In which I stop and think about privilege

This won’t come as a surprise, I’m sure, but anyway, I follow a few minimalist and zero waste blogs, and had a bit of an epiphany over the weekend regarding not only this little project of mine, but minimalism and zero waste in general:

It’s a privilege.

I don't really have art for this page so here's a cute zero waste graphic I found by googling free domain images. Well, it works.

I don’t really have art for this post so here’s a cute zero waste graphic I found. SOURCE.

I don’t think of myself as privileged, so it was kind of weird to realize that I am. There are a few blogs I don’t read because they reflect what I do consider privileged lifestyles — the quitting of the day job, the extensive traveling with only a backpack of worldly possessions, the single people who have a thimbleful of garbage every year. (Man, that sounds snarky. Honesty is ugly.)


I can afford to get rid of stuff without having to worry if I’ll someday need to buy that thing back (or where I buy it), I can pick and choose what to feed my family and how it comes packaged, and I can spend my time doing any ol’ thing I want.

You know. Instead of being worried that I’ll need something again after I get rid of it and then have to worry about how I’ll get it back. Instead of having to choose between this value pack of XYZ wrapped in plastic and this XYZ that I can not only get organic, but in my jar. Instead of spending my time just trying to keep my family alive.

That’s pretty damn privileged.

It’s possible I’m overthinking this — it’s kind of what I do — but I think it’s good to take a step back and just be grateful. That I can choose to live with less, to see how far I can get on the zero waste front, to get to spend my days reading and writing (real job) and experimenting (second zero waste job 😉 ). To just walk into a grocery store and walk out with what we need.

I’m not even sure this is a real post, but I thought it was worth mentioning. I am stupid lucky. And I understand that we’re all on our own journeys and that we don’t all have the same options. And it’s okay — we do what we can. I truly believe it all helps.

THIS is the post by Cait Flanders that inspired all this thinking. It’s long, but worth the read if you’re in the mood for a personal crisis. (Ha. Kinda.) It’s possible I just need more sleep, or maybe more coffee. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Next up: Johanna is an artist. It’s not exactly zero waste work.

8 Responses to In which I stop and think about privilege

  1. I also am incredibly privileged. My least favorite phrase is “I deserve…” because so many people around the world don’t “deserve” to live without clean water, or see children die. But what you are doing — reducing trash and purchasing of plastic dancing flamingos helps those people. Everyone benefits when you make the world a better place, even if it’s just a little bit. Be the change you want to see in the world.

    • I don’t like that either, Roberta — life is not fair, and one person does not deserve any more than another, but that’s generally how it works. It’s heartbreaking. And also kind of why I can’t watch a lot of the news, which I realize is ironic given my profession.

  2. I’ve been mulling over similar thoughts. I think zero waste and the various anti-consumption movements (minimalism, ‘simple living’, ‘intentional living’, ‘living small’) are all a response to a privileged, Western state of excess: we realised that we needed a new way of thinking and acting to deal with the too-muchness of our culture.

    But sometimes it’s easy to align these movements with the past – ‘living simply like in simpler times’ – or with non-Western cultures that have much less – like, we want to live in a way that allows us more sympathy with those who have less than we do. However, I think zero waste and minimalism (and related movements) will always be privileged in the sense that they are always a response to privilege and plenty. A Western minimalist who has chosen an alternative lifestyle, and carefully chosen the things that add value to their life and jettisoned the rest, for the sake of pursuing valuable things, has little in common, really, with someone in another country who also has very little. That person might never really have chosen what they have and never had a choice of how much to have, and possibly also lacks the luxury of evaluating what’s valuable to them because they have to focus on survival. Both people ‘have less’ but otherwise their lives and mindsets are likely to be radically different.

    I also have snarky thoughts – though I try to suppress them! Sometimes it feels like zero-wasters either live in San Francisco or New York, where they can walk or take public transport to shops that only sell wooden things… Well, you know, and of course I’m exaggerating. But we all live where we live, and only have to do the best with what we have. We need different types of zero waste folks to model how the practice looks different for different situations.

    • Very eloquently put. My thoughts exactly, and you’ve distilled them better than I did above. (I love good writing!)

      I hadn’t thought about it in those terms, but that’s probably why minimalism appeals to me so much — it’s too overwhelming living “The American Dream.” Going the opposite direction is an easy choice for me, but it’s hardly simple in terms of much of the rest of the world. Maybe that’s why I felt so guilty after reading the linked post above that sparked all this self-reflection.

      Your last paragraph made me laugh. Exaggerated, yes, but funny because it’s so close to the truth. That’s all we can do … take what we’re given and do what we can, however that looks. Thank you for the great comment. If you ever want to write a guest post, let me know. 🙂

  3. Having had to worry about every cent I spent in the not-too-distant past, I still have issues with paying more for something just because it has less packaging or no plastic. But I choose my battles and do what I can, and hopefully my mindset will slowly change.

    • I completely understand — that’s why I buy the (just went up 30¢) $4.29 gallon of milk in a plastic jug instead of the $7.99 half-gallon in glass. It’s one of my pet peeves that it costs more to be environmentally conscience. I just hope it all balances itself out in the end … like, I don’t do that, but I can do this other thing. I really do think being aware is half the battle, because it helps with daily decisions (most of which, thankfully, do not depend on the wallet).

  4. I had also recently read that article by Cait Flanders and it was such an eye opener. Like you I have been mulling it over and thinking about it a lot, that we are actually so privileged to be or to aspire to be ‘minamilist’. So glad you also read her article and got so much from it as I did. It actually made me feel a bit ridiculous fretting about what I should be getting rid of next.

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