On Creativity and Utility

There is certainly a utility to the minimalist extremism displayed by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, bloggers at The Minimalists; their example pushes the boundaries of possibility and allows us to envision radical but achievable new modes of living. At the same time, their lifestyle represents a largely unrealistic departure from that of the majority of Americans, and their blog leaves something to be desired regarding a means of incorporating their principles into typical American life.
That being said, I check their blog from time to time for inspiration of sorts and recently found the type of inspiration that makes me a repeat visiter to their site. This post on creativity spoke to my need for productivity, my desire to avoid consumption, and my recently latent creative urgings. I constantly seek satisfaction of my own sense of productivity and relish the crossing off of to-do list items. Oftentimes cleaning house or getting errands done, however, leaves me feeling more worn out than inspired. I see all the hours that have gone by accomplishing these tasks and feel as though all that time was rather wasted.
But when I consider creativity in all its myriad forms, from writing to cooking and baking, from crafting to gardening, I find a balance between productivity and personal fulfillment. The Minimalists conceptualize our human need to create as a desire to add value to our lives and worlds. This is countered by the necessity of consumption, which capitalism has exploited by creating a vast consumer market for items that are far outside the realm of necessity and ultimately leave us more depressed and empty than fulfilled.
The Minimalist bloggers suggest a turn toward creating more as a way to fill that void and avoid consumption. The overall premise that we need to buy less and go DIY more often is far from foreign to me. I firmly believe that the mass production of consumer goods is ground in industrialization, which served to reduce the burden of work that needed to be done in the home, increased our free time, and provided us with more disposable income. This historical era changed how we spent our time and our money while laying the foundation for today’s consumeristic, microwave-happy society. And that transformation may have wrought havoc on our base instincts. As new inventions reduce the need for us to develop by hand the things on which we rely for daily life, comestibles and furniture and clothing and toiletries, a creative void gapes ever-wider in our human nature.
What Joshua and Ryan suggest is focusing our creative energies on meaningful projects as a method to avoid over-consumption. While creative pursuits are certainly virtuous in their own right, I’d also like to recommend the merits of utilitarian creativity. As I attempt to pare down my life and be a model of simple living, I find that certain purely artistic pursuits seem wasteful and counterproductive. Much as I love t0 be behind a camera, I don’t need to capture and print another piece of artwork to adorn my walls, and knitting another scarf would run counter to all previous efforts at streamlining my wardrobe.
On the other hand, culturing homemade yogurt, growing fresh produce from seeds, building furniture from scrap lumber, preparing cleaning solutions at home, and other similar do-it-yourself projects engage our creative minds while satisfying our needs. The internet makes it exceedingly easy to take on these radical home economics projects (and so does this book) which yield a sense of accomplishment, fill our creative voids, save money, and meet the necessities of modern day life. When I first saw the title of this particular Minimalists blog post, “Create More, Consume Less,” I thought the central premise of the piece would be just this. Though their argument certainly resonated with me, I feel that their intentions could gain greater traction by reframing the idea of creativity.  Artistic endeavors certainly offer a deeply meaningful way to fill our creative voids, but any project in which we engage in the act of creating something, whether pleasurable or utilitarian in nature, can address that void as well while reducing our consumptive desires.

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