Wandering Lust: Do We Really Need to Travel to Find Ourselves?

Tucked away deep within the Andes mountain range in Peru, fifty miles from the city of Cusco and almost 8,000 feet above sea level, lies the ancient Inca settlement of Machu Picchu. The site was well-known to historians and geographers, but was not heavily visited by Western tourists until the past decade, highlighted by a tourist count of over 1 million in 2011, the centennial anniversary of its discovery by Hiram Bingham.

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The biggest growth in the tourism economy from 2002 to 2012 was from young travelers, and as of 2012, over 20% of the 1.088 trillion dollars spent on tourism was from this same demographic. This figure is more impressive when one considers that a great deal of these travelers earn far less than mature individuals would; many of them are in fact still students who are unemployed. During spring break and the post-graduation spring and summer months, social media is abuzz with countless pictures of the excursions of young travelers. The precise purpose of these trips vary, but the ultimate reason for travel is to escape modern civilization in the search of something new. Many travelers depart on lengthy vacations as a self-proclaimed voyage of self-discovery. In fact, a comprehensive study by the World Youth Student and Educational Travel Confederation (WYSE) surveyed 34,000 students and found that the average trip duration was 58 days, while the average cost was 3,000 Euros. Both of these figures were deemed “substantial increases” from the previous study’s results.

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From an economic standpoint, it seems perplexing why there has actually been an increase in youth travel despite the fact that the average student debt in Canada is pegged at $26,300 according to BMO Group, and at $33,000 in the US according to an analysis of government data, which are both the highest these figures have ever been, even when adjusted for inflation. However, according to the WYSE, a growing number of travelers used their vacations to find work, study, or learn a new language. This desire for growth and purpose aligns with the results of a survey of Millennials by Deloitte, which determined that 60% of Millennials desire a sense of purpose with their work. Historically, travel has given Westerners a sense of purpose and perspective about the world by exposing them to different cultures and allowing them to rethink their current situation in the world, so due the mountain of debt and crisis of unemployment many youth face today, many have taken to foreign soils to seek a sense of purpose. But is it really there?

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The pinnacle of infatuation with foreign culture and its integration into our own lives occurred during the 1960s, when remnants of the Beat movement were adopted by hippies as part of their culture. Eastern spirituality, medicine, and even musical influences were co-opted into Western society as an alternative to the repressive, square mainstream. Buddhist and Hindu ideas and terminology were heavily featured in the work of Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. This style of writing embraced travel as nourishment for the spirit and a necessary prescription to remove the repressive castes of Western society and embrace true self-discovery and spiritualism. Much of this countercultural touristic revolt was borne out of the critique of mass society of the 1950s. Many youth did not want to become trapped in a sea of conformity, but instead desired the freedom-granting flight of individualism.

Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac

The situation is no different today; in fact, it has increased in its potency due to a number of social innovations and changes. More youth than ever are attending university, which has encouraged more youth than ever to become free-thinking young adults who are exposed to a variety of opinions from their professors along the way.

Most universities create an atmosphere of exploration in all aspects of the self as students grow from youth into young adults. This increase in student uptake has no doubt led to an increase in the rejection of mainstream society as more youth seek purpose and fulfillment from employment and life in general. This pattern has also led to a rise in the number of new entrepreneurs due to a desire for individualism and widespread shunning of the corporate world by young adults.

The exaggerated fear of conformity and widespread embrace of individualism has led to “mainstream shaming” among many Millennials. For example, the term “basic” has recently been adopted as a derogatory slang term to describe those who are average, conformist, or stereotypical. This could include wearing popular items of clothing, having a certain taste in music, or it could even describe the general stereotypical behaviour of a group. For example, the stereotype of the “basic white girl” includes trips to Starbucks, wearing Ugg Boots, and an overly spiritual outlook on life that includes hobbies like yoga.

