Our focus should be on making things last and serve their purpose, not throwing them away.
Minimalism and decluttering have exploded in popularity in recent years, thanks to the glut of stuff in most people's homes. A consumerist culture, the steady bombardment of advertisements and 'deals', and the ease with which one can purchase things online and have them delivered the next day have created a situation in which many people feel suffocated and overwhelmed by their belongings, not to mention in debt.
Decluttering is one reaction to this, especially according to Marie Kondo's instructions to purge anything that does not 'spark joy'. Sometimes enthusiastic decluttering morphs into something even more intense – the adoption of minimalism – which is paring down of one's belongings to the smallest possible number. This can become an obsession of sorts.Both of these are well-intentioned movements, but as Benjamin Leszcz points out in the Globe and Mail, they miss the point. What's needed is not less stuff, but a new way of looking at stuff – namely, whether or not something can 'make do'. Instead of asking an item if it sparks joy, as Kondo would have us do, we should ask our items, 'Can you fill your intended use for me?'
"The answer – if we can be honest, and resist a moment of discomfort, inconvenience or boredom – is, extraordinarily often, yes. Making do is about taming the reflex to discard, replace or upgrade; it’s about using things well, and using them until they are used up. Taken literally, it simply means making something perform – making it do what it ought to do."
Kondo is overly dispassionate about the act of discarding. While she does encourage people to thank an item for its time of service, Leszcz believes we should feel some degree of shame at tossing an item before it has fully 'made do' and served its intended purpose. There should be a point when we admit "that we probably should not have bought that thing in the first place."
"Instead of thanking our outgoing goods for their meagre service, per Ms. Kondo, making do means admonishing ourselves for being so thoughtless in the first place. Ditching something costs us, ecologically and cosmically; it should sting. And it should teach us to think more carefully about the real value of things."
There is a tendency to blame disposable design and built-in obsolescence for the vast quantities of clothing and technology that get thrown away every year; and yet we really only have ourselves to blame. As Leszcz reminds us rather uncomfortably, "Disposability is a design problem. But more than that, it is a psychology problem."
The good news is that, because it's psychological, it can be transformed. By shifting our mindset and viewing our belongings as things built to last, we will throw away less. We will learn to spot quality and timeless styles when making purchases, to get comfortable with paying for repairs, and to stretch the life of everything we buy, even of fast fashion items that, in many cases, can be worn far longer than we think.