Maybe we’re mainstream already?

At the moment I have a colleague visiting from Europe who is staying in our flat for some weeks. When she arrived I told her how everything works, and apologized for not having a TV. She said “oh that’s fine, I don’t have one either”. Huh? I asked why, and she told me that she doesn’t want to be distracted from her work, hobbies and boyfriend, and she also “doesn’t like having many things”. However the way she said it was in a very casual manner, like she didn’t want to bring up the attention. Over the last days we had short conversations about furniture (I told her that students around here just throw their new IKEA furniture out on the street when they move town), and she admitted to not having any at the moment again “she doesn’t like to accumulate much stuff”. She doesn’t drive a car but bikes instead. She buys organic food. Sounds familiar, anyone? Yesterday evening over a beer she opened up to me a little more and told me she had left her previous relationship because he wanted to tie her down in one place, and didn’t like to see her travel around. She had worked for a year after college and during that time accumulated a large flat full of things, which together with the relationship weighed her down a lot. Eventually, during a three week work trip, she decided to leave it all behind. Now she is living in a single room in a shared flat, doesn’t own many material things, and travels for work, practicals, and volunteering abroad in her free time. Her new partner is on the same page (she told me he had experimented with using grease to fuel his car before – oh, the braveness, but the smell!!).

Thinking about it, maybe in my generation (X), the idea of simple and sustainable living is more common than we might think. Many of my friends and acquaintances I’ve met over the years don’t buy into the consumerism lifestyle – never have. I know someone who owns only two pairs of pants, (jeans and dress pants), five shirts, and two pairs of boots. His clothes are also the same since more than five years. I know lots of people living out of single rooms, or travelling with 28liter backpacks worth of stuff. Maybe it’s being poor academics? But thinking back, being a child of the eighties (outside the US, so my perspective is limited!), I grew up with an increasing level of awareness of the planet’s limited resources and the trajectory we’re following. We had forest die-offs, river pollution, chernobyl..I was sensitized early on. I think minimalism/simple living, as utopic it might sound, does have the potential to become mainstream. The inert characteristic of this lifestyle is that you don’t go around and show it off (exceptions confirming the rule here). Maybe we’re already more than we think…

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