Want not, want not

Since the creation of New Escapologist, I’ve met a number of people with passions for dumpster diving, junk reclamation, and food foraging.

Personally, I don’t go in for the salvaging lark. I’m too squeamish and I’m skeptical about the economies. Nevertheless, I respect that many people find liberty in such activities.

I mention this because I just finished reading The Scavengers’ Manifesto.

The general idea of reusing or repurposing found objects is admirable. “Waste not, want not” is some fine inherited wisdom. Scavenging (if we must call it that: the authors are keen to reclaim the word) to save money and to minimise one’s impact upon the natural world are actions quite compatible with the Escapologist’s life.

Trouble is, scavenging is made redundant by minimalism: the system to which the more determined Escapologist would subscribe. As a minimalist, I’m aloof to the material world. Scavenging reduces want, but I’ve already surgically removed my want.

When the authors breezily list the treasures they’ve acquired through scavenging, I can only think “I desperately don’t want any of that crap. I don’t even want to think about any of that crap”.

It’s a shame that so much usable stuff is discarded in our wasteful society, and it’s admirable that the scavenger seeks to intercept some of that stuff and to extract extra value from it. But as a minimalist, I don’t contribute to such detritus, and I wish that other people didn’t either.

Minimalism trumps consumerism both financially and environmentally, but scavenging is just another form of consumerism and is wholly dependent upon big consumerism.

Scavenging focuses on the middle element of the three Rs of environmentalism: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I’ve long felt that reusing and recycling are inferior measures to reduction: once a natural material has been converted into a commercial commodity, it might as well already be in the landfill. Reducing (through minimalism) is where we should focus our environmental efforts.

Liquid cash in the bank, instead of tied up depreciating in material commodities (scavenged or otherwise) is also, generally speaking, a preferable financial situation offered exclusively by minimalism.

“Waste not, want not” is a fine philosophy compared to blind consumerism. But “Want not, want not” is a far more dignified and productive maxim.

Cheer up, scavengers. Here’s a picture of dead billionaire Steve Jobs in his apartment. Look, he’s got practically nothing!


Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at wringham.co.uk

7 Responses to “Want not, want not”

  1. tom says:

    Well said! I have come to know a practitioner of “freeganism” (basically a scavenger) who, unfortunately, has become a hoarder as a result. His life is now rather a mess, literally. I have made it a goal of mine to get his place looking more like the above picture with Mr. Jobs.

  2. Oh dear. To this book’s credit (though I generally didn’t care for it) there’s a chapter about the practice and ethics of scavenging. It points out that one must be careful not to let scavenging lead to hoarding. It’s a shame. Good luck with your friend.

  3. Lindsey says:

    Personally I’m trying to achieve a balance between the two. I am in the process of getting rid of a lot of stuff I don’t need, and trying to be very disciplined about it. But at the same time, when I do need something I either search charity shops or eBay or try to scavenge or repurpose something. I’m also fighting a desperate urge to buy books – my one weakness, and instead utilise the library. I have so many books, it’s become ridiculous, but I can’t bring myself to be rid of them. They’re so precious to me in a completely silly way. But the mess is becoming an issue, and there is a huge library nearby that I intend to join.

  4. Cat says:

    I too am trying to declutter, can manage everything apart from books so Lindsey I feel your pain. I think the want not, want not is the way to go !! (apart from books ;-))

  5. Hello Lindsey and Cat. I kind of agree about books! They are the one thing I still object-fetishise to any extent.

    The thing about minimalism is that ‘minimum’ doesn’t mean ‘nothing’ (which is why attempts to change the word to ‘enoughness’ or similar is silly). Have as much stuff or as many books as you want, as long as there’s no flab. As long as you believe everything in your bookcase to be either useful or beautiful, it’s no problem and you’re still a minimalist.

  6. Chad says:

    I feel the same way about books. As a result, I have forced myself to only keep the books that will fit on my two limited bookshelves. Anything else has to be sold on eBay or given away.

    Of course, now with ebooks this is a whole lot easier.

  7. Two shelves is pretty impressive. I’m yet to get into eBooks though. I’m just lucky there’s a massive national library within a 40-minute walk of my apartment.

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