This model of working – long hours, very few holidays, few breaks, two incomes needed to raise kids, crazed loyalty demanded by huge corporations, the American way – is where we’re heading. Except now the model is even more punishing. It is China. We are expected to compete with an economy whose workers are often closer to indentured slaves than anything else.
This is what striving is, then: dangerous, demoralising, often dirty work. Buckle down. It’s the only way forward, apparently, which is why our glorious leaders are sucking up to China, which is immoral, never mind ridiculously short-term thinking.
So again I must really speak up for the skivers. What we have to understand about austerity is its psychic effects. People must have less. So they must have less leisure, too. The fact is life is about more than work and work is rapidly changing. Skiving in China may get you killed but here it may be a small act of resistance, or it may just be that skivers remind us that there is meaning outside wage-slavery.
I don’t always agree with Ms Moore but today’s instalment of her column is pretty dazzling. I encourage you all to read on.
Journalist Ellen Goodman:
Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can pay for the clothes, car and the house that you leave empty all day in order to afford to live in it.
The Dalai Lama:
[Modern man] sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.
Brace yourself, reader. It’s a minimalism post! Contains tortuous detail. Only suitable for consumers of the pornography of orderliness.
Last week saw a trip to my parents’ house, the house I grew up in, to declare war on my remaining dark matter, by which I mean “estranged and hidden possessions I’ve been disingenuously ignoring and discounting from my claim to be a perfect minimalist”.
Dark matter is like dental plaque. Both are tedious accumulations of barely-noticeable debris yet they periodically require you to take drastic action. If you don’t take action, your teeth fall out. I refuse to acknowledge that there is anything wrong with this metaphor.
I’ve wanted to take care of this stuff (to dispose of it or incorporate it into real life) for a long time, but things like the Atlantic Ocean kept kept getting in the way. I’m back in the UK now though, so I can finally act on my little fantasy. Imagine! Every last one of your personal possessions accounted for, collected, ordered and treasured in a single place: the very place you sleep.
The plan was to tackle this once and for all in a single KonMari-style blitz. I’d sort though it, one item at at time, deciding what to jettison and what to bring home. What’s more, the fact I was travelling by rail with one suitcase imposed a limit on what I could keep.
I didn’t know how much I’d want to bring back, but I wanted to be able to fill the case to capacity, so I packed little else. It was fun to carry the large but empty case through a crowded Central Station, effortlessly holding it aloft like Desperate Dan hefting a fridge.
On the train, I was dying for someone, ideally a staunch security official, to ask to look inside the huge case so I could reveal its unlikely contents: a pair of underpants and a toothbrush.
When I got to the house, I assessed the scale of the project. It wasn’t too bad. There was a large bookcase replete with books (which I’d been anticipating) and four desk drawers of general equipment and keepsakes (about which I’d forgotten).
I spent some quality time going through the keepsakes and discarding old letters and photographs in a fashion non-minimalists would probably find callous. I enjoyed re-reading them and recalling the past, but it’s time to move on. I’m not in touch with any of those people now and I want to give my whole heart to the people I know today.
Even so, I’m not completely without sentiment. I felt funny condemning such items intact to the recycling bin. I didn’t want workers at the recycling plant handling my letters however briefly and maybe catching a glimpse of their content. I don’t know why I felt this way, but I think that letters should be either kept and treasured or responsibly destroyed by their intended recipient, so I spent ages reading over the doomed correspondence and tearing it up into the bin.
There were miscellaneous bits of kit in the desk drawers–pencil sharpeners, hole punches, staplers–I couldn’t be arsed finding new homes for, so I binned them too. With one exception, I followed Mari Kondo’s advice about not allowing relatives to see what’s being discarded lest they want to salvage any, allowing it to clutter their own drawers.
The exception was a Swiss Army Knife, which I offered to my Dad. “Can’t you find a place for it?” he asked, simply not understanding why anyone would want to dispose of a Swiss Army Knife. “No,” I said, and explained why. It’d been in that drawer, untouched for over ten years. If I kept it, the same would happen again. What’s more, there were many other neglected items along the lines of the Swiss Army Knife so the problem was bigger than it looked. Dad looked at me like I was bonkers and accepted the “gift” but I’ve a bad feeling that it’ll spend another decade in pointless neglect.
Annoyingly, putting out the garbage on my parents’ street comes with a lot of rules. You can only, for instance, put out a single bin per week. What doesn’t fit in the wheelie bin on trash collection day can’t be disposed of until next time. But what if you have a clear-out like the one I was having today? Too bad. Surely this can only lead to constipated houses. Since my parents’ bin was already almost full, my bag of disposed-of stuff had to sit in the driveway for a week until finally going today. Not ideal for a minimalist cleansing ritual.
With the books, I was ruthless. Over two thirds of my library went to charity shops. They’re good books, but not ones I’d ever read again (or in some cases, ever read), largely left over from my intense-young-man period and not relevant to my life today. Who in adulthood can be arsed with Camus?
Still, there were quite a few books I didn’t want to part with: volumes that either hold too much sentimental value, or books I know Samara and I will enjoy. I hadn’t predicted this. I filled the suitcase and then some. In the end, I put aside twice as many keepsies as I could comfortably bring back on the train.
I broke my self-imposed “one blitz” rule and postponed the realization of my orderly, minimalist Valhalla. Yes, folks, there remains at my parents’ house one last box of books, requiring a second trip to retrieve.
This is a bugger actually, as I was hoping to jettison the suitcase itself upon my return, but instead it will have to sit in the top of my wardrobe, taking up valuable oxygen space, until I can do another trip like this one. But at least this provides another opportunity to show my underpants to a security official.
Mendoza, Argentina. Wine country. Mountains. Beef. Etcetera. It sounded so perfect.
“Let’s go there”, she said.
We went, on a bus from Santiago.
Hyper-inflation. Unaffordable meals. ATMs without money. Broken Visa terminals. Understandably frustrated Argentines.
We left, on a plane, because it was faster than the bus.
If our four days in Mendoza can be called a fact-finding mission, then it was a very expensive one. I’d have preferred to find out in advance that restaurant prices in Argentina (in Buenos Aires, at least) are 84.58% higher than in Santiago. 1 kg of tomatoes is 96.97% higher…this, too, would have been good to know. And are you aware that 1 Summer Dress in a Chain Store (Zara, H&M, …) is 117.82% higher in Argentina than it is on the other side of the Andes?
I pulled these stats from Numbeo, “the world’s largest database of user contributed data about cities and countries worldwide”. I’d seen Numbeo previously, but completely forgot about it until I’d been slapped in the face by economic reality in Argentina. Never again…
I have no idea how accurate Numbeo is, but it’s at least generally right, based on my recent experience. And it has more than just pricing data: you can also look up perceived levels of crime, health care information, and pollution indices.
Numbeo: useful, fun and interesting. A great time waster the next time you’re bored at work. A tool for planning your escape to greener pastures (hint: don’t go to Berlin…go to Prague).