If everyone immediately stopped spending their money, our economy would crash. This goes without saying. Consequently, one of the biggest (supposed) arguments many people have against minimalism is that if everyone became a minimalist, then we’d all be doomed: the financial system as it stands today would collapse, and no longer would we have the wealth necessary to purchase cheap plastic shit from Walmart.
There are several problems with this point of view, some obvious, some a bit more abstruse.
First, no informed person would argue that we should stop spending money or that we must stop consuming. Consumption is not the problem; consumerism is the problem. Consumerism is compulsory, vapid, pernicious, impulsive, unfocused, misguided. Worst of all, it is seductive: consumerism’s shiny facade promises more than it can possibly deliver, because love, happiness, contentment, and satisfaction are all internal feelings that cannot be commodified, and the truth is that once our basic needs are met, the acquisition of trinkets does little for our lifelong well-being.
Using consumerism to stimulate the economy is like fixing a cracked mirror with a hammer. It only worsens the problem. Yes, trade is an important part of any society. Circumventing consumerism, however, doesn’t imply that minimalists sidestep commerce. Rather, minimalism is predicated on intentionality, which means we spend our money more deliberately.
Minimalists invest in experiences over possessions. Travel, indie concerts, vacations, community theater, etc.: we can all spend money without acquiring new material things.
Minimalists buy new possessions carefully. To do so we must ask better questions, like, Will this thing add value to my life?
Minimalists support local businesses. Local, indie shops tend to be less motivated by profit. Sure, they need to make money to keep the lights on, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but earning a buck usually isn’t the primary concern of the local bookstore, restauranteur, or bike shop. They are in business because they are passionate about their product or service, and they want to share that passion with their patrons. Passion begets greater quality and better service, which makes the money they earn well deserved.
Ultimately, minimalists aren’t interested in “stimulating” the economy. Stimulation is ephemeral. We’d rather improve our economy’s long-term health by making better individual decisions about consumption, getting involved in our community, and supporting local businesses who care. If more people do this, we’ll build a stronger economy, one that’s predicated on personal responsibility and community interaction, not a false sense of urgency and the mindless stockpiling of junk we never needed in the first place.
Read this essay and 150 others in our new book, Essential.