Material Utilitarianism or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Clutter and Love eWaste

Disassembling objects/devices to learn about their inner-workings has always been a part of who I am. Even as a child, I have been told. Now, I am unsure of whether to attribute this behaviour to being a destructive child, or a curious child. Why not both? In any case, that type of behaviour ended up sparking an enduring fascination and curiosity in myself with how things work and the internals of computers/general electronic hardware, software/programming, machinery, etc.

What I take apart does not always get put back together afterwards, there’s a good possibility if I’ve deemed it okay to crack open that it will get modified, parted out, or left disassembled. I enjoy having a stockpile of “junk”, which consists of salvaged electronic components, bins of cables – ones that serve their intended purpose and scrap, bits of metal/plastic, enclosures, speakers, power supplies, fans, donor PCBs, etc. Stuff that other people would most likely see as recycling/trash, I see as a means to an end. Useful junk that I can use to fix or build other stuff (see: macgyver, kludge, bodge, bricolage).

You may think that this type of hobby/lifestyle would lend itself to living in extreme juxtaposition of minimalism (Maximalism? I have yet to find a good term for the opposite of a minimalist lifestyle. Personally I like “organized chaos”), and you would absolutely be correct in that assumption. I do not believe hoarding would be the correct term either considering I only collect what I can use; If I cannot envision any use for an item, it gets tossed. I’m sure rationalizing all of the potential uses for an item is on a checklist of hoarder tendencies, however I think of hoarding as the accumulation of newspapers, expired food, or animals for example.


I agree with many of the possible merits one could bring up for living a Minimalist lifestyle; having less possessions and clutter means you are able to be more agile and adapt to new situations with greater ease than someone with fifteen years of accumulated junk in their garage (Not anymore!). For me, the benefits of living as a sort of material-utilitarian-maximalist (Going to need a better term for this, for real) far outweighs the aforementioned merits of minimalism. Nothing saps the creativity out of me more than a sterile, white-walled environment. Everyone has their own way of fulfilling themselves creatively, modifying, repairing and creating just happens to be mine.

The closest label you could use is “Maker”, or someone who is part of a DIY community/culture. To me, the term “Maker” carries with it an air of pretentiousness that I don’t intend to participate in or perpetuate. To be fair, Material Utilitarianism also exudes a certain sense of flannel and non-prescription Ray-Ban glasses, but you come up with a better term, okay? Obscure vapourwave bands aside, a key difference between the two is where the project materials are sourced from. For me, re-used/recycled and salvaged materials are always preferential simply due to their immediate availability. By the time those electronic components have arrived from China, a month after ordering them online, I’ll have already moved on to something new.

The core of this whole creative philosophy is simply a do-it-yourself mindset/attitude which personally extends to teaching myself web development, programming, and electrical engineering from the internet. My next post will cover my first “real” electronics project, which is what the original intention of writing this post was, however it mutated into some type of philosophical manifesto.


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