Health + Wellness

Minimalism is a Privilege

I am not a fan of the minimalism trend.  The actual origins at the core of the minimalist movement are different from the minimalism trend (aesthetic and supposed philosophy) that are sweeping the culture right now.  

To be clear: I am totally on board with reducing America’s insane consumerism and unnecessary waste. And I agree that when things are organized and visually simplified I feel more psychologically at ease. But the trending culture that has built up around minimalism bums me out.

One of the main reasons I’m not a fan is because it is not an accessible (or even very realistic) lifestyle goal. If you’re not a young, unattached, well-off person who wants to be unfettered and just travel the world all the time, then the minimalism trend isn’t talking to you. If you have a realistic view of your life and what you’d like it to be– not an Instagram-inspired delusion about perfection and simplicity and freedom and beauty– then you probably also think minimalism is useless. 

Minimalism all looks the same.

This Insta-worthy life you’re crafting, full of stark whites and beiges, raw wood and stainless steel… it looks exactly like everyone else’s. There’s very little individuality to the minimalism trend, which is what makes me so suspicious of it. If minimalism is meant to be a way of life, how can it all look the same? How does sucking all the flavor from your life somehow make it better?

Minimalism criminalises sentimentality.

To become a minimalist, I have to get rid of every worn book I have read and loved and written notes in the margin. I have to  take down all the beautiful photos of my family hanging on the walls and pinned to the bulletin board and stuck to the fridge. I have to throw away the shoebox full of love notes my mama wrote me over the years. Then I’m supposed to replace everything with greige walls and cool, stainless steel racks sparsely covered with 400 thread count sustainably harvested linen sheets and hand-thrown pottery.

Minimalism is not mindfulness.

This is where I think people get confused. There is no moral factor associated with minimalism. Having fewer things does not somehow make you better, humbler, simpler, more pure. That’s bullshit. Spending real time and effort thinking about people outside of yourself and how you can improve yourself and the world for the people around you… that might make you better or more pure. Thinking about how your actions (not your STUFF) affects others (not yourself), is how you improve the world and how you improve your own mental health. That’s mindfulness. I just find the whole premise of the minimalism trend, like many other aspects of trending culture (wtf is with selfies?!) to be incredibly self-centered.

Minimalism is a privilege.

Here’s the big one. Minimalism is a privilege. It is a fad for wealthy people to get on board with and for others to lust after. Step one of minimalism is to clear out all of your stuff and getting rid of things is only easy when you have lots of things to begin with. Then you’re supposed to replace some of your normal things with very high-quality, luxury, or unnecessarily expensive versions of those things. Minimalism is not attainable for many people– I would argue for most people– it is just another picture of perfection that you’re supposed to consume and internalize. In the 90’s it was maximalism you were supposed to lust after– the lifestyles of the rich and famous were full of excess and things.

If you’re looking for the supposed mental benefits of minimalism, I don’t think that getting rid of your extra wine glasses is going to get you there. Try looking inward, to determine why you’re unhappy or unfulfilled. Try mindfulness. If you’re looking to reduce the impact that consumerism has on the world, think about scrutinizing the companies and products you consume. Try learning about sustainability or becoming involved in environmental activism.  

Just remember that there is no one right way to live.  Cheers to whatever you determine is right for you.

Photo by tu tu on Unsplash

Staff writer, editor, and producer for 1812 Columbus. Creative Community Director for SEEN Digital Media and Snapfluence.com

  • nick seguin

    I believe your take on minimalism has been shaped by the trendy definition to which you refer. At it’s core, minimalism is about value. Does something (or someone) create/add value to your life? If yes, keep it. If no, get rid of it – things, habits, and yes, people – to create room for value. Based on this core philosophy, minimalism is not out of reach of anyone and doesn’t have anything to do with getting rid of things that matter to you. Suggest reading https://www.theminimalists.com/etr/.

  • otto beatty

    I tend to agree with Nick. I took the time and went to see the Columbus Tour Stop of “The Minimalists” – Ryan and Joshua (the guys from the Netflix documentary, podcast, etc.) and I went to the show with about 15 people. And, the one of their big maxims is that there is not one way to be a minimalist – its about individualism, finding value and most importantly “intentionalism” – deeply thinking through your relationship with material things and your most precious resources time and energy. Searching for the meaningful life. Getting rid of things (and evaluating what you acquire) is a tool, not an end goal.