What is minimalism?
What is minimalism?
Minimalism is a lifestyle trend which everyone seems to be talking about these days. Writers such as Francine Jay, Joshua Fields Millburn, Ryan Nicodemus and Colin Wright have written on the merits of minimalism in the pursuit of a simpler, happier and less cluttered way of life. It has been popularised by books, online blogs, documentaries and the uncluttered and beautiful instagram feeds of social media influencers. The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus were able to spread the message even wider through their Netflix documentary, Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things.
So what is this minimalism everyone is talking about? Minimalism is in simplistic terms all about learning to live with less. It involves re-evaluating consumption habits and considering whether our possessions bring us joy and are of value, or are basically meaningless stuff. Their philosophy is if it doesn't bring you joy or you haven't used it in the last 90 days, throw it out (or at least give it to someone who will value it)! How far we choose to embrace the minimalist lifestyle is seemingly up to us. Some minimalists live with just a handful of items, whilst others use the minimalist concepts to help them declutter their lives and prioritise those items which are of value. Considered buying is important to a minimalist. A minimalist might spend more money on an item which is going to last and bring them joy for many years than a cheap product which will probably break or tear after only a few months of use.
There are a lot of valuable lessons we can learn from a minimalist mindset. How often do we buy things in the spur of the moment just because something is cheap, only to regret it when we get home? How many of the things in your wardrobes and drawers do you wear on a regular basis and how many of those things do you really need? Do you really need all of those cosmetics and beauty products or could you make do with less? Having a minimalist mindset can help us clear out any unnecessary junk that doesn't add any value to our lives and help us realign with what does bring us joy and happiness.
Minimalism is often interpreted as a response to the throwaway culture of modern day society. In the past, when things broke, our grandparents and great-grandparents would have tried to fix them. If your clothes got holes in them, they would be darned. If the heel on your shoes broke, you would go to the cobbler. Nowadays, we are far more likely to throw out a pair of shoes with broken heels than to turn up at the cobblers with them. This is partly due to the comparative cost to repair the shoes versus the cost to replace them. Due to the plummeting monetary cost of fashion as a result of the growth of budget retailers such as Tesco, Primark and Asda, it is often cheaper to replace a pair of shoes or an item of clothing than it is to repair them. Apart from this, company policies and marketing tactics often keep consumers consuming. One tactic companies employ is known as planned obsolescence. This means they intentionally create products that won't last, forcing the consumer to buy another one. This allows companies to increase profits and promotes economic growth. A proven case of planned obsolescence was portrayed in the documentary, The Lightbulb Conspiracy. In 1924 lightbulbs were getting so good they were lasting up to 2,500 hours. As a result, representatives from the top electrical companies got together to concoct a plan. They agreed to send their bulbs to be tested in Switzerland regularly to ensure they broke after 1000 hours. Today, despite innovations, lightbulbs last for roughly the same amount of time. Other tactics companies sometimes employ include intentionally creating products which are impossible to fix, keeping consumers in a spiral of endless consumption. Clever marketing campaigns add to the consumer culture madness, making us feel a psychological compulsion to keep upgrading to the latest and greatest products, styles and gadgetry.
All of these elements have led to consumption rates which have spiralled out of control. The Living Planet Report explains that since the early 1970s, we have been demanding more from the planet than it can renew. By 2012, the biocapacity equivalent of 1.6 Earths was needed to provide the natural resources and services we consumed in that year. There are limits to the amount of food, trees and plants we can grow with the land and resources available. Spiralling consumption rates are polluting our freshwaters, seas, land and atmosphere as toxic waste from manufacturing is disposed of into the natural world. This is only sustainable in the short term. Our spiralling consumption habits and obsession with the newest and best gadgetry and other products are wreaking havoc and causing widespread devastation to our planet.
Is minimalism the solution to our environmental problems?
Minimalism is primarily a lifestyle philosophy, promoting a move away from the shackles of consumerism towards a more meaningful, simpler way of life. You could argue it is a lifestyle philosophy which has its roots in christian and buddhist religious teachings which talk about denouncing worldly possessions in pursuit of spiritual insight and wisdom. Its' primary focus therefore is not on environmental issues or concerns. This means minimalists may still buy from companies who are not environmentally friendly or ethical. Nevertheless, the mindset of minimalism can definitely form part of the antidote to our current levels of uncontrolled and rampant consumerism.