Christian Minimalism

Instant Garbage

Have you ever bought something small that sounded like a good idea at the time, but ended up being useless or broken in a matter of minutes?

You’re not alone. Chances are, you’ve experienced this at least once, and know the frustration that comes with buying something that ends up being completely useless.

The folks who created the TV show Portlandia (a sketch comedy series) know this feeling well, and made a short satire sketch about it called “Instant Garbage.” In the sketch, we are introduced to the people who create these useless products. The comedic clip also teaches us some things about these “instant garbage” products:

We often buy these products on impulse.

At the beginning of the sketch, we see a man going into a convenience store to buy gum, intending to only buy the gum (he says, “Just this gum” to the cashier). But while at the cash register, we see him look at the display of cell phone cradles and decides to buy one of them as well. Then we see him in his car trying to use the product, and it becomes clear that the phone cradle doesn’t work. Bryce and Lisa then pop up at his car window, and yell “INSTANT GARBAGE!”

Most of the instant garbage products that clutter our landfills and our space start as impulse purchases. We don’t intend to buy them, but we get sucked in at the last minute and make that purchase. Living as Christian minimalists, we are invited to be intentional with our purchases and not heed the siren call of consumer culture by spending money on last-minute products.

These products end up in the garbage or in a junk drawer.

The sketch illustrates that these products, when proven useless, end up in two places: the garbage, or a drawer to never be seen again.

Many of these products are made with cheap plastic, which means that when they are thrown away they clutter up landfills and do not decompose. Instant garbage products are therefore terrible for the environment and our care of God’s creation.

This hilarious dialogue in the sketch talks about the junk drawer option:
Bryce: If you don’t want to throw away your instant garbage, you could put it in a drawer you hate for years and years.
Lisa: The drawer you never clean out, until you’re getting a divorce or having a nervous breakdown.

As Christian minimalists, we try to only purchase and keep material possessions that are adding value and helping us live how God is calling us to live. Buying instant garbage products only adds to the clutter– either in God’s creation, or in our personal living space.

We won’t bother returning these products.

In the sketch, it’s stated that because the products are priced on the low end (the product in the sketch is $4.99), we won’t go through with returning it. The folks in the sketch illustrate this point with a Venn Diagram and an explanation:
Lisa: We found the exact point between price and hassle that guarantees that you won’t bother returning our products.
Bryce: Are you really going to drive all the way back to that mall kiosk to demand your money back?
Lisa: You should!
Bryce: But you won’t. And that kiosk is probably gone anyway.

The companies who make these useless products know that we won’t go through the trouble of returning something that’s under $5. So, they make the profit, while we waste our money and accumulate more clutter in our landfills and in our drawers. We can as Christian minimalists try to stop this vicious cycle from the get-go by not buying instant garbage products in the first place.

The companies who create these products don’t care that they are instant garbage.

The short sketch makes it clear that Bryce and Lisa don’t give any thought to the fact that these products are useless and are a waste of money. They are seen not caring if they even send the correct shipments to the correct destinations, and compromising shipping boxes by dropping, kicking, and sitting on them.

This sketch is an effective illustration to show just how little instant garbage product companies care for their products or what happens to them. The only thing the companies care about is making a profit. As long as they are still making money, they don’t care about the negative impact their products have on God’s creation, our finances, and our personal space.

Christian minimalists are invited to care about what these companies do not– caring for the earth God has gifted us, and making sure that we are not cluttering our space so that we have more space for God and serving others.

We are not disposable.

The message that we see in the “Instant Garbage” sketch is that these companies perpetuate the mindset of disposability. These products are disposable, and so is our money, time, and energy that we put into these products when we bought them and attempted to use them.

Consumer culture puts money and profit above people, and considers people and products disposable. But unlike consumer culture, God cares for people above all else:

[Jesus said:] Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Matthew 10:29-31

In this statement from Jesus, we see that inexpensive sparrows are of high value to God– and we are even more important to God than the sparrows. What consumer culture deems disposable and cheap– people– God considers the most valuable and most loved.

You are loved and valued by God. Our consumer culture tells us otherwise, but at our core we are important to God and cherished by God. We were created by God to live a life in which we value people over quick profits.

How is God calling you to adjust a disposable mindset by putting people first and knowing your value in God’s eyes?

Did you like this post? Check out the Christian Minimalism book!


Becca Ehrlich, AKA The Christian Minimalist, is striving to be a Christian minimalist in a consumer society. She currently lives in Upstate New York with her husband Will and their son Theo. You can read more about her story and how her blog came to exist by clicking the website link above.

1 Comment

  1. Erin Iwata

    April 25, 2022 - 11:20 am

    Thank you! I love this article, and everything you cultivate. I want to know more and I would love to share your story and journey towards Christian minimalism. You are a Light! What you are doing gives me hope and I want spread it…we have so far to go to reduce the instant garbage and consumerism.

    We would like to get to know you and share your wisdom!

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