When I read a book or watch a movie, I often internalize what I read, hear, or see. This may explain why I once wrote a letter to Jason Sebastian, a boy I didn’t know (unless you count passing him in the hallway) in the style of Charlotte Brontë after reading Jane Eyre. Surprisingly/not surprisingly, he didn’t write back.
After I returned home last night from watching the documentary, The Minimalists, I felt as though my own life were a documentary. I recommend trying it some time. Not in the “mockumentary” style that is currently popular, but imagine your life being filmed with no narration or explanation. The mundane act of filling a pot of water becomes exciting– what will happen next? Every sound, word, action, and even silence . . . stillness . . . gains noble importance while highlighting the absurdity of life.
As an astute reader, I am sure you have gathered (correctly, I might add) that The Minimalists is about minimalism. I first became interested in minimalism, or voluntary simplicity, involuntarily. I was going to school for my master’s, caring for my toddler daughter, and we found ourselves faced with my husband’s sudden lay-off. My first task was to cut expenses as drastically as I could, and one way I found I could do it was by switching my daughter to cloth diapers. I bought the most basic style while admiring the fancier versions which would essentially do the same job.
My husband eventually found a job and our financial life was back on track, so I bought the more expensive cloth diapers I had originally wanted. I knew they would somehow make my life easier and make an unpleasant task more pleasant. I read reviews, did my usual amount of research, and sampled all sorts. Astonishingly, I found that the simple, cheaper style I had initially purchased were the most effective and efficient. Like any good American, I then decided it was necessary to buy more. Just as astonishingly, I found that I then had too many. Too many to wash, store, and care for. I sold what I no longer needed (yes, selling used diapers is a “thing”) and moved on with my life.
There was an uncomfortable aspect to the cloth diapering world.* (And an even more disturbing side that involves adults– pleasepleaseplease refrain from searching for it. You won’t be able to unsee it.) I found that some women were addicted to buying and selling cloth diapers. One woman on a forum confessed she was in debt to the tune of $10K– spent solely on cloth diapers. Some people spent hours waiting for an “upload,” the chance to purchase a coveted style made by a work-at-home-mother (WAHM). Sometimes, a single diaper cost hundreds of dollars.
My lessons learned didn’t end there. I then entered the world of baby carriers. The baby carrier market was just starting to take off. There were WAHMs who had simple businesses back then whose products are now sold in major retail outlets. Again, I was on a quest for the ultimate carrier, just as I had done with diapers. I bought and sold several, and eventually realized, just as I had with diapers, that the simple styles were the most useful, and having too many was a burden, not a help.
In the baby carrier world, the same addictions were present, with people buying and selling for the thrill of it and not out of necessity. One woman who had the financial means bought just about every single style carrier available, including custom, specialized versions. She was, as you may have guessed, the most popular poster on the baby carrier forum. Who says money can’t buy happiness, if it helps you make online friends?
The purchasers of these products were generally mothers who prided themselves on living a “natural” life. However, words like “enabling” and “addiction” were commonly used by people posting on the forums. There was a special help section designated for those who were genuinely addicted. Whether or not it was utilized, I don’t know.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of it all was that women would joke about having more children as a reason to purchase more of these products. And I would say– not all of it was in jest. Some did follow through with this intention. I say this without judgment. I say this to illustrate the depths of our collective consumerism: bringing a human life into the world for the purpose of buying.
We can see this same pattern– creating a want disguised as a need– over and over and over again. The fact that these were pieces of cloth, does it make them any more absurd than anything else, or do they simply do a better job showing how strong our desire for more of anything is?
As for me, I continued on my path of aiming for more with less. I joined a local voluntary simplicity group and gained much from the one meeting I attended. Ironically, the group eventually disbanded because no one had time for it anymore.
I have much more to say on this topic, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll end it here for today. . .
*I am using past tense because I have no knowledge of the way things are now, though I would hazard a guess that they haven’t changed.