mnmlist: on owning nothing

While minimalism strives to own little — not much more than you need — what if we followed this to an extreme, just for fun.

What if we owned nothing at all?

I don’t mean we have no clothing or shelter or tools, but rather that we abandon the idea of private property. It’s a radical idea (though not a new one), but something to think about.

What if we had things we used, but didn’t own? What if we used clothing when we needed it, but then when we didn’t we gave it to a place that holds them (maybe a clothing library). And the same would apply to any possessions, from computers to tools to televisions to dishes and so on.

What about housing and cars? Car sharing is already being done in some places, and the same could be done with bicycles — bike libraries all over the place. Mass transit, of course, is another shared solution.

Shared homes are also nothing new, though it’s a pretty foreign idea for most of us who are used to the privacy of our own homes. There are many possibilities in this field, however, including but not limited to:

  • Housing libraries, where small and medium units could be given to people as needed, and then returned to the pool when people move.
  • Housing co-ops, where people share large homes and the responsibilities of managing and maintaining them.

When you abandon the idea of private ownership, a lot of possibilities arise — limited only by our imaginations.

But why even consider this radical change? A few reasons:

  • I like the idea of living very light — using only what you need, giving back to the community what you don’t, and never being burdened by ownership of material things.
  • Ownership as it exists is wasteful — often we hold on to things we don’t use, that other people could use, because we bought them and own them. But if we only kept things that we use, and returned them when not in use, with the idea that we could always get them when we needed them, there would be less waste. Less throwing things in landfills as well.
  • People who need things — like clothing and shelter — would not be denied them.
  • There would be a lot less accumulation of wealth into the hands of a few, which seems to me to be a really bad social idea. This creates extreme poverty, crime, and unhappiness. In places where income inequality is relatively low, there is a greater degree of happiness and lower crime levels. (Read this, for example.)

Anyway. This is obviously not going to happen overnight, nor do I think it should. Again, just something to consider.

I know people will point to failed experiments such as the USSR where the abandonment of private property didn’t work even a little. I agree with that assessment, but the problem was that it was all state-controlled. I think allowing the government to control property is a very bad idea. People should control property — we could set up voluntary, democratic associations to maintain bike and car and book and clothing libraries and housing and all that.

In fact, it would take no change in government to start such associations today — we could just get together (even on the Internet) and voluntarily start them, try them out, experiment, see if it works. All it would take is a group of people who want to try the concept out, who respect each other enough to not try to consolidate power to a few people. In fact, protections against the consolidation of power should be put in place, so that everyone has an equal say on all issues that affect them — we can’t have representatives who make decisions for us.

Again, not new ideas. These go back to the 1800s and in fact this is how traditional societies functioned, for the most part, until kings and priests and lords and merchants started taking ownership of things.

Change is possible, if we keep our minds open and allow ourselves to explore the possibilities.