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This cultural shaming of those who conform is a form of status posturing that is consistent in egalitarian societies. Additionally, those who are aware that their lifestyle reflects these violations of good taste shield themselves from criticism by acknowledging their faults in an ironic fashion. Essentially, many people who are deemed “basic” openly acknowledge the lifestyle and the social “sins” they are committing, but continue to indulge in them because of their ironic acceptance of their lifestyle.

To be individual is to be hip, to be conformist is to be square. Those who aspire for higher status posture themselves according to how cool their lifestyle is and how good their tastes are. By casting off the supposed suffocating shackles of mainstream society and escaping to foreign soils, young travelers aspire to gain a great sense of self-worth and fulfillment. However, the notion that one has to “escape” mainstream society and the conformist lifestyle in order to achieve fulfillment or enlightenment is a societal illusion created by countercultural viewpoint of mainstream society.

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In recent years, cash has been replaced by social currency as the most important form of capital in the eyes of the cool youth. It doesn’t matter how much your salary is; only how happy you are, and this notion is supported by psychological research on happiness. I support this notion of chasing happiness over personal affluence, but unfortunately, many of the popular methods of acquiring social currency and happiness are, ironically, also quite expensive. Travel is one of the popular methods, as is eating organic or local foods, living in industrial loft-style apartments complete with designer furniture and accessories, or even living in a minimalist-style home. Although these methods may seem attractive when dressed in layers of happiness and a spiritual mantra, what is always hidden is the increased cost of these lifestyle choices.

Traveling, as evidenced by the report referenced above, is certainly not cheap, and will continue to become more expensive as the price of jet fuel continues to climb, as well as the increased costs of living experienced in foreign countries as they develop more. Organic foods, while they may appear holistically better on the surface, are in fact no better nutritionally for you than conventional versions of the same foods, but the name organic carries a premium price point. Local food is a better option only if you choose to support small businesses, because much of the produce at large supermarkets is purchased from local or domestic farms that just happen to operate a large scale.

A minimalist cottage

A minimalist cottage

Minimalist living spaces that are visually attractive are treated with a great deal of affection in the media, but if the prices and actual construction details were also included in these descriptions, people’s opinions may not be so favourable. Minimalist dwellings are much more expensive than a typical suburban home despite their smaller square footage, and this is due to the level of customization and complexity of the actual construction process.

Essentially, a labour-intensive design and build process combined with expensive (read: custom) materials makes for a pricey home, even if it is the size of a garage in your average suburban home. Unfortunately, these facts are often overlooked because an increasing amount of people are unaware of what goes into the construction of a house due to the diminishing amount of common knowledge of trades.

With that in mind, it becomes evident that the whole mantra of chasing happiness over material wealth and possessions has become quite hypocritical. It seems that happiness, while not directly related to a higher salary or a more expensive car, still seems to ultimately be a product of social status and wealth according to the bulk of articles aimed at Millennials. If happiness isn’t a product of monetary wealth, then why is there so much emphasis placed on relatively expensive pursuits in the discussion on happiness? It is because, in our current society, the value of individualism has skyrocketed, and the cost of almost all experiences or products associated with it has followed the same trajectory.

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Let’s consider an everyday example: the purchase of your morning coffee. In Canada, the two largest coffee shop chains are Tim Horton’s and Starbucks. Tim Horton’s targets the every day customer and builds value on the efficiency of service and relatively low price they provide. People who regularly go to Tim Horton’s more often than not have simple orders, and the simplicity of the menu reflects this. Starbucks, on the other hand, caters towards the more individual-minded consumer. Their menu is much more diverse, exotic, and, most importantly, more expensive. A specialty beverage at Starbucks can reach almost $6 (CDN), while the most expensive specialty beverage at a Tim’s would barely surpass a peasantry amount of $4. The cost to make a specialty beverage is only a few cents more per drink than a standard one, but because of the sense of individualism gained through the purchase of a specialty drink, these retailers can get away with charging a premium price.

