The minimalism problem


Source | Decordove

Minimalist’s are having another moment right now, youtube videos and pinterest how-to’s telling people that having less stuff will make them happy. Minimalist fashion and design itself is beautiful. Monochromatic and simple pieces from places like The White Company and Cos are things I’ve been drooling over for a long time. The problem lies in the lifestyle around it. It makes sense to the average person that if happiness doesn’t come from material objects then living with less should be an easy attitude to adopt, right?

Source | figtny

Unfortunately that's not how it works. We are living in a complex and consumerist environment that pushes us to shop, buy and own. Surrounded by a world of advertisements it’s difficult for anyone to think about being happy with what we have already, especially when there is only a select group of people who can do so. When looking into the tips and tricks shared on minimalist living theres more than a few points that bring in the question of accessibility. It’s the wealthy that reap the most benefits from having less, they have the means to choose what they can live without. For example: narrowing down a wardrobe to 30 pieces or less highlights the issue of longevity. How many times can you wear, wash and repeat an item before the colour fades or the stitching unravels? The minimalist’s solution to that is to invest in high quality items, which incidentally means high price items. For someone who has little disposable income spending £150 on a sweater that, yes may last longer, seems like a step too far. That £150 could buy you 10 sweaters from a much cheaper shop, and when your income only allows for necessities, 10 seems much better than 1.

Source | nyde

The big thing about minimalism that makes my stomach churn is the act of throwing away, maybe I attach too much value to objects, or maybe I just can't shake that feeling of ‘I’m going to need this again’. When you have the financial luxury of being able to choose to watch your spending, throwing away is easy. If you dispose of something which you realise you need two weeks down the line, replacing it is simple and requires no saving and no guilt. One of the big myths that is all over minimalism blogs is that not having items and buying less stuff will save you money and maybe even get you out of debt. What needs to be understood here is that ‘stuff’ is not what people are getting into debt because of. Living costs are particularly high right now and there is a lot less left at the end of the average paycheck to spend on stuff. When I was on a salaried position (which meant no chance for overtime or extra pay) about 70% of my income was going towards basic living costs. The other 30% was going towards things that made me happy and relieved the stress I was under from the job that was paying those living costs. It’s a difficult cycle to break if you don’t have a safety net. I didn’t buy much ‘stuff’ during this time, but I had noticed a change in spending attitudes while on a salary. When working on a low income at an hourly rate, it’s easy to put a monetary and time value on objects. A £70 pair of shoes would take 10 hours, over a day, of work to pay for. If that pair of shoes are already in your wardrobe you wouldn’t feel ‘free’ throwing them away after doing the maths, you would feel a sense of loss.

I do understand the appeal of simplifying your lifestyle, I really do, but to say living with less is the key to happiness ignores the struggles of those that never had much in the first place. The only people I’ve found that say they don’t measure wealth on what people own are the ones that can fiscally afford the most stuff in the first place. When I see “10 ways to be minimalist” it just comes across as “10 ways I have privilege.”


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