// what do you think?


The Cloud and the Age of Scalable Minimalism

For the last ~50 years America (with the rest of the World eagerly following along) has been on a consumption binge that is self destructive on a global scale. While everyone has known that this trend needs to end, no one has volunteered to be the one to fix it.

Sure there are token efforts to use less, carpool when it’s convenient, and eat local/organic but we’re fooling ourselves if we think that’s going to fix anything.

However, lately I’ve seen a trend, primarily among Gen X and Gen Y that is encouraging - a rebirth of minimalism. I fancy it a return of Spartan economic ethics (the lack of stuff not the warrior nation) but I know that’s not true, we still value wealth accumulation.

At first I chalked it up to the recession and I think that the recession was the trigger but I think it goes deeper than that. As I’ve been talking to people I’m hearing more and more people talk about moving to smaller homes, selling more of their “stuff” and buying less. There’s a general feeling that the more “stuff” you have the more trapped you are.

People want to be free, to have options and to not be burden with ownership.

For the edge case see @AndrewHyde with his Extreme Minimalism. @Richard_Florida has recently written a book about correlated trends in The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity.

But I think there’s more going on here.

We Are Consumers

I know a lot of people dislike the notion of calling customers or being called consumers but I’m sorry human beings are massive consumption machines. We consume. We are hardwired to consume. Even when we don’t need to consume we receive a shot of endorphins every time we consume things, buy things or talk about the things we’ve consumed. We blog and tweet about the things we consume. We are consumers.

This has been the fundamental challenge with any sustainability efforts. How can we fight our basic instinct to consume? I don’t think - collectively - we can. But we can consume digital content all we want with far less impact.

As I’ve prepared my family for our 2 years in London I’ve moved most our books, music, games, communication and “stuff” to the cloud. All of these things are then consumed on individual tablets that each of my family owns. We now actually consume even more music, books, games, video and stuff than we did just a few months ago but we don’t have to carry around anymore “stuff” than our tablets. Yes electricity is still consumed but at least I’m not burning gas driving to Barnes and Noble or the record store, Target, Costco or even waiting around for the UPS truck to show up.

Scalable Minimalism

This is why I call it scalable minimalism. We can still feed our basic desire to consume but we can do so without accumulating anymore physical “stuff.”

Right now everything my family needs is packed in a 7 x 7 x 4 foot container being shipped to London or in a 20 x 10 foot storage unit, and I expect that when we get back from London in two years we’ll realize we didn’t even need to keep half of that. All our clothes and other personal belongings fit in a backpack, a carry-on roller-bag and a large roller-bag that will be checked luggage. My goal is to consolidate that even further. We sold most of the rest of our stuff on Craigslist or donated it. We also sold both of our cars and will probably only buy one when we return. What I haven’t moved to the cloud yet is all of our photo albums and family documents. Some things like birth certificates and stuff won’t be fully digitized yet but maybe eventually.

I’m not being extreme as @AndrewHyde with his Extreme Minimalism (I do have a family of 5 which makes it more difficult) but I think that this is a big trend, and for once it’s a consumer trend that I think has huge benefits for individuals, communities, companies and the planet.

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About Tac

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.

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