Shop Class, Minimalist Living, and a Hands-On Day.

I’m constantly throwing darts at the slightly oscillating bulls-eye that is my evolving notion of thoughtful living.  The tosses have been getting closer to the mark thanks to some new reads.  Last week, I stumbled upon Minimalist Living blog, and Shop Class as Soul Craft also arrived in my mailbox.

Minimalist Living author Mark Lowe asked in a recent post, Could you do it? Could you get by making half of the money you currently make?  I posted a response, stating that yes, I believe I could.  I do have an expensive satellite TV service.  I probably buy too many books.  I spend a large chunk of my salary on travel, largely due to being in the midst of wedding season.  Nonetheless, I find satisfaction in plenty of things that don’t require money.  

Why I answered yes to Lowe’s question made more sense as I skimmed my new book.  Shop Class as Soul Craft author Matthew Crawford lays out a passionate, yet esoteric case, for the value of practical activity and working with your hands.  He writes about our culture of passive consumption, in which consumerism and technology are merging, effectively displacing us from having to do anything that requires skill.  And companies try to create the illusion that we are still connected to craftsmanship–the passive consumer is being shaped at a young age:

One of the hottest things at the shopping mall right now is a store called Build-a-Bear, where children are said to make their own teddy bears.  I went into one of these stores, and it turns out that what the kid actually does is select the features and clothes for the bear on the computer screen, then the bear is made for him.  Some entity has leaped in ahead of us and taken care of things already, with a kind of solicitude.

This is scary.  Many young people don’t have to do anything that requires meaningful, sustained thought if they are brought up in this type of world, encouraged to let everything be figured out and essentially created for them.  As I wrote in my last post, I’m trying to utilize technology in my class in a way that requires students to do, and not simply make a few clicks or write 140-character tweets for a class assignment.

My distaste for passive consumption brings me back to minimalist living.  If your life is organized around materialism, leisure, and convenience, then you need money.  Lots of it.  But if your life and work is organized around more intangible joys and pursuits, then you probably could make a real attempt at cutting back spending, plus you’ll be back on the path of embracing what Crawford contends are crucial elements of humanity–thoughtful work and hands-on living.  With all of this said, I enjoyed my Saturday.

I did things beyond looking at a screen.  I didn’t spend much money, save on some chicken feed and ice cream.

I supported my fiancee Rebecca as she ran the Kentucky Derby Festival Mini Marathon, soaking in the collective sense of accomplishment and excitement from 18,000 runners and thousands of other spectators.  I worked on my trellis system for my blackberry patch.  I did two loads of laundry.  I picked fresh greens from the garden, boiled eggs, and made a salad.  I sewed a button back on to my pants.  I watered plants and pulled weeds.  I started writing this blog post.  I washed dishes by hand.

None of these activities felt–or normally feel–like chores to me, because I believe Crawford is on to something when he asks, what if we are inherently instrumental, or pragmatically oriented, all the way down, and the use of tools is really fundamental to the way human beings inhabit the world?

Today, I look forward to taking some more shots at my bulls-eye.  Have a great Sunday, everyone.


  1. You reminded me that I bought this book for my younger son (at a wonderful independent book store while visiting my older son) who is a bit lost right now. I will have to get him to dig it out. Although even this idea of minimalist living is somewhat egotistical on the part of those of us who are more established than those in their early 20s today.

  2. Do you think that pressure to have two working parents results in more woman who aren’t engaged, but would like to be, in these hands-on, domestic, and hobby-driven crafts?

  3. Woman’s perspective: Many of us have been using our hands constantly for gratification, and special end products. I knit whenever I can.

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