I recently read a great article (originally printed in Aeon, reprinted on the BBC website) about the shift from tangible status symbols such as a Louis Vuitton handbag to intangible symbols like education and healthcare.
Although the article was about the shift in the way the 1% flaunts their wealth and it’s consequences, a few points really struck me as a minimalist. (Note, all values are US specific)
An 80% increase in tuition fares is insane, there is no way an average family would be able to plan for this kind of hike. Meanwhile the 1% are spending less on material goods, and more on education, retirement and healthcare. Intangible goods that not only increase their quality of life but also leave benefits for the next generation, further widening the wealth gap (I want to note here that as a whole I don’t this this is done with bad intent, the problem is the system, not the people in it). So why aren’t the lower to middle classes following 1%’s example? Because these basic needs are increasingly unattainable.
Should I sacrifice my quality of life now in order to save enough to be able to start a masters course when I am 50? Or should I work three jobs and go ten’s of thousands of dollars in debt? No amount of eschewing avocado toast is going to cover those costs. For many people, the cost of higher education, healthcare and retirement is simply an impossible number.
So what do the lower and middle classes have left? Well let’s look at that 6%. The luxury goods unavailable to their parents generation are suddenly mass produced and just a click away. The natural human desire to show status can be bought at a Black Friday sale or Amazon lightening discount for just $99.99. After all, even if I lived in a shared apartment and ate a monk’s diet of beans and rice I still wouldn’t be able to afford university, so why not? Why not get this thing that makes me feel good about myself?
Here is where minimalism comes in. Minimalism isn’t going to lower your study, healthcare or retirement fees, but it can help you make the best of your situation. It can remove that association between ‘luxury’ goods and ‘feeling good about myself’ and help you channel the available funds you have (no matter how modest they are) into something that will provide you with more satisfaction and happiness.
You might never get the home of your dreams, but minimalism can remove some of the pain of ‘want’, and help you save for the holiday of your dreams. Maybe a tiny house isn’t your first choice, but compared to the constant stress of making your inflated mortgage/rent payment it will bring you a lot more happiness. Maybe you have to live in shared accommodation, minimalism can help you take control of whatever mental and physical space you have, giving you more peace of mind until you can change your situation (I speak very much from personal experience on this one).
It is hard to explain being free from ‘want’ to a non-minimalist, but it really is like a weight lifted from your shoulders. Your self confidence and self worth increases once it is separated from the material world. Your mind is calmer.
Many ‘rich’ countries require structural change to in order for their citizens to thrive, and this is a fight that I wholeheartedly support being a part of. But on the smaller scale every person can increase their own happiness in a way that will be relevant and useful regardless of their environment or economic situation.