The same metric can be applied to the surge in youth travelers. At its core, traveling does present a unique set of challenges: going to unfamiliar territory, expanding your comfort zone with a new culture, physical demands, planning an itinerary, dealing with inevitable setbacks; the list goes on. It is this combination of challenges and opportunities that most youth travelers attribute to “finding themselves”. What is overlooked in this scenario is that these opportunities are just as prevalent in domestic locations as they are in foreign ones. One could experience virtually the same set of challenges on a canoe trip through Algonquin Park as they would backpacking in Southeast Asia, yet we hardly attribute a week-long excursion through the Eastern Ontario wilderness as a life-changing experience because Algonquin Park isn’t wrapped in same foreign mystique that a trek through a Cambodian rainforest is.

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If the WYSE report is any indication, the youth tourism market will continue to increase as long as youth in the Western world continue to seek purpose and validation on foreign soils. With the increasing burden of student debt, a relatively poor job market, and an increasing level of status anxiety from social media, youth will continue to flee mainstream society. I argue that this need to escape is misplaced, as the happiness that awaits a traveler on foreign soils can also be found domestically. The fact is, when people are put in a new environment, they’re very good at finding happiness with whatever is available.

This is why when you hear the stories of people who volunteered abroad in a third world country, you will always hear how the experience changed their life, put their life in perspective, and made them realize that we just need get rid of our meaningless possessions and live simpler in order to be happy. This is not true at all. North American society is fundamentally different from the average third world country’s, so there is no reason to think that by altering our way of life to mirror theirs we will magically become happier. Helping people abroad will leave you with a good feeling because you helped somebody less fortunate than you (and even this notion has been thoroughly refuted), but that same feeling could have just as easily been realized at a local soup kitchen.

Vacations and travel certainly have their merit and value: they enrich our understanding of the world and are excellent educational experiences, but the notion that travel is the end to a means of self-discovery is an expensive fallacy. Travel obviously has it merits, but the degree to which we attribute personal transformations as a result of travel is often misplaced and is simply a product of our own maturation, which would have occurred whether we traveled or not.

I will conclude with this paragraph from the book The Rebel Sell that does an excellent job of putting everything in perspective:

Perhaps then it is time that we learned to make peace with the masses. There are more than six billion human beings on this planet, each of whom has hopes, dreams, plans and projects very much like our own, and each of whom wants food, housing, education, dental care, a family, a job and probably a car – maybe a bicycle. Isn’t a certain loss of individuality inevitable in a world of this type? How many of the features of so-called mass society are a simple product of population pressure – the fact that we need to share the planet with so many other people – and how many are the product of genuine inefficiencies or inequalities in the organization of our social institutions? Isn’t individualism becoming more and more a luxury? If we are going to figure out how to live in harmony in an increasingly populous world, the insistence on individuality at any cost is not a helpful point of departure. We need to start figuring out which compromises are inevitable and which can be avoided.”

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Why Hipsters Dress Like Lumberjacks: The Story of the “Lumbersexual”

imagesI recently came across this article that describes the trend of the “lumbersexual”, which describes the appearance of an “lumberjack” many hipsters and other trendy males have adopted. The rampant incidence of beards, flannels, long hair, and work boots being sported by young, urban males is the basis for the term “lumbersexual”, which brings back memories of the equally inane term “metrosexual” to describe fashionably conscious and well-groomed males of the early to mid 2000s. My issue with the article in question is that the author failed to truly investigate how this whole trend came to be. Time for a history lesson.

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How to be an urban lumberjack. 1: Selvedge denim, just like the railroad workers used to wear 2: Flannel cap 3: Axe (not the body spray you used in grade 8) 4 and 5: ??? 6: Diemme work boots 7: Flannel shirt

In 2008, North America experienced the worst financial crisis since the stock market crash of 1929. Millions were laid off, businesses underwent massive restructuring and organizational changes, and society as a whole became a lot more conservative with their money. People no longer could afford to live a life of excess. Consumer tastes demanded longer-lasting, quality goods that would last them many years into the future. It was at this time that the “Workwear” trend in men’s (and to a lesser degree, women’s) fashion took hold. Instead of new, shiny, elegant clothing, male consumers of the world demanded rugged clothing crafted from a quality manufacturing process.

