Artist's Voice: Linear Consumerism

As minimalism as a lifestyle and consumer trend continues its ascent, artist and writer Natalie Strong gives its cousin, linear consumerism, a try—and finds it liberating.

By Natalie Strong

For a while, multitasking was all the rage. We got very good at it. Then it started going around that multitasking wasn’t as cognitively beneficial as we once thought, and now it’s very difficult to shift position on this issue. Doing one thing at a time? It feels so… unproductive, distractingly slow, even. You want me to just write this article and that’s all? Okay, but you should know I have a load of laundry in the dryer and an episode of CSI on in the background. (“Who are you? Who-oo? Whoo-oo?”) I’m rocking this multitasking situation.

But I do honestly long for a simpler way of life. I’ve been successful in the past. One time, I gathered all of the hotel shampoos and travel-size shower gels and tiny soaps I had amassed over the years, and I vowed to work my way through each category, using up one shampoo before moving on to the next. When I finished all of the tiny toiletries, I felt I had really accomplished something. It sounds silly, but the linear progression, the commitment to the effort, and the reduction of excess without waste were exhilarating to this nerd. I did the same with the small perfume collection I accumulated back when I had more disposable income and more desire to smell differently on various occasions. Now I have one perfume. My current favorite. It feels right. These successes led me to wonder what else I might go linear with.

Some things are easy to use linearly. I’d be willing to bet there aren’t many of us who have a variety of toothpastes that we jump between because we are struck with a taste for a different flavor. One tube of toothpaste, beginning to end, and replace. So elegant!

It’s not as easy with other categories of items. We are bombarded with messages of variety and options. Why limit yourself? If you are like me, you’ve bought in. I won’t tell you how many colors of nail polish I own, and I don’t even paint my nails very often. What would life be like if I used only one color until it ran out and then sought a new color? Do you think it would be freeing or stifling? I might try it out by working through my nail polish one color at a time until they are all gone… which should take years.

As part of my personal New Year’s Resolutions package, I am currently working through my books. My shelf is full of books that I bought because I was excited to read them and had to have them right then and there. Inevitably, I would get distracted by some other new acquisition or side-tracked by a need to read a book for a particular purpose or on a deadline. The tangential reading didn’t reduce my interest in the books I already owned, however; it merely extended my To Be Read list to an overwhelming length. No longer! Inspired by, a blog about this very endeavor, I am knocking down long-owned tomes one after another, in linear fashion. It is, again, exhilarating for this nerd! Check out The Unread Shelf for inspiration in this department.

So what else? Here is a long but not exhaustive list of other categories I am considering going linear with: tea flavors, lipstick colors, lotions, knitting projects, half-finished quilts, sketchbooks, notebooks, coloring books, and television series. Gather them into one place, choose one to start with, and proceed in a linear fashion. Suddenly I feel as though there’s a chance I might breathe again one day.

As far as simplification philosophies go, it’s not news that minimalism is a solid solution. While I am too much of a free spirit for true minimalism (ask my kids about my coffee mug habits), I am definitely interested in actually using the things I own, using them up, and, in the process, discovering favorites within the distracting multitudes. Linear consumerism—is that a thing? If not, it is now. I’ve coined it.

Natalie Strong is an artist, art educator, writer, and parent based in El Segundo. Visit her on Instagram at @constantalchemy.

This story appears in the March 2020 issue of The El Segundo Scene.

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