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Minimalism During a Pandemic

The seemingly common approach and sentiment for human beings during a pandemic is a fear of scarcity. The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was marked with insane desires to “stock up” on “essentials” in the self-fulfilling prophecy that stores may run out. Bottled water and toilet paper were among those most notably out of stock.

In a recent conversation, however, I noted that the pursuit of less is naturally upset by a sudden inability to find your entertainment outside of your own bubble. Having a variety of things to entertain children becomes more pronounced when parks and libraries are closed. As such, I have stepped back from the constant drumbeat of less to benefit the solidarity of the family unit.

Nevertheless, the false equivalence between fear of scarcity and need is exactly the foundation of modern consumerism. Ergo, the conflation of scarcity and desire is a common thing, not a pandemic thing. Just like a number of other societal issues, consumeristic tendencies are thrown into sharp contrast by the world we currently inhabit. As this pandemic drags on, in all situations the effects become more pronounced, so desires often become needs out of a fear that there might not be an option at some point in the future.

I have seen this behavior in my kids as well; children who would normally gladly share books through a Little Free Library are suddenly hoarding toys and books like their lives depend on it. As new toys or books come in, a common practice in our house is to remove those that are no longer in use; that practice has gone by the wayside during the pandemic for two main reasons:

  1. We don't venture outside for much of any reason right now, let alone to visit a donation center.
  2. The feeling of getting rid of the wrong toy right now is exacerbated by the need to entertain the kids in ways that require external stimulus (and we don't often use screens in that way).

But we can take books as a good example. Libraries writ large are moving more slowly during the pandemic and you can't walk in to browse in many areas of the world. Under normal circumstances, the library is our source of the new and interesting; an easy way to exit the house for change of scenery; and a means to not feeling the pressure to own every book. In addition, it is a donation venue for books and other media, a minimalistic win-win. In fact, I have boxes full of books that I intended to donate before the pandemic began, which has now gone into a state of limbo as I wrestle with the possibility that getting rid of a source of knowledge and entertainment may not be in my parental best interests.

Engaging minimalism may even seem anathema during a pandemic to some, but I have felt the pull to a simplified lifestyle more during the pandemic, not less. Being in my home more, I have to see all the stuff in our lives much more frequently than usual. Conversely, my children have had more time to spend with the toys with which they would otherwise not play. As expected, they are becoming more attached to items formerly slated to exit.

As a final aside, just as minimalism is upset by a pandemic, I have noted that my family's own consumerism has similarly been affected. There simply is not the volume of items coming into the house, even in this ramp up to the holiday season. So even as the number of items exiting the house has stagnated, the items entering the house has similarly done so and finds a different type of balance. That balance is the saving grace for me, as I allow myself (and my family) to step back from our engagement with minimalism to help us all get through this difficult time.