Almost overnight, large fashion houses started cranking out workwear inspired pieces. Entire brands based around a workwear focus even started to pop up. Japanese influence also took an upswing, as the staple garments of the Japanese blue collar industry became the darlings of numerous menswear brands in the form of “repro” (short for reproduction) designs. Even American workwear legend Levi’s decided to get in on the fun, and launched their LVC (Levi’s Vintage Clothing) line to produce a variety of high quality reproductions of classic workwear pieces.

Bottega Veneta FW/08: The most expensive pair of coveralls you'll ever see.

Bottega Veneta FW/08: The most expensive pair of coveralls you’ll ever see.

Bottega Venetta produced workwear inspired pieces like luxurious cotton coveralls and cashmere fingerless gloves. Ralph Lauren launched their double Rl line, RRL, to mimic what LVC was doing. Engineered Garments, launched by Japanese designer Daiki Suzuki, is influenced by the sturdy and cropped garments worn by pre-WWII Japanese blue collar workers. Selvedge denim became a huge trend, and numerous companies were created; some still exist to this day, many have seen their revenues wane with the times. Red Wing boots, long seen as an American classic for their construction and durability, started to be seen on the streets of New York and Los Angeles on the feet of the fashion conscious.

Daiki Suzuki of Engineered Garments showcasing a blazer from FW/11

Daiki Suzuki of Engineered Garments showcasing a blazer from FW/11

For two years, the workwear trend boomed. Like all popular fashion trends, eventually the workwear tastes of the fashion savvy eventually trickled down to urban trendsetters. It was at this time that mention of the “urban lumberjack” was first seen in publications outside the fashion industry’s inner circle. Flannel shirts, selvedge jeans, duck cotton coloured pants, and sturdy leather boots became popular amongst the hipster crowds of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Queen West.

This influx of workwear inspired clothing was closely coupled to societal tastes at the time. Urban young adults grew tired of the “fake” and modern direction that many cities were taking. Many young males and some females were affectionately drawn to the more authentic side of things: this included all things rural, outdoorsy, and rugged.

What trends were common around this time?

1) Shopping local, supporting your farmer’s market

2) Urban farming/gardening

3) The craft beer industry started to take off

4) Beards became en vogue, as did growing your hair longer, perhaps sporting a man bun in the process.

5) Country music became the most popular form of music in North America

6) Folk Music went mainstream; Mumford & Sons won a few Grammies

7) Many TV series were created to reflect these tastes: Duck Dynasty, Mountain Men, Yukon Men – really any “blue collar” themed show was the result of the jaded urban inhabitant’s yearning for a more authentic, rugged sense of self. Dirty Jobs was a great reflection of this.

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This myriad of trends gave birth to the lifestyle of the urban lumberjack, or what is now apparently known as the lumbersexual. Contrary to what the article in question referenced, the lumbersexual did not arise out of gay culture. The urban lumberjack is largely one borne out of the larger hipster countercultural movement, which has evolved from comically large sunglasses and keffiyeh scarves to dressing like lumberjacks and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon or craft beers.

The hippies of the 60s/70s...

The hippies of the 60s/70s…

Countercultures are created simply as an alternative to the mainstream; there is no true stance or constant activist principle behind them. If we examine perhaps the most famous counterculture example, the hippie, we associate these individuals with environmental activism and freedom from government control. Ironically, these same youth who were so against destroying the environment and big oil were also the primary consumers in the 1980s when the SUV – perhaps the most destructive vehicle for the environment ever created- was conceived. These same bell-bottom wearing flower children were now suburban adults driving their kids to soccer practice in their 4 wheeled tank that seated 7.

