sharing is better

Anna North of the New York Times Op-Talk blogs recently linked to my post on minimalism and class privilege in her article When It’s Cool to Have Nothing. While it came as a surprise given the low-key nature of my blog, it is an interesting twist. I was encouraged to begin this endeavor in part because I heard a radio program on how sharing our ideas with a wider audience in the digital age has led to increased collaboration and innovation. Of course I can’t track it down now because there has been so much offered on this topic as well as whether the internet actually fosters connection to any real extent- a question I asked myself as I penned my first post. It seems intuitive, though, that sharing an idea, which can spark other people’s thinking, is more generative than keeping it to oneself. And this is a great example.

I am thankful to have contributed to a larger conversation. It has indeed become a conversation and the comments on North’s article have given more depth to my own thinking. I am also delighted by the traffic to my blog, not because of the notoriety but for the realization that many people are looking at the original source. I am glad that some took the opportunity to see my writing in its original context, as it was intended, amid all my other reflections and my nuanced approach to simplifying. Hopefully they could see the topic of class privilege that I presented as an issue I grapple with myself, rather than merely a critique of minimalism.

The recent attention offered with it a challenge. Last night, instead of incessantly checking site stats or likes on Facebook, I took a walk through the park with my family. I gave my son a bottle before bed and rocked and sang to him like I do every night without interruption. This blog will continue to be a reflection of, but also take a back seat to, living my life.

Beyond the theoretical, there is another upside: This attention has generated increased interest in the Minneapolis Toy Library as I anxiously await news about a grant we wrote in June. Excitement is building! You can stay updated on our progress through the Minneapolis Toy Library’s own site here.

what we aren’t saying: minimalism and class privilege

I have been following minimalist blogs for a couple months now, and I so appreciate this online community. I would not be where I am in changing my thinking about consumption without the support of many down-to-earth simplify-ers and aspiring minimalists.

Still, I feel somewhat out of place here. Many of the most popular blogs that I read are written from the perspective of people who left high-powered, well-paid and benefited corporate careers for a simpler life and now have plenty of savings to show for it. I can see how that would feel great. It is in fact a very privileged position to be in.

I know privilege well because I, too, have a good education, despite loads of debt. I realize this was a choice. For me it was a choice to improve my life and others’. My income is modest because I work in social services with primarily poor people, and though my husband and I are practicing many of the same methods of frugality as others, we are basically getting by month to month, not saving a large percent of our income, which has worked out fine for us.

Still, because of my work, I am very aware that many people do without and receive stigma rather than praise. To them it is not called “minimalism.” They live on very little, but it is not called anything because it is mostly unacknowledged, and when it does come up they are looked down upon as “lazy” or “irresponsible” (a feeling conveyed in even many minimalists’ posts). So I want to say what most minimalists are not saying: the benefits of minimalism depend in large part on where you start. It is not a financial solve-all, especially for the incredible number of people who are working full-time and still living in debt and poverty because they can’t afford necessities. It is ignorant to assume that all of these people are spending frivolously. It is hard to save when rent and heat and healthcare and food costs go up and your income does not.

Minimalism does, of course, help, and that’s where I find it hopeful. We can take back some control. But as I reflect on this nagging class consciousness, I want to challenge us, myself included, to do more than declutter- to also demystify our privilege when and where it exists and acknowledge the reality that, minimalist or not, class shapes our lives in major ways. Even if we all do what we can individually to live simply and save, it is going to take much more change than that before we and our neighbors can all live debt-free.