This past week, two big things happened in my life to cause me some reflection.
First, my wife and I started watching Marie Kondo’s new show on Netflix. Like so many others both new to the KonMari method and those of us who have been through the process before and try to live it each day, we ransacked our drawers with consideration and deliberation to purge our lives of those things not sparking joy in our lives.
While our pile of garbage bags destined for the thrift store or eBay was nowhere near as large as it once was, it was still fairly significant. It showed us that while we’ve committed ourselves to minimalism, we’re still very guilty of bringing new items into our home that likely have no business being there…especially for our kids.
The second item that caused me to pause was the announcement that the US trade deficit with China, despite some politicians’ best efforts and promises, had actually increased in 2017 by 17%.
When I looked at those two events and realized that many of the items that I was discarding were the very purchases that contributed to that deficit, I began to realize that my dollars were not only being wasted on useless items but they were also contributing to a global economy that puts an emphasis on sourcing goods as cheaply as possible regardless of the implications.
Now, it is not my intention to mix politics with minimalism, but rather look at the ways in which all Americans (or Canadians or Mexicans or Australians) can support their homegrown economy by leading a minimalist lifestyle.
After all, like so many economies around the world, the US economy is built on convincing each of us to purchase items we don’t need.
Take my daughter’s Happy Meal toy she got last night. A little pink and blue race car that she’ll play with for a couple of days and will end up in our next KonMari purge for sure. The total meal cost around $3. How much could that toy have cost to manufacture in China, ship to the west coast and then drive across country to North Carolina so that it made sense to include it for nearly free in her meal?
And, for what, 20 minutes of playtime?
Whatever the cost, it is insane. When you consider it is hard to pick up a piece of plastic in your home that isn’t “Made in China” you begin to realize our insatiable appetite for “stuff” is a far greater problem than any trade agreement or elected official.
So how do we remedy the problem? For my family, we’re beginning to implement a new policy: C.H.I.N.A.
We’re cutting down on our spending across the board as part of greater priorities to spend less on stuff and spend more time as a family. Not only do the things we purchase take our money, but they also suck our time. Shopping for, buying, considering and perhaps returning consumer items takes way too much time out of our day that we could be spending with each other and achieving our real goals.
Happy meals, not “Happy Meals”
On the way back from pretty much everything we do at night, there is a McDonald’s. While we don’t hear the siren song of the Golden Arches too frequently, we do grab a quick bite every now and then. A toy comes home in each of our daughter’s Happy Meals and, to this day, I can’t think of a single one that has made it into the pantheon of favorite toys. Most are discarded shortly after purchase.
I don’t need it
While it would be great if we could source all of the things we need locally, some industries are never returning to America. The likelihood of consumer electronics being made in the US ever again is likely slim. But, that doesn’t mean we have to give into the US-based companies and marketing teams forcing us to feel like the goods we currently have are somehow lesser than or inferior to the hot new items. We have it within each of us to say “You know what? I don’t need a 60-inch QLED TV. My 55-inch LED TV is just fine.”
Disclaimer: This is not for everyone. Personally, I own two button-up shirts, ten t-shirts and six pairs of pants. I would say 80% of these items were Made in the USA by small companies focused on quality. The great majority of these items wash up perfectly, have not had a single rip and fit better than any fast fashion item I could get at Target. If you are looking to embrace the capsule wardrobe, using the Made in the USA label is a good barometer for quality.
The world is a heavy place with lots of things completely out of our control. But, there are many things we do each day that do have a small impact on larger global trends. When we decide to not load up our cart with the latest in fast fashion or tech made in terrible factories, shipped around the world to use or wear once and then send to a landfill, we’re telling brands that we’ll pay a little more to have better, fewer things. That is within our control.