Saturday, September 11, 2010

One Knife: A Minimalist’s Take on Extreme Consumerism

From 2002 to 2004, I owned one knife – no more than that.
This one knife was a fish filleting knife. It saw duty as a paring knife, as a fish skinning knife, as a wire stripper, as a butter knife, as a dinner knife, and even as a poor flat screwdriver blade.
I had not intended, in 2002, to be a minimalist. I had no concept of what being a minimalist entailed. I simply had no need of any other knife.
When I remarried in 2005, I inherited more than 60 knives. There were dinner knives, steak knives, bread knives, electric knives, meat carving knives, paring knives, pocket knives, multi-tool knives, cheese knives, cleaving knives, and other knives whose purpose I could not guess. Of course, there were also duplicates of those knives.
The knives, to me, represented the difference between consumerism and minimalism. Each type of knife simplified a given chore, or made use of a knife a little easier for that specific task. But each knife also required specific care: cleaning, sharpening, storing and handling varied for each knife. While each chore was made easier with the correct knife, keeping track of that knife became more complex than caring for one knife.
A multitude of knives meant, too, that many people could do many tasks concurrently with each other (not that it happened frequently). But an assortment of people handling a range of knives complicates the task of tracking & caring for the items.
With my one knife, I never felt the need for more. But now that I possess dozens, I see better quality, more attractive, more durable knives that I want. Ornate handles, eversharp blades, and superior, indestructible quality make each new offering a “must-have” product.
There are risks, as well, with owning a plethora of culinary scalpels. Cuts are more frequent, breakage more common, cleanliness more essential. I can no longer just wipe the filleting knife on my trousers. Each knife need be sterilized. Each knife requires storage, and specialized storage, at that.
And I needed to learn etiquette as it pertains to the proper use of knives.
I am baffled at how I was able to survive for three years with only one knife. I marvel at the rugged pioneer independence of those that have fewer knives than I now possess, and wonder how they manage to tolerate such primitive living.
In 2002, I had no need of two knives. Now, I cannot fathom being without at least 60. It is my minimum.

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