Min­i­mal fuss

Ki­wis are join­ing the world­wide trend to­wards hav­ing less, and be­ing more. re­ports.

Waikato Times - Your Weekend (Waikato Times) - - Feature - Ged Cann

When Kane John­ston looks around a shop­ping mall, all he sees are peo­ple dis­tract­ing them­selves. Ev­ery ob­ject on the shelves is a diver­sion.

“You can at­tach mean­ing to an ob­ject like a pop vinyl of your favourite TV char­ac­ter and you think that it will bring you hap­pi­ness, but it doesn’t,” says the Welling­ton IT pro­fes­sional, 26. “It just helps you stay dis­tracted for a short while and then adds noth­ing to your life.”

While many in his age group are try­ing to find ways to af­ford more stuff, John­ston is de­ter­mined to give it up.“the less ob­jects you have, the less you try to fruit­lessly de­rive mean­ing from them. You are forced more and more into the present mo­ment and that’s where life hap­pens – not in any toy or gizmo you can buy.”

You might think John­ston is an out­lier, an odd­ity

in a so­ci­ety in­creas­ingly de­fined by what you can get and how lit­tle you can pay for it. You would be wrong.

Kiwi con­sumers are be­com­ing more fru­gal, more con­scious of the im­por­tance of re­cy­cling and reusing goods, and more aware of the eth­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions of con­sump­tion.

An Otago Univer­sity study into con­sumer at­ti­tudes and choices run­ning since 1979 has iden­ti­fied a marked in­crease in the num­bers of so-called “pro­gres­sive” con­sumers who make buy­ing de­ci­sions based on their im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment and on other peo­ple.

In the past decade this pro­gres­sive con­sumer group has more than dou­bled in size to the point where one in five of the study’s 2000 sub­jects share the view.

Mean­while the more hard­core “greens” co­hort is steady at 8 per cent.

“The strength of that change, and how main­stream those con­cerns and at­ti­tudes are be­com­ing, was sur­pris­ing,” says lead re­searcher Leah Watkins. “The big­gest seg­ment now is de­fined by pro­gres­sive char­ac­ter­is­tics. Es­sen­tially they are very so­cially minded. They are de­fined by this idea that they are non-ma­te­ri­al­is­tic, they are very con­cerned with the en­vi­ron­ment. They tend to be po­lit­i­cally left.”

Ac­com­pa­ny­ing the growth of the pro­gres­sive con­sumer was the view that busi­ness should act re­spon­si­bly, and not sim­ply fo­cus on profit. Watkins be­lieves the 2008 Global Fi­nan­cial Cri­sis and its long-term im­pact has played a role in that.

Oxfam spokesman Niall Ben­nett says the char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tion’s “un­wrapped” gift range – which al­lows Ki­wis to send goats, chick­ens, clean wa­ter kits and farm­ing equip­ment to the needy on be­half of their loved ones in lieu of “stuff” – is prov­ing so pop­u­lar that com­pet­ing eth­i­cal gift pro­grammes have popped up.

“Christ­mas is by far the most pop­u­lar time of year for kind-hearted Ki­wis to buy an un­wrapped gift,” says Ben­nett.“Last Christ­mas New Zealan­ders bought more than $235,000 of un­wrapped gifts.”

Pro­fes­sional de­clut­terer Natalie Jane has built a suc­cess­ful busi­ness on the de­sire for sim­plic­ity in the home.

Since Jane be­gan her busi­ness four years ago the num­ber of com­peti­tors in Auck­land has dou­bled, from five to 10.

In the same pe­riod de­mand has grown so much she finds her­self rou­tinely turn­ing clients away. At $75 per hour it is not a cheap ser­vice, but it’s one that she says can prove life-chang­ing.

It’s not un­usual for her to re­move 200 ba­nana boxes of clut­ter from an or­di­nary home and de­liver them to char­i­ties, and make sev­eral trips to the dump.

A re­cent client had ac­cu­mu­lated 40 plat­ters in their four-per­son fam­ily home.

“By the time they call me they are ready, they are like ‘Get here, get rid of the stuff, it’s driv­ing me mad.’”

De­spite the stress that of­ten ac­com­pa­nies a se­ri­ous de­clut­ter­ing, Jane says she has never had a client com­plain that they shouldn’t have thrown some­thing away.

“They have never missed the item, and I find that in­ter­est­ing,” she says.

“I walk into clients’ homes and the can­dles are burn­ing and ev­ery­thing is look­ing beau­ti­ful, and then you open the cup­board and ev­ery­thing falls out.” “It’s not how it looks, it’s how it func­tions.” Jane says the craze of min­i­mal­ism, which is spread­ing like wild­fire in Amer­ica thanks in part to trendy ex­perts such as Marie Kondo (the woman who has for­ever changed the sock drawer), is rapidly spread­ing in New Zealand.

“You have more time to do things that are mean­ing­ful and that you want to do, rather than spend­ing all this time pick­ing up your shit, your stuff. Less is more.”

For John­ston it all be­gan when he watched a doc­u­men­tary fea­tur­ing Joshua Fields Mill­burn and Ryan Ni­code­mus, two Amer­i­can blog­gers known as “The Min­i­mal­ists” to their 4 mil­lion read­ers.

Within a week he had given away his 50-inch TV, sold his desk­top com­puter and his tablet and re­placed all three with a sin­gle lap­top.

In the space of an evening he re­duced his wardrobe by 80 per cent un­til he had only eight shirts, two T-shirts, three pairs of trousers and a jacket.

“It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see how I adapt. I’ll have to keep on top of wash­ing a lot more,” John­ston jokes.

Items that have gone in the char­ity box in­clude dream catchers, a Ru­bik’s cube, fig­urines and posters.

“It gets harder as you go along. You start off throw­ing away clothes you don’t of­ten wear and things like that, but as you come to items and things that you are quite fa­mil­iar with or do quite en­joy it gets harder.”

But the feel­ing af­ter­wards, John­ston said, is sim­i­lar to the ex­pe­ri­ence of stand­ing in the mid­dle of a room af­ter a thor­ough tidy. It is a feel­ing that per­sists.

“It’s to de­clut­ter your life, de­clut­ter your mind. As a so­ci­ety we con­sume too much with reck­less aban­don and I kind of wanted to set an ex­am­ple of how I think we should live.

“We should be buy­ing things that last longer and are more durable, as op­posed to cheaper stuff that just con­verts into waste.”

Welling­ton IT worker Kane John­ston has pared down his life and is one of a grow­ing num­ber of New Zealan­ders em­brac­ing min­i­mal­ism.

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