Less is more these days. Tiny houses, tiny cars, and standing desks are quite compact and popular. They go hand in hand with the minimalist lifestyle which is attracting attention lately, and manifests in people’s homes, lives, and beyond. Restaurants might serve their food on large white plates, creating a minimalist effect by contrasting the food with the large white pane. Target and Walmart sell furniture advertised as “minimalist,” and food companies advertise minimal low ingredient products, such as Haagen Dazs 5 ingredient ice cream. I have had my fair share of clickbait urging me to admire Jane Fonda’s or Gwenyth Paltrow’s minimalist home decor, and I scroll in awe through the pages of white paint, nearly bare shelves, colorless fixtures, wondering why, with all their opulence, they couldn’t bear to buy more to make their homes look a little homier? But as it turns out, that’s the whole point of minimalism. It’s not about homeyness, or even aesthetic pleasure necessarily, it’s about focus, clarity, and living without
Joshua Becker is a leading voice in the modern simplicity movement, speaking about minimalist nationwide and internationally. He is the founder and editor of Becoming Minimalist, a website that “inspires millions around the world to own fewer possessions and find greater fulfillment in life.” He says that “minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it. It is a life that forces intentionality. And as a result, it forces improvements in almost all aspects of your life.” In other words, stripping away everything unnecessary is meant to keep you from being distracted by unimportant fluff, or stuff that takes up space both emotionally and physically but doesn’t serve you.
Becker believes a minimalist lifestyle lets people be their true selves, as they become unconcerned with how others view them, because they’ve stripped away that which people can judge and left the bare minimum. With no possessions, Becker says, people become more in tune with themselves, and do not change their exterior as fashion and advertising changes. They strive to live above materialism. He explains that minimalism, though it manifests
externally, is really about finding internal freedom from excess and distraction, which is up to the person to achieve. His lifestyle “helps people find freedom from external clutter, [but] it does not take the next step of helping people find freedom and unity in their heart and soul.”
There are countless websites, books, blogs, and even apps meant to support people on their journey to a minimalist lifestyle, which you can find with a quick internet search. There are
nearly 4 million instagram posts with the hashtag “minimalism.”1 Minimalism is not only what’s decorating your home, but what’s in your closet, your food, even your brain. The things that occupy your emotional and physical space should be intentional and sparse. Minimalism advocates for unplugging from technology as much as possible, and filling the mind with more positive, productive entertainment.
There is certainly a lot of good to having a minimalist lifestyle, and to analyzing the things that take up our limited space. Our space is ours, and should serve us. But it seems like the only people brandishing their minimalist lifestyle are rich white people, the people with the time and resources to sift through and declutter their lives, replace their furniture or apartment, paint their walls and furniture white, and compile their pictures and files into a slim computer. Not everyone can easily access a computer at all, to research how to become minimalist. Kyle Chayka, a writer for the NY Times, theorizes that minimalism is being popularized now because we are post recession, and as a reaction to American consumerist excess. He writes in the NY Times, “minimalism presents a cure-all for a certain sense of capitalist overindulgence. Maybe we have a hangover from pre-recession excess — McMansions, S.U.V.s, neon cocktails, fusion cuisine — and minimalism is the salutary tonic. Or perhaps it’s a method of coping with recession-induced austerity, a collective spiritual and cultural cleanse because we’ve been forced to consume less anyway. But as an outgrowth of a peculiarly American (that is to say, paradoxical and self-defeating) brand of Puritanical asceticism, this new minimalist lifestyle always seems to end in enabling new modes of consumption, a veritable excess of less. It’s not really minimal at all.” Chayka is skeptical of minimalism because it requires consumption to achieve it. He quotes David Raskin, a professor of contemporary art history at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, when he said, “One of the real problems with design-world minimalism is that it’s just become a signifier of the global elite. The richer you are, the less you have.”
In March, Arielle Bernstein wrote in The Atlantic, describing minimalism’s “ban on clutter as a ‘privilege’ that runs counter to the value ascribed to an abundance of objects by those who have suffered from a lack of them — less-empowered people like refugees or immigrants. The movement, such as it is, is led in large part by a group of men who gleefully ditch their possessions as if to disavow the advantages by which they obtained them. But it takes a lot to be minimalist: social capital, a safety net and access to the internet. The technology we call minimalist might fit in our pockets, but it depends on a vast infrastructure of grim, air-conditioned server farms and even grimmer Chinese factories.”
While Bernstein and Chayka are certainly both critical of the minimalist movement, as it is classist and not entirely self aware, as an idea minimalism can be a positive force for many people, though it may not work for everyone. Minimalism can be on a spectrum— that is, not everyone needs to purge themselves of all their belongings to succeed as a minimalist. As long as minimalism keeps people thinking critically and deeply about how they fill their space, the idea of minimalism can be helpful to many.