...became the SUV driving suburban parents of the 80s.

…became the SUV driving suburban parents of the 80s.

Of course, there were the genuine (read: authentic) individuals who truly did care for the environment and still hold the same stance today as they did 50 years ago, but the vast majority of individuals who participate in countercultural movements do so as a means of social leveraging. To be authentic, to be “cool”, is a large motivator in our society. Our society is comprised of numerous sub-cultures, all who hold a certain belief and standard of what is “cool” to them. For those who have grown weary of the hustle and bustle of the city and yearn for the simpler country life,  the lumbersexual community gave them a sense of belonging, so they ascribed to it.

Even H&M, which used to be a store for "metrosexual" men, has jumped on the urban lumberjack bandwagon.

Even H&M, which used to be a store for “metrosexual” men, has jumped on the urban lumberjack bandwagon.

The feminization of society in the last 50 years has also contributed to the rise of the urban lumberjack. Feminization is one of the reasons violence has declined in our society, but it has also left many men without a sense of what their masculine identity is. Dressing like a lumberjack, one of the stereotypically “manly” occupations is their attempt at trying to capture some of that bygone testosterone, even if they’ve never held an axe before.

Five years from now, we probably won’t see as many beards, flannel shirts, or work boots being sported by hip young adults across North America. Most of these individuals will have moved on, grown up, for a countercultural lifestyle in a capitalist society has a limited lifespan. The generation after them will find their own problem with the world, their own quest to be “cool”, and their tastes will reflect that. It’s what happened with the hippies in the 60s, the punks of the 70s, Grunge in the 90s, and now hipsters in the 2000s and beyond.

Fight Club had it Wrong: the Problems with Minimalism

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When I was in first year at university, it seemed that there were two films that everyone was buzzing about: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fight Club. The two films are controversial, edgy, and they signify a coming of age for many students. One of the main themes of Fight Club is anti-consumerism, which leads to violent, radical activist behaviour in the latter stages of the film. Throughout the film, the narrator is told to free himself from his possessions, because it is in fact his possessions which control him. This is an “awakening” of sorts to many students, who now recognize the evils of advertising, mass media, and consumerism. A major lifestyle movement that has been gaining steam in the past decade is minimalism, which is also largely anti-consumerist and anti-possession.

Minimalism to the extreme

Minimalism to the extreme

Minimalism preaches to rid yourself of all but your most necessary possessions and living space. This means selling all of your DVDs, getting rid of most of your clothes, downsizing your home, and generally clearing your life of unnecessary clutter. Some of the more extreme proponents of the minimalism movement advocate for you to trim down your belongings to a mere 100 things, which is certainly no easy task for many of us today. I do agree that minimalism is useful for certain aspects of your life, and that as North Americans, we do accumulate a number of things that we simply do not need anymore. Technology is to thank for much of this, as we can now have entire libraries and DVD collections on a few devices in our home. However, as trendy as minimalism may be in today’s world, it simply does not work for the vast majority of us.

Minimalism advocates for less clutter

Minimalism advocates for less clutter

At its core, minimalism is just another countercultural lifestyle choice that provides its followers with social status leveraging against the status quo. The premise of essentially every countercultural movement is the motivation to be cooler than the mainstream, and minimalism is no different. The trend with design technology has mirrored this cultural taste, and most of our popular items today are very minimalist in their design. While technology and its design has advanced tremendously in the past decade, the price of most items has remained relatively stable, or has increased slightly.

