19 October 2012

The Minimalist Movement: Trend or Wake Up Call?

Courtesy of Hiki via Flickr

Ever since I have started shifting my values on objects and asking myself questions on my consumption habits, I have discovered and documented a lot about minimalism. This concept appeals a lot to me as it sets the idea, obvious yet alien to our modern society, that personal growth, relationships, knowledge, peace of mind are more important to life than material possessions.

When I started researching about it, I found out there is more to minimalism than Buddhist philosophies and personal growth books. There is a whole movement out there. From TED talks to various amateur or mentor/writers blogs, facebook groups, communities, challenges, more and more "first world" people bathed in consumerism seem to crave going back from the "have" to the "be".

The minimalist movement is here, it is growing, there is no doubt about it. The question I'm really asking myself is: is it a real wake up call  from us consumers tired of being used and abused by companies, marketing and advertisements, or is it just another trend bound to be superficial, used by marketing and fading out in a  few years?

A risk to become another trend?

Our society is well known for using global tendencies to its advantage. Take ecology for example. As the movement grew, more and more companies used the (often twised or false) argument of ecology in their marketing strategy to attract more consumers. This tendency even has a name: greenwashing.

Is minimalism heading toward the same direction? More and more books are published and expensive mentoring courses pop up on the subject - which is not necessarily a bad thing in itself - but where is the limit between spreading the knowledge and using the trend to make money?

We already start seeing "minimalist designs" and trends like that, using the minimalist argument to get people to buy an object (quite ironic isn't it?). Many "minimalist" fashion bloggers tend to use it as an excuse to buy more expensive stuff, and some luxury brands have indeed put minimalism in the DNA of their design - with the aforementioned minimalist fashion bloggers as a target, no doubt.

There will always be doubt about companies, out here to make money, and their intentions toward the minimalist trend. But what about us? All these people who write or read blogs about minimalism, read books about it, even start to get rid of some of their stuff? After all, this is the most important part of the movement: the people.

Are we going to lose interest as soon as we earn more money, or stir up more disturbing questions about our lifestyle, Chinese workers and consumerism, or get pulled back into the consumption cycle because we end up wanting new things anyway?

Or a real wake up call?

When someone is raised in a society of abundance (or fake abundance as Serge Latouche puts it - I'll come back on this in another post), used to getting tons of presents for birthdays and Christmases, used to being harrassed with advertisment all around the place, isn't questioning this very society through the concept of minimalism a huge step already?

After all, this idea that material possessions matter, define ourselves and our position on the social ladder, is embedded deeply into all generations that haven't known World War II and the beginning of this consumerist society. This is how we were raised by our parents, and this is most likely how we will raise our children. Most of us just keep running into the threadmill of going to work, earning money, spending it, going into debt, etc. without a second thought.

found on facebook

But this minimalist movement shows that more and more people actually start having second thoughts. Minimalism isn't the only manifestation of it, but it can be viewed as one of the consequences of a wake up call among our generations.

Maybe consumerism is going too far, maybe our lifestyles are pushing us to the edge, and maybe the masses are really stirring. Maybe years from now, it won't be as easy as it is now to have us mindlessy spend our time earning money and spend that money buying useless stuff...


  1. This is such a good post, Kali! I think the consumer aspect of minimalism has really struck a chord with me in a lot of aspects of my life, which is a ridiculous statement coming from someone who basically blogs about her shopping habits, I know. Obviously I have a long long way to go before I could actually call myself anything even resembling a minimalist, but I always try to ask myself a few questions before I buy something new - do I need this? Does it have a purpose? Do I already have something that serves the same purpose? And most importantly: "will this need dusting?". Because really, who needs to spend more time dusting.

    There's the occasional lapse of judgment, but that's the ideal that I try to strive for anyway, and I try to learn from my slip-ups. It doesn't sink in as well when it comes to my closet for some reason, but I'm trying!

  2. Thank you Maja! I'm always happy to see other people interested in what I write around here. I feel that minimalism appeals to a lot of modern consumers nowadays, and I think it's a good thing to start thinking about our consumption habits.

    I think it's also nice to learn from purchase mistakes. That's what I'm trying to do too, to keep moving forward to more mindful consumption...

  3. i really love this post and the way you think and challenge what's served. you are right about the minimalism being an excuse to buy more expensive stuff. when i discovered the (style and fashion) blogs it was all about vintage and trifting. it was about getting as much as possible and as cool as possible for the less money. now i guess all those bloggers got swamped by the stuff and decided it's time to purge. a generation matured and it's all about minimalism, quality and functionality. and i was caught in both nets, i must admit. but lately i came to conclusion it's should all actually be about common sense. style, clothes, food, exercise, just stop and think. it's all actually simple and logical. it's easy to get caught in the drift of the internet.
    i'm sorry for the long comment and i really like your blog :)

  4. Thank you! Don't worry about the long comment, on the contrary it's nice to read your reaction and thoughts. I think it's difficult to discern inspiration and "being caught in the drift" when browsing the internet.

    But being aware of that is a big deal already I think, which is why I'm hoping there is something beneath this minimalist movement, that it makes consumers aware of some things we don't usually pause to think about. Common sense as you say.

  5. I grew up on a farm where we grew our own food and fixed things when they broke. When we went to the neighboring town where my mother sold eggs and cream to earn the household money, she shopped at a grocer that employed one man, standing behind a wooden counter. She handed him her simple list, sugar, salt, spices, flour, he took the list and filled a cardboard box with the goods. She made most of our clothes, some from flour sacks and I got two pair of shoes a year, one for good, one for church. All my clothes hung on the back of the door to my bedroom, a rack about 12" long. No electricity, no plumbing, and we heated the house with wood burning stoves. That, my friends is the simple, minimalist life we al

    1. Well that's definitely a pre-consumerist life, one most of us never knew. Sometimes my parents or grandparents story is similar - growing up in a small village, not always having electricity, growing their own food, knowing personally all the people who sold them their food etc. I'm not sure today's aspiring minimalists really aspire to go Thoreau and live like that though, that's why this movement is so paradoxal - one one hand we aspire to a more simple, grounded life like the one you describe, but most of us still want to enjoy the comfort of modern society. Besides, one has to have a minimum of modern facilities to be properly integrated in society, be able to have cultural discussions or know about things if it makes any sense. I wonder where the balance is :)