Minimalist Inspiration: The Story of Stuff

In the spirit of Minsumerism, I wanted to share with you one of my favorite internet videos: The Story of Stuff, by writer and activist Annie Leonard. It’s a brilliant, 20-minute, stick-figure documentary about the life cycle of material goods.

The video explores the environmental and social issues of our current model of consumption, and calls on us to create a more sustainable economy.

While walking us through the five steps of extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal, Annie provides many thought-provoking statistics, such as:

  • 80% of the planet’s original forests are gone.
  • 40% of waterways in the United States have become undrinkable.
  • People in the United States are targeted with more than 3,000 advertisements a day.
  • People in the United States makes 4.5 pounds of garbage a day.

If you’re not a minimalist already, you may very well become one after watching this!

Want to learn more? Annie has recently released a book version of The Story of Stuff, with more details of the materials economy — including her travels to factories and dumps around the world, to see exactly how the stuff we buy is made and disposed of.

And if that’s not enough, two new videos have been added to the site: The Story of Bottled Water, and The Story of Cap & Trade. I’m looking forward to The Story of Electronics, which is coming in May.

So what inspires your minimalism? Is it a concern for the environment or human rights, or simply a desire for clean closets and a spacious home?

The Minsumer Movement: A Quiet Revolution

Something wonderful happens when you start living a minimalist lifestyle: you begin to really think about what you consume, and question the necessity of every purchase.

How amazing would it be if such mindful consumption became the norm? Not only would we all have more time, more money, and more space in our homes; we’d also have a healthier planet, and more resources for future generations.

In order to promote such an idea, however, we have to define it and give it a name. We have to let others know it’s a viable lifestyle alternative, and provide support to those pursuing it.

To this end, I’ve written the following manifesto to introduce the Minsumer Movement.

“Don’t buy it!” may be an unusual call to arms, but it has the potential to transform our lives, our society and our planet.

Like all revolutions, ours is bred by discontent. We’re sick of being slaves to debt and keeping up with the Joneses. We’re tired of working long hours at jobs we don’t like, to pay for things we don’t need. We’re unhappy with the clutter in our homes, and the commercialization of our holidays. We’re angry that human rights are violated to fill our stores with cheap clothes and plastic gizmos. We’re worried that our children and grandchildren won’t have the clean air and water that should be their birthright.

We are not necessarily anti-consumption. We don’t forage or dumpster dive, and we don’t expect to get anything for free. We like the fact that we can buy things when we need them. We appreciate the ease with which we can obtain basic necessities; unlike our ancestors, we need not devote our days to securing food, clothing, or shelter. However, we believe that once these needs are met, consumption can be put on the backburner. Our time would then be free for friends, family, and community; and for spiritual, philosophical and cultural pursuits. Imagine what we could do with all that newfound time, energy, and capital!

The consumption instinct is rooted in survival, though, and difficult to curb. Savvy marketers exploit this fact and continually manufacture new “needs” to suppress our sense of fulfillment. They try to convince us that our lives are incomplete without the latest electronic gadget; that our houses are outdated and must be “improved;” that our cars should be new, and our clothing should be fashionable.

Well, we declare “Enough!” We refuse to spend the better part of our lives desiring, acquiring and paying for things. We are neither Consumers, nor Anti-Consumers, but Minsumers: we seek to minimize the role of consumption in our lives. Our strategy is simple:

  • To minimize our consumption to what meets our needs
  • To minimize the impact of our consumption on the environment
  • To minimize the effect of our consumption on other people’s lives

To this end, we won’t waste our money, or the resources of our planet, on frivolous goods. We’ll reuse and repurpose what we can, and favor used goods over new. We’ll avoid items made with exploited labor or violations of human rights. We’ll support our local economies, and work to create sustainable communities.

We are not your typical revolutionaries. You won’t see us protesting, boycotting, or blocking the doors to megastores; we’re simply not buying. Our battles are personal, made up of a million little acts of consumer disobedience. We leave convenience foods on the shelf and breeze by impulse items without a glance. We cut up our credit cards, borrow books from the library, and mend our clothes instead of buying new ones. We shop on Craigslist and Freecycle, rather than at the mall.

We are an invisible army, and our offense is our absence: the empty spaces in the parking lot, the shorter checkout lines, the silence at the cash registers. The only bloodshed in our revolution is the red ink on a retailer’s profit statement.

We are under constant bombardment by advertisers, but our defenses are well-honed. We regard with a critical eye their attempts to make us feel unattractive, unsafe, and unsatisfied. We turn off the television, cancel our magazine subscriptions, and use ad-blocker in our web browsers. They develop new weapons to weaken our resistance — greenwashing, viral marketing, zero percent financing — but their arsenal is no match for our resolve.

Our ranks are diverse, and spread out among spiritual, environmental, simple living, and human rights groups, as well as the population at large. But under the banner of Minsumerism, our individual efforts have far-reaching potential. By not buying, we regain our freedom: from debt, from clutter, and from the rat race. By not buying, we have the time and energy to rebuild our communities. By not buying, we reclaim the resources of our planet, and deliver them from the hands of corporations into those of our children.

Most importantly, by not buying, we redefine ourselves: by what we do, what we think, and who we love, rather than what we have. And in the process, we rediscover the meaning in our lives.

Please show your support for the Minsumer Movement by leaving a comment, and spreading the word through Digg, Twitter, or email.

How do you minimize the role of consumption in your life? I’d love to hear your ideas and techniques!