A minimalist lifestyle reduces spending in the sense of clutter, but it increases spending in the sense of technology to offset the items lost. Getting rid of all of your CDs, DVDs, and books will likely require you to acquire a Netflix account, pay for a relatively good internet package to download movies or music, and purchase a Kindle or an iPad to store and read your discarded books on. This can be a rather expensive upgrade. Essentially, minimalism is not so much a rebellion against consumerism as it is a by-product of the evolution of technology. Think of any vision of an ideal future you may have seen in any science fiction movie. The design template was predominantly minimalist, with a low amount of visually stimulating colour and very simplistic overtones. The advanced technology allowed a more simplistic, streamlined way of life, much like what modern minimalism advocates for.

An example of a minimalist dwelling

An example of a minimalist dwelling

The actual lifestyle impact of minimalism is, on the surface, very promising. Less stuff means more space, more space means a more fluid and simplistic lifestyle and more time to focus on the tasks at hand instead of constant cleaning and organizing. But, another aspect of minimalism is to reduce the size of your living space to cut out unnecessary space from your life. This is all well and good when you’re young, as you don’t have the need for as much stuff because your day-to-day life simply doesn’t dictate it. But the vast majority of the population isn’t young, and space is required to raise a family in a healthy environment.  Additionally, a large part of North American culture is entertaining guests, whether it be for a birthday party, family reunion, or your child’s sleepover. While you can rent out a public space for a birthday party or a family reunion, or simply avoid having your child have a sleepover, this can be potentially damaging to your reputation and to the event itself.

If your home is not big enough to entertain guests such that you have to rent a public space, it ruins the intimacy of hosting the event, not to mention it costs a lot more. You might also run into unforeseen rules, regulations, and other annoyances along the way. In short, minimalism can often lead to awkward social situations if your social circle are not minimalists themselves. This is not to say that minimalism is wrong, but that it will never reach mainstream society because of how the North American family model has historically been constructed.

To quote the Great Gatsby: “I love big parties, they’re so intimate”.

This is why I believe that the minimalist movement is cultivating a secular crop of lonely people, unless your other friends also happen to be minimalist. If you physically do not have the space to entertain, or to even share it comfortably with one significant other, you’re limiting your development as a human. A small space is tight, enclosed, and unwelcoming. Look at most examples of minimalist living and you’ll find that the design and layout of most of these spaces evoke a very cold and lifeless atmosphere. Minimalism is also for people who do not need to interact with many people during their daily routine. For this constant face-to-face contact, you would need more clothes, means of travel, possibly a space to entertain at some point, and other possessions that sync with this lifestyle that minimalism doesn’t allow for. Dependence on technology, discarding mementoes and other priceless memorabilia, and ascribing to a strict regimen of little to no possessions can shut you out from some truly great experiences.

Ironically, experiences are what a lot of the appeal of minimalism is based on. In lieu of adding to your collection of possessions, the minimalist approach is to spend your money elsewhere. Learning new skills, travelling, and living outside the confines of your own home (hence why size doesn’t really matter) are key traits of a minimalist lifestyle. Traveling has definitely become one of the de facto ways to gain independence and discover yourself today, but a life of constant travel is quite expensive and unpredictable, which many people simply cannot afford to do. I definitely encourage shaping your life through experiences, and building lasting memories with them, but the fundamental flaw with this philosophy is that it states that experiences cannot be created through possessions and consumerism. I would argue that many possessions can provide you with experiences, and that one simply needs to be a smarter consumer instead of largely abstaining from purchasing.

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Minimalism advocates for spending more income on experiences, such as travel

In a previous article, I spoke of my theory that buying your clothes second-hand at thrift stores or online makes you more attached to them and increases your satisfaction with your purchase because you had to live out more of an experience to locate and procure them. My theory of experiential consumerism can be applied to almost every purchase you make in the future. I equate it to this: if the purchase you are making will provide your life with a direct, tangible benefit, then it counts as an experiential purchase, and you should buy it. This could be a cookbook, a computer, a bike – anything that you will use to great benefit of your own life.

