At the end of April I binged watched the entirety of The Home Edit on Netflix and reorganised the house. Which yes, was therapeutic, but also raised some questions about the things we need to keep:
While I was doing this I was reading ‘Time for Things: Labour, Leisure and the rise of Mass Consumption’ by Dr Stephen D. Rosenberg which endeavours to explain why we choose consumption over leisure time. It was interesting reading his theory as to how: ‘during the 20th century workers began to construe consumer goods as stores of potential free time to rationalize the exchange of their labour for a wage. For example, when a worker exchanges his labour for an automobile, he acquires a duration of free activity that can be held in reserve, counterbalancing the unfree activity represented by work.’ (Good reads review ) and during the same period watch the Home Edit and see how unbelievably happy people are to have their things organised and arranged in an aesthetically pleasing way so they can get more (potential at least) use out of them.
I don’t know what Dr Rosenberg would think about the show and whether or not it would inspire him to organise his cupboards, but I think it helps reinforce his theory. The goal of the Home Edit company and show is in no way to get clients to consume less, even though you would think this is quite an obviously achievable goal once you have organised your home so that your things are easily accessible and arranged attractively to make you want to use them, and so you can see what it is that is actually missing so you don’t buy something you already have, and yet they never mention it as an outcome.
What they want seems to be for you to be able to consume ‘better’ without creating clutter and give you the satisfaction of being able to value your consumption more highly once it is beautifully organised (as it has more use value or potential free activity associated with it per Dr Rosenberg’s theory).
Obviously they have products to sell and would be out of a job if people stopped buying things that then need organising, but the entwined climate and biodiversity crisis we are rushing headlong into due in large part to mass consumerism are going to put them out of a job too, so I think they could go in an explicitly environmental direction with their home edits and get people to reduce their consumption through being organised and knowing what they have and appreciating it and mending it. They could also reduce the amount of organisational products they use in clients homes to display their items and instead recycle old packaging material and use as much as possible containers the clients already have. Which is what I tried to do when I home edited our house:
I do feel quite satisfied having done this reorganisation, and I do appreciate the things that we have more, but then again I’ve never been a big shopper and I’ve become even less of one despite now having more disposable income. Maybe this is because for the past 9 years I haven’t done any paid work (my husband works and I look after the kids) and I actually have had quite a bit of free time, so I don’t feel that impulse that Dr Rosenberg describes to consume?
‘Materialist consumerism- the felt urgency, compulsion even, to spend earnings on things-makes more sense if the point of spending is to fill a deficit (of free life activity) incurred through waged labour and made up for through commodity accumulation’. (Dr Stephen D. Rosenberg)
How can this self-destructive impulse be reduced in our society? In the book Dr Rosenberg concludes that:
‘What would need to be in place for patterns of work, free time, and consumption to be more attuned to human welfare? Part of the answer surely has to do with making consumption and work matters of explicit public deliberation, about alternatives that are very often incommensurable’.
Maybe this public deliberation will come about with the current awful cost of living crisis? Or will enough of us still be able to individually shop until we all drop?
‘..the dynamism of consumer demand, which is so crucial to industrial capitalism, rest on peculiar aspects of capitalisms normative structure- namely the notion of the possibility of objective commensuration between wage and work, and the privacy of the criterion that determines whether or no consumers have ultimately made the two commensurate through their particular spending decisions.’ (Dr Stephen D. Rosenberg)
I really recommend the book, and I think it has big implications for the Degrowth movement and for campaigns for shorter working weeks, like the 4-day week campaign.