Minimalism: an alternative way of life?

Natalia Vasnier is from France. She is a second year History student at King’s and has a strong passion for journalism and obviously history. Her interests are gender, politics and foreign policymaking in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. 

[Featured Image: Two men standing on the side of the road in a desert landscape, with the title of the Netflix documentary “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things” written above them.]

Minimalism is a word that may or may not be familiar to you but it’s a word that is not understood in its full meaning.  Some might associate it with the artistic period in the USA in the 1960s, during which art was composed of simplistic geometrical shapes. This idea of simplicity is also found in the idea of minimalism as a way of life.1 Today, we all have a tendency to buy things that we want but we do not really need, making us inevitably part of the consumer society. Some say that we have become the robots of the economy, we work to earn, we earn to buy and buy to accumulate things. All these things and objects satisfy us generally for a short period of time but not in the long-term, as we often seek to buy trendier version of these things. Closets, basements, attics, and storage rooms are being unnecessarily cluttered. In fact, the storage industry in the US in 2018 became a whooping 38 billion USD industry.2 When you think about it, we all use only a percentage of what we own and the rest is just forgotten in the bottom of a drawer. 

The question minimalists ask are: Does these things make me happy? Am I fulfilled by them? 

The idea behind minimalism is to promote a new way of life; to be happier with less. It is a solution for people who seek to find a purpose to their lives. This article is inspired by the Netflix documentary The Minimalists that came out in 2016. The promoters of the idea, Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, say that it should not be a revolutionary idea against capitalism but more of an alternative pacific solution to the consumer society. 3

The general definition of minimalism is the state of owning fewer possessions, living only with the items that support your own purpose as a person. It is about removing all the distractions in your life so that you can focus on the things that matters the most which are your well-being and happiness.

 This is centred around several key principles. 

To begin, the idea of intentionality is at the core of this concept. This means that minimalism seeks to intentionally promote things that we value the most. Secondly, the freedom from the passion to possess. We never get enough when we buy something, we are followed by the urge to buy something else, again and again. Finally, there is the counter-cultural aspect of this way of life.4 We are part of a world that is influenced by celebrities and we associate success with the possession of thing. Celebrities, idols, and successful career-oriented people are featured in our everyday lives via mainly social media constantly reminding us about their success and their luxurious way of life pushing us to thrive to do the same. In fact, earning a six figures income has become the only true marker of success in our society. Therefore, minimalism argues that the American Dream template is not the template of success but a template. 

Minimalism encourages us to step away from this traditional way of thinking and pushes us to critically think about what we really need to make us feel fulfilled. Even though as mentioned before celebrities are seen models of the perfect life, they can also be diffusers of the idea of minimalism. Indeed, the Instagram influencer Eva Gutowski has been promoting this notion of minimalism to her followers. She started to engage with this idea in 2016, in a YouTube video about a makeover of a minimalist Beachside Bedroom.5

Furthermore, in the Netflix documentary about Minimalism there are many examples of how to try to immerse oneself in the minimalist world. The idea of buying a house is a relevant one. When a regular family in our society searches to buy a new house, they look at their income and finds a house that meets the maximum price that they can afford, which generally comes with a mortgage. However, if we apply the minimalist mindset, it leads us to ask: are you happier in a bigger and emptier house or do you prefer to have a simple living but with other things that fulfil you on the inside? The answer to this question is entirely up to you, this article does not seek to rejects all the social norms that we have been brought up with, but to show an alternative view to life. Minimalism seeks to change our desire for bigger. In the context of the possession of a real estate, the alternative to our current way of life is to live in a ‘Tiny House’. The designer of this concept was Jay Austin who wanted to design a small house with all the facilities one needs in a regular house, but a space of 145 square feet. The small size of the house is ideal for some minimalists who have said “My lifestyle shaped the house, and the house now shapes my lifestyle”.6 Thus meaning that the small size of the house forces its owner to not have many possessions. This way of life is also being promoted on social media, namely on Instagram with accounts dedicated to tiny houses attracting people to tempt this new lifestyle. 

Overall, minimalism is an idea that has been submerging slowly into our daily life in the past decade. It indeed could be a solution for a more sustainable lifestyle and make contributions to the fight against climate change. I believe that this way of life could attract our new generation who has proven to be highly engaged in the climate issue and changing trends in society. However, it is undeniable that following the minimalist way of life can be seen as a threat to the consumer society and the economy. A threat to the ‘wolves of Wall Street’ as the Netflix show nicely adds. 


Bibliography: 

1 Tate. ( https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/m/minimalism). [Accessed 21 November 2020].

2 Archive Curbed. ( https://archive.curbed.com/2018/3/27/17168088/cheap-storage-warehouse-self-storage-real-estate). [Accessed 21 November 2020].

3 My Domaine. (Lessons From Netflix’s Minimalism Documentary (mydomaine.com). [Accessed 13 November 2020].

4 Becoming Minimalists. (https://www.becomingminimalist.com/what-is-minimalism/#:~:text=MINIMALISM%20IS%20OWNING%20FEWER%20POSSESSIONS,those%20things%20that%20matter%20most.). [Accessed 20 November 2020].

5 MrKate. ( https://mrkate.com/2016/12/03/mylifeasevas-minimalist-beachside-bedroom/). [Accessed 20 November 2020].6 Tiny House. (http://www.tinyhousetinyfootprint.com/roll-with-me/jay-in-a-matchbox-tiny-house). [Accessed 13 November 2020].

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