What you should aim to approach with a more minimalist mindset are the things that you do not place high value in. I’m not the biggest fan of electronics and TV in particular, so I have the bare essentials as far as technology goes: a computer, a cell phone, and a small TV, but that’s all I have any use for. If you place more value on technology, by all means, spend away on it, as your high sense of value that is invested in your experiences that you gain from electronics will be rewarding.

I place a high value in books and my clothes, and my bookshelf is full of titles new and old, and my closet follows a similar pattern. I gain a great deal of personal value when I read a new book and learn something, or when I purchase an item of clothing to emulate a certain style or aesthetic that I find interesting. All of these are experiential purchases, and the value that they give me is worth the purchase ten-fold. Don’t be afraid to spend money on things you’re passionate about; it’s not consumerism if you’re consciously aware and happy with what you’re buying.

A minimalist closet. Generally not indicative of someone who places value in their clothing

A minimalist closet creates a very restrictive and repetitive wardrobe, which is fine if you don’t place value in your clothing.

The narrator in Fight Club placed a high value in furniture from IKEA, but the difference here is that he placed a high value in the furniture, not IKEA the company. This is why when he purchased everything in his apartment from IKEA, he was in a delusional state of happiness. His purchases did not reflect his high valuation of interior design and an attractive apartment. The narrator purchased unoriginal, cheaply made furniture that anyone could have, and this furniture was not produced with longevity in mind. This is also why many experiential purchases will be higher quality purchases: a long product life will produce more experiences for the consumer, and this attachment will produce more satisfaction and happiness with the product. If the narrator had have searched high and low for antique furniture or other rare, quality pieces, he would likely have been a lot more upset when his entire apartment went up in flames, because he attached an experience to his purchase.

I believe that Fight Club’s core message about how we let our possessions own us was correct, but to discard all possessions in favour of a life of squalor and violence was quite frankly delusional in nature. Our possessions only own us as long as we let them. We don’t have to throw everything away and squat in a dilapidated house while plotting our revenge against the system; we can make conscious decisions to make more of our purchases experiential ones. For many people, minimalism is a radical notion, and this is why it will simply never catch on to the desires of its proponents. Like all forms of counterculture, the strength of minimalism lies in its exclusivity. Minimalism has some good merits, but to subscribe to the entire ideology is not sustainable for most people.

As long as there is democracy, there will be competition for status. Counterculture exists for those on the cutting edge of status leveraging, and when an aspiring minimalist discards all of their possessions, they are merely trying to be cooler than the other guy, which is counterproductive. As the old adage goes: “The harder you try to be cool, the less cool you actually become.” The reality is, many of our possessions are what define our status and help us find a place in society. As sad is this grim truth is, it will continue to persist as long as our egalitarian society yields the premise of success and fortune no matter what the situation you’re born into.

What’s ironic is that while minimalists abstain from possessions because they’re a constant measure of status, minimalism itself is a status-seeking lifestyle. At its core, minimalism is keeping ahead of the Joneses by abstaining from needless purchases, so in terms of social morals, minimalists are no better than the possession driven mainstreamers they seek to distinguish themselves from.

Stop keeping up with the Joneses. Worry about yourself instead.

Stop keeping up with (or ahead of) the Joneses. Worry about yourself instead.

In this sense of almost inescapable status laddering, we must tailor our consumption to mirror our values, and force ourselves to forego purchases that are not experiential in nature. If we purchase things because we value them and disregard purchases that are thoughtless and largely driven by consumer hysteria, we will start to see a great deal of change. Tailor your purchases to your values, and stop making unnecessary purchases of things that you do not value.

I definitely encourage you to clear out some unnecessary things, as we are all guilty of having too much clutter in our homes. However, minimalism will not make you spend less money; rather, it will make you spend your money differently because you’re more actively thinking about what you’re doing doing with it. And this is the one philosophy of minimalism that I believe should be applied to your life whether you ascribe to this lifestyle or not. The bottom line is: we need to think about why we’re purchasing things, stop trying to impress each other, and instead focus on impressing ourselves.