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I’ve just finished reading a book about families attempting to live minimalist lifetimes.

There’s much to be said about the issue of waste, but let’s not do that today.

I am actually quite surprised that this part of the sustainability movement does not present itself a little bit more in favor of deregulation, decentralization and individualism. Maybe they do, but I’ve yet to read much demonstrating that so far.

(1) The choice to live “minimalistic” is an individual one. The government cannot compel you to purchase things (oops, ignore this) so this is a way of living that can happen regardless of the nature of regulation or what anyone else is doing. It is not prone to externalities receipt or production either – so, purchasing less and repurposing goods can be done virtually irrespective of what others are doing.

(2) Folks that live a material minimalist lifestyle are no less “consumeristic” than the lives they do not wish to live or the folks they often decry or despise as capitalist consumer-driven gluttons. The reason, aside from feeling good or making a statement, to live minimalist is to have more of some other thing that you value more. More time to bake. More time to hike. More time to read. More time to garden. More ability to travel and vacation.

These are all forms of consumption. All greedy if you want to call it that. Indeed I’m enjoying my free time these days not by buying crap, but by reading, exercising, volunteering my time – all things that I value.

(3) When it comes to shopping for food or hardware and the like the minimalists eschew packaging. They bring mason jars to the butcher to get fresh meat without packaging; same for bulk goods like grains as well as fruits and vegetables. Surely they use less packaging than otherwise – but many of these folks proudly claim that their entire output of trash for an entire year could fit into a mason jar. But that claim is ridiculous even if that is all that comes from their home. Their bulk granola and beans is packaged from farm or factory to the farmers’ market or grocery store. That’s less packaging than using smaller packages from the shelves but it surely is real – it just shows up in the store’s trash “mason jar.” A closer look at several other minimalist claims would be worthwhile.

(4) Sure megastores and shopping have encouraged waste – but so too has regulation and centralization. For example, when I was a kid in Queens it was not uncommon for a vegetable cart, a knife sharpening cart and a candy cart to make their way through our neighborhood. We also had a small metal box on our stoop for our milk man to leave our milk. Many regulations are in place to make this difficult or impossible right now. Just look at the difficulty food trucks have in many cities getting licensed. Even kiddy lemonade stands have a hard time existing. If the minimalist community wanted a way to get products without packaging and smaller environmental footprints to make it to their homes you’d think they’d be strongly in favor of deregulation of street sales. I have not seen a single article nor have I heard a single impassioned speech from a greenie in favor of this. This kind of decentralization could be generalized – for example it would VERY likely be the case that direct delivery of products to consumers instead of having them go to stores. Thus, while Amazon has doomed both Borders and the mom and pop bookstore it surely is more “sustainable” than the former too.

I’d like to believe that the sustainability community actually cares about sustainability and not something else. You don’t need massive central plans to get the ball rolling, nor is it clear that political directives are the way for folks to achieve a more minimalist life. After all, if folks believe that government is bought by big oil, big pharma, big finance, etc. then what’s easier to do? Get that Titanic to turn around? Or not to get on the ship in the first place?

3 Responses to “Decentralize to Sustain”

  1. drobviousso says:

    “but many of these folks proudly claim that their entire output of trash for an entire year could fit into a mason jar”

    Wastewater must not count, huh?

  2. Harry says:

    Being a farm kid, we often led what could be described as not a minimalist life, as in Ted Kyscanski, but it was not a Jay Gatsby experience, either. One lesson I learned early was that when pulling weeds, one shook out all of the dirt. This is a lesson that I am teaching my new yard kid. We put weeds and diseased plants into the trash, but in general everything that can rot does not leave, and zero soil does not leave , except for what is washed away.

    However, we would have not survived without electricity to pump water, cool the milk, run the barn cleaner, mix the feed, and heat the stove in the house. Pump water that flows to keep the pipes from freezing.

    So yes, I am equipped to draw water from the well (or creek),plant a bigger garden to grow root vegetables, have a cow to milk and a few pigs to feed, and pick up dead firewood to stoke the fire, and some heavy sweaters and an Eddie Bauer down parka. Eventually, maybe in a millennium , the land is depleted, the creek runs dry, and descendants move to New York City, where the law of conservation of matter does not apply.

  3. Scott says:

    property rights encourage minimalism. I find myself becoming more and more minimalist, but it is a personal choice. By intentionally limiting my access to material goods, I find that myself more thankful for what I do have, it remaps my brain and decreases my dependency on material goods. As an entrepreneur, this helps build a risk-taking mentality, as I feel certain that I can achieve long-term happiness with only minimal consumption habits.

    If minimalists believe in decreasing waste, we should see an increased demand for items such as re-usable grocery bags – absolutely no central planning is required.

    But how does a hardcore minimalist feel about sewage systems? Do you really need a toilet? An outhouse requires much less infrastructure and resources to develop and maintain.

    Thinking of the 1000’s (no joke) of regulatory/legislative documents I have been reading, the minimalist in me is filled with rage at the thought of what an incredible waste of time the government forces me to endure – and think of all the unnecessary jobs I am maintaining.

    I am very interested to read a post on waste.

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