasure and fulfillment from these areas based on our own intelligence strengths.
In the MI framework, my husband doesn’t rank high in the linguistics category. English was not his best subject in school, and he is not a big reader. My husband’s intelligences lie more towards music, mathematics, and particularly bodily-kinesthetic, which Gardner defines as the ability to use one’s body in skilled ways and the capacity to work skillfully with objects. My husband’s career choices and hobbies track with these intelligences, including his tendency towards physically demanding and skilled labor jobs and a garage full of tools and a driveway full of vehicles, all of which he works on on a regular basis.
And while I do enjoy language and reading, I tend to be much more balanced across the multiple intelligences framework. (With the exception of music, never my strength.) I also have a tendency towards bodily-kinisthetic fulfillment, as evidenced by my choice of career (metalsmith) and my desire to understand the world through touch. (As I’ve been sitting here rereading this passage, I find myself unconsciously fingering one of the pull strings on my sweatshirt, an activity I am also known to repeat with long necklaces and any small object left on the table in front of me.)
Reading minimalists’ accounts of eliminating stuff in favor of reading and writing and spending time with friends and family makes sense for someone who shows strong linguistic and personal intelligences. These are the areas where the person derives pleasure, and would naturally lead to a fulfilling life.
But for someone who derives fulfillment from bodily-kinesthetic pursuits, particularly that part about interacting with objects, this would be a highly unsatisfying life. For these types of people (myself included), objects form a central part of the way we interact with and enjoy the world, and thus we would be completely unfulfilled without them.
My husband would be utterly miserable with a Kindle full of books and not much else.
If minimalism leads you to a more fulfilling life, then go with it. But if the thought of minimalism makes you uncomfortable, or worse, unhappy, join me on the other side.
I want to build a world where we can be conscious of the impact our choices have and STILL LOVE STUFF. I’m interested in a world where those of us who derive pleasure and fulfillment from objects can embrace that, rather than feel guilty about it. A world where minimalism isn’t the only solution, but one of many that allow us to be who we truly are.