What is Minimalism? Why is Minimalism popular?
Minimalism is an old concept that has been upcycled every 50-100 years for centuries. The ancient Spartan society, the Shakers in 18th century England (and the US), the Transcendentalists in colonial New England, and the Hippie communes in the mid-20th century, all share some DNA with today’s rebranding of minimalism. Below I explore why I think minimalism has reached mainstream popularity right now.
If you look around Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram, it won’t take long before you see references to capsule wardrobes, meal planning, one-in-one-out, decluttering, and slowing your life. These concepts are all branches of minimalism. Not every minimalist includes all of them but most include at least some, along with many other methods.
At the beginning of each year, we’re all eager to redefine ourselves and our spaces. Minimalism is an excellent tool for a full-life transformation.
If you’ve ever hauled a load of your old junk to the donation center or sold something you no longer need on Craigslist, you’ve gotten that little high that comes from purging the things that no longer serve you.
When you embrace minimalism and do a massive declutter of your entire space, the rush is so powerful, and it sounds crazy but you actually feel physically different. The feeling is a combo of the pride we all enjoy when accomplishing something, blended together with the feeling you get when you step out of a crowded elevator. You didn’t even realize how pushed in upon you were feeling.
The concept of minimalism is being mass shared online, and so are our curated lives. So it makes sense that people see other people’s clean, calm spaces and want to replicate it for themselves.
We want to feel good about the image of ourselves and our homes that we share in public spaces. Whether it’s posting a pic on Facebook of our living room just after we perfectly decorated it for Christmas, landscaping our front yard, or choosing to wear a nicer pair of pants when popping out to the shops rather than going out in the sweat pants we all hang out in at home, we’re always trying to present our best selves whether online or “in real life”. It comes down to this, in private we fart, in public/online we hold it in.
As minimalism has gained popularity, multiple gurus have popped up. Every few months a new approach to minimalism is born.
Marie Kondo’s ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ has been a front-runner with her, easy to follow ‘Kon-Mari’ method, five categories of possessions and how to respectfully let go of excess. She’s since written two more New-York Times Bestsellers.
It didn’t take long for Fumio Sasaki’s ‘Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism’ to dethrone Ms. Kondo. His approach to minimalism is fresh because he doesn’t want to be seen as a guru. Instead he demonstrates the benefits of adopting a minimalist life. More time, less to clean and maintain, more available money, and a sense of gratitude for what he does have.
And that really hits on something. We’re at a point in history (in developed countries) where most of us have Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs covered. We have food, shelter, safety, and hopefully love. We also have a lot of abundance. To the point where the TV show ‘Hoarders’ is popular entertainment, we need people like Dave Ramsey to teach us how to get on a budget and stop overspending, and Organization is an actual industry now.
With all of that, we keep hearing how much smaller the ice caps are getting and how much bigger the ocean’s garbage mats are growing. So we’re clearly a hot mess. For a while, we thought recycling, buying energy star items, and using reusable grocery bags was enough, but we realize now that we need to do a lot more.
Many people have a false narrative that minimalism is just about purging stuff, but that’s only step one. After the great purge, you modify your lifestyle to prevent the need for another purge. Instead you ask yourself if you really need/want something before parting with money for it and bringing it into your space. You also embrace the opportunity to say “no” to invites that don’t appeal to you. Guarding your free time for the activities and people who mean most to you is a core value of minimalism.
Some people go a step further with minimalism and embrace the “minimalist aesthetic”. This is sometimes referred to as “advanced minimalism”. White walls and bedding, adopting a capsule wardrobe of neutral-calming-colors, such as grey, white, and blues, little-to-no decor, succulents, and lettered wall art, are common because once you’ve cleared out the noise of clutter, you want to maintain the feeling of calm as long as possible.
Even more advanced versions of minimalism include zero waste living, adopting a whole food vegan eating style, trading your car for mass transportation, carsharing, couch-surfing, building a tiny house, backpacking fulltime, homesteading, buying ethical handmade items, and even making your own beauty and cleaning products.
Minimalism truly is a make-it-what-works-for-you lifestyle. You can dip your toes in, or wade in the shallow end, or do a cannonball off the high dive.
What are your thoughts on minimalism? Have you tried it? What works for you and what doesn’t?