Minimalism as a tool for community organizing

Our minimalism started by chance. I left my domestic violence relationship with two suitcases, one box, and I set out across the country to my mom’s house. It obviously wasn’t my best moment, but it was definitely my bravest. I mourned the loss of so many important things, gifts from friends that I treasured, pictures, paintings, art that I made or that had been made for me, instruments, cool stuff I had acquired through the years, books, etc. I vowed never again to be tied to things, to unhealthy relationships, to pain, to heaviness. 

Ollie became a minimalist baby too. He had maybe 5 toys. No crib. We slept in blankets in the floor. Baby-wipe warmer? I’d look at the baby stores and could not believe all the stuff they came up with and marketed as needs. I thought, how did my ancestors live without all this stuff? 

Minimalism extended to other areas beyond things. This is where I made the decision of what our lives would look like. Would I continue seeking a 9 to 5 with 14 days off a year or would I seek unschooling and live within a different paradigm? I decided I didn’t have the emotional fortitude to leave my baby- and so searched for ways I could make enough to cover our basic necessities while staying home and giving Ollie the gift of freedom, complete and radical freedom to be who he is at all times, to follow his body, his mind, his interests, his appetite. We live with hardly any rules. See related post: https://granolatron.com/2016/04/18/no-rules-parenting-without-authority/

I practice what I call radical minimalism, in that I’m not just trying to consume mindfully, but to stop consuming as much as possible though use of public avenues like libraries, book and clothes swaps, tool lending libraries, meal shares, time banks, community support. Community is the solution to everything. Engaging with our neighbors and organizing our neighborhoods is crucial so that we are together, empowered, trusting and ready to advocate and stand up and stand in for each other. This means also, finding ways to share our resources, and share our consumption. 

Many minimalist gurus fail to make the connection to community in their advocacy. Marie Kondo talks about charity, donating items that no longer spark joy; consume mindfully but do not stop consuming, instead of advocating for ways in which, as a community we can consume less by sharing our resources. Why buy that book that will not spark joy a year from now when we can borrow it from the library. Why purchase a shirt that will not spark joy a few months from now, when we can organize clothing swaps. 

What do we have that can be shared? Extra food? Chilis on Wheels organizes free meal shares where community gathers around free vegan food. Clothes or personal care items? CoW also operates a mobile Free Store. Extra home space and time to care for a being in need? Microsanctuary Resource Center offers resources for vegans able to care for even just one typically farmed animal.

Minimalism isn’t a one time thing. It’s a continuous way of seeing the world and a continuous process that needs to be revisited often, and we always pick up things we don’t need along the way. The process of purging is ongoing. Periodically, we realize we accumulated more than what we need, sometimes through family gifts. We go through toys for example, and although kids will try to hold on to more things, even Ollie will eventually start to give toys up, excited at the thought of sharing them with someone that might light up at receiving them, the way he’s lit up when someone has shared them with him. If we get used to receive from our community, giving comes naturally.

We also talk about consumerism and capitalism often, where things come from, who makes them, sweatshops and child labor and it helps to frame things within his 8 year old mind.  A question I pose him when he is insistent on something: Is it the item that you want, or is it the branding? What do you think you will feel once you have it? Do you think it will make you look cool? Why do you think that? Even an 8 year old is able to recognize when they have been manipulated by marketing by being posed these questions. 

We keep 20 books or so that we’re not able to give up yet, and we continue revisiting it every so often. Are these books still relevant to my thought process? Am I ready to go on to something else? Are these books better served by being shared? Are these ideas relevant for other people to acquire? Are these habits that I am repeating serving me in this particular moment in my life, or are these left over from previous versions of myself? Because our minimalism extends beyond physical items.

Minimalism is living in the present. What is our life right now? What is my life outside capitalism? I’m not scared to give up an item, because I know we’ve got community to back us up should we need it again. Because I will borrow that book again from the library if I need to reference it. Or I will hit up my clothing swap crew if I need to wear a blazer. Or the tool lending library if I need a saw. We live less insular lives, and more in public spaces. 

And so we navigate this world, using our energy not to organize clutter or clean, or make money to spend on these things that will end up in a landfill later, and instead focus our time on our relationships with each other, so that our needs are always met, regardless if we have spare cash or not. And we build community while we’re at it. 

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