Faults of Minimalism: a lifestyle only for the wealthy

Plain white walls. Few chairs. A single indoor plant. These features can be often picked out from a typical “minimalist” room. Minimalism has, owing large thanks to popular online platforms such as Instagram, gained widespread traction as a luxurious, ideal style of living. Characterized by simplicity and appreciated for its values regarding anti-materialism and cleanliness, the trend has become ubiquitous, celebrated by home décor magazines and fashion bloggers alike. Ranging from tiny houses to microapartments to monochromatic clothing to interior-decorating trends, minimalism is applied to various areas of living beyond interior design ideas. 

Image: a section of the results for "#minimalism" on Instagram provide a general view of the movement's aesthetics - simplicity, abstract forms, and everyday life

It is not surprising such a concept would become so popular given the stagnating global economy; prompting many to pursue a living tactic that simultaneously saves money and looks fashionable. Much of those who adopt minimalism are Millennials, who grew up during the recession, entered a struggling job market, and must now pay off record amounts of student debt. It thus makes sense why the trend resonates with a young adult audience; after all, minimalist rooms do have very few visible items – implying that living with little is possible. Another factor lies in the overall consumerist air enveloping areas especially America, where advertisements and businesses are constantly flashed before eyes; encouraging consumption on virtually every aspect of media.

It appears to be an appealing philosophy judging by its aesthetic outlook and convincing principles, the latter of which has been endorsed by numerous followers. But what often goes ignored or slips past minds are its luxurious conditions. In short, a minimalist lifestyle can only be achieved though ample money. Despite its supposed ideas of austerity; emphasizing simpler lifetstyles by omitting unnecessary material needs, it is just another form of conspicuous consumption. Common minimalist interior and architecture designs speak for themselves. For instance, the image below depicts a typical case of a "minimalist" kitchen, set with a few simple cups and an abstract hanging light from above. While it may seem pleasing to the eye, there is no doubt that such a design is difficult for others to emulate. Like many other similar designs, much of the displayed items and so forth are luxurious - which are paradoxical to the philosophy's supposed ideals of "less is more."  Image: a vast, black kitchen is an archetypal minimalist design; a pleasure that comes at a high price and perhaps inconveniences due to very few utensils

Another feature that immediately stands out is the immense scale or grandiose size of the rooms. Rooms such as the one below are enormous; large enough to fit in a sofa set, dining area, and a bar counter in just one. Owning such large property is difficult to begin with, and for the typical college student, near impossible. One has to be wealthy  in order to follow an extravagant lifestyle; involving property big enough for a large family. Wealthy households can not only afford such expensive items but also have the buying power to easily replace items: a luxury that can only be dreamed by young adults, who have to use products to their full potential and keep everyday goods such as food well-stocked. This explains the absence of ordinary, frequently-used items such as pencils, which can be easily found at hand in an ordinary home. One cannot help but wonder where the other items, towels, folders, dishes, etc. are stored when looking at a typical “minimalist” room. 

Image: only a wealthy family can purchase (and continue to pay rent) for such a luxurious home - how can an average person be expected to live in one as a "minimalist"?

In essence, minimalism is an ironic movement popularized by a wealthy following and pursued by likewise audiences, skewing the intended purposes of the philosophy. It is true that minimalism can mean very different things to different people; varying degrees of simplicity or cleanliness can be individually interpreted. To some, getting rid of unused furniture is minimalism, while for others it may mean shifting from full-course to one-plate meals. In the end, mainstream minimalism is more or less a superficial trend which advocates for values that are neither truly spiritual nor truly socioeconomic. The marble coffee tables, vintage fashion wardrobes, cashmere sweaters - these are all merely luxury goods cloaked by a vague air of asceticism. It is worth mentioning that minimalism's emphasis on decluttering is essentially "'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 key is to determine the essentials: finding what suits you the most. Hailed as a queen of minimalism, Marie Kondo has risen as an internationally recognized figure for her tactics on decluttering, and her teachings shine light on how to live in a simple yet pracical manner. What is often misinterpreted from Kondo's ideas is that salvation is achieved through getting rid of possessions, when in actuality she reasons that if you have a large collection of things that bring you joy, then it’s perfectly fine to keep it all. Kondo herself stated, in a Kinfolk magazine interview, the importance of essentialism: "choosing items that give you tokimeki (sparks joy) means only keeping things that make you happy and elicit positve feelings. These are items that you truly cherish and value." It is essentialism, rather than minimalism, that offers a realistic way of living without paring back materials. Whether it may be a recyclable glass jar or a worn-out teddy bear loved since childhood, it does not have to be tossed away as "cleaning." The bottle may be repurposed as a pen holder, the teddy bear kept because it reminds you of the blissful times of the past. It is up to personal needs and intuitions when determining what is really needed in life.

What is essential to you?

Image: Marie Kondo is a leading figure in tidying up; offering guidance through bestsellers such as The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing