Reading “The Class Politics of Decluttering” just got my blood going and incited in me the urge for rebuttal.
In short, the author labels decluttering as a trendy habit that has become popular thanks to “the well-off middle class,” who are spoiled and want to make themselves feel better by reducing their overabundance of possessions. Being low-income herself, she feels that poor people flock to sales because it allows them to get the things they need at affordable prices, and suggests that asking them to declutter their excess would be cruel. As she puts it:
Those aren’t the people who would benefit from a minimalist life. They can’t afford to do with less.
Oy, where to begin? Most people in every social class tend to keep more belongings than they need. Even low-income Americans find themselves tripping over bags of clothes their children have outgrown, toys no one plays with anymore, and more cheap plastic tumblers than they can use in a lifetime. Indeed, the author herself describes what happened when she had to move to a smaller apartment:
I had to sort through and get rid of carloads of clothes, my childhood toys, school papers, books, movies and artwork. I couldn’t afford to store all of these items, which had value to me only as a record of my history — including mementos from my parents.
My stuff wasn’t just stuff, but a reminder that I had a foundation of support of people who had loved me growing up: a painting I’d done as a child that my mom had carefully framed and hung in our house, a set of antique Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls my ferret once chewed an eye out of when I was 15, artwork my mom had collected over the decade we lived in Alaska. Things I grew up with that brought me back to a time of living a carefree life.
Goodness! Here’s a grown woman with children of her own still dragging around “carloads” of her childhood belongings? Like so many of us who have had to downsize our living quarters, she could have kept a few of the most precious items and photographed the rest in order to keep her memories intact. Seriously, how many adults keep all their childhood school papers and artwork?
If anything, you would think someone who lives in small quarters, whether by choice or by financial necessity, would see the wisdom in streamlining their possessions so that they can live unencumbered by what they no longer need, leaving extra room in an already small place for the items they need and/or cherish most.
Another thing that got me going: the author implies that the more “stuff” you have, the wealthier you are. Nothing can be further than the truth in 21st century America. Even the poor have more C³ (Cheap Chinese Crap) than they know what to do with. I’ve seen so much evidence of this. In my town (median income $35,000), in both the “poor” areas and the nicer areas, people leave oodles of belongings out on the curb after they move or after they have a garage sale. It always amazes me how much of that stuff is left there for days until the trash truck comes to carry it off. When I was a kid, lots of people “garbage-picked,” but now I rarely see that, most likely because everyone has plenty of stuff of their own.
I won’t go into what I think the author’s real issues are, though they should be obvious to anyone who can read. But it bugs me that she labels decluttering as an elitist pastime. For me and for many others, decluttering is a process that brings many good things into everyone’s lives, including (as I say in the title of my first book) “freedom, flexibility and financial peace.” And people of all social classes can benefit from those!