Purge! The Cult of Less

While I don’t consider myself to be some sort of ascetic or societal recluse, I’ve found that more stuff equates to more stress. Each thing I own came with a small expectation of responsibility. I look into my closet and feel guilt. I glance into my desk drawers and see my neglect. When was the last time I wore this? Have I ever even used that?

Instead of trying to distribute my time too thin among all of my possessions, I will simply get rid of most of them. I will eliminate a large part of stress in my life and I will truly cherish the few things that I own. — Kelly Sutton on the Cult of Less

The numinous Cult of Less as well as enlightening scripture like Bruce Sterling’s Virdian Green piece have converted me. I’m all fired up and ready for the purge. Yesterday I packed up four boxes of clutter and useless junk. I’m freeing up space and time. And now I’m investing in the items that matter.

Last week I forked over 100EURO for a pair of shoes, but I wear them every damn day and have replaced three half-broken, crippling pairs in their stead. Old papers have been my bane as well, but thanks to access to a scanner, I’m saving the most valuable ones and tossing the rest. My closet is on a constant swap cycle: I offload a bag or so every few weeks and take in 2-3 well made items to replace them.

What is “sustainability?” Sustainable practices navigate successfully through time and space, while others crack up and vanish. So basically, the sustainable is about time – time and space. You need to re-think your relationship to material possessions in terms of things that occupy your time. The things that are physically closest to you. Time and space.

In earlier, less technically advanced eras, this approach would have been far-fetched. Material goods were inherently difficult to produce, find, and ship. They were rare and precious. They were closely associated with social prestige. Without important material signifiers such as wedding china, family silver, portraits, a coach-house, a trousseau and so forth, you were advertising your lack of substance to your neighbors. If you failed to surround yourself with a thick material barrier, you were inviting social abuse and possible police suspicion. So it made pragmatic sense to cling to heirlooms, renew all major purchases promptly, and visibly keep up with the Joneses.

That era is dying. It’s not only dying, but the assumptions behind that form of material culture are very dangerous. These objects can no longer protect you from want, from humiliation – in fact they are causes of humiliation, as anyone with a McMansion crammed with Chinese-made goods and an unsellable SUV has now learned at great cost.

Furthermore, many of these objects can damage you personally. The hours you waste stumbling over your piled debris, picking, washing, storing, re-storing, those are hours and spaces that you will never get back in a mortal lifetime. Basically, you have to curate these goods: heat them, cool them, protect them from humidity and vermin. Every moment you devote to them is lost to your children, your friends, your society, yourself.

Sell – even give away– anything you never use. Fancy ball gowns, tuxedos, beautiful shoes wrapped in bubblepak that you never wear, useless Christmas gifts from well-meaning relatives, junk that you inherited. Sell that stuff. Take the money, get a real bed. Get radically improved everyday things. — Sterling

What about you? Up for drinking the Kool-Aid and joining the Cult of Less?

Update: Browsing around after writing this, I stumbled across Sean Bonner’s neat technomads blog. There’s also some fiery comments on BoingBoing. Most of them applauded the Cult of Less but a number of folks complained that “it’s nothing new” (whatever, neither are many great philosophies — that doesn’t make them less relevant) or that it’s impossible to completing fulfill the pledge of owning nothing (I often hear that sort of challenge when I tell people I’m vegetarian). It’s like if you’re going to take a stance for an improved lifestyle, people are ready to poke a hole in it and claim your commitment dead because you ate a gummy bear. It’s the spirit and effort to hold yourself to an ideal that matters. Of course there are compromises, but it’s that negotiation between idealism and pragmatism that is compelling. Strive to land on the positive side, although it may not work out every time.

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