Wardrobes full of clothes that we never wear, houses full of stuff that we never seem to use – this is the ‘first world problem’ many of us seem to be facing nowadays. With ads everywhere we look telling us we need the next big thing, it is becoming harder and harder to be satisfied with what we already have. The potential solution to this? Minimalism.
Minimalism originated in the USA in the 1960s as an art form centred around simple geometric shapes. This has evolved over time into the minimalist lifestyle, where you aim to surround yourself only with things you need, instead of the things you want.
But what are the pros and cons of this supposed cure for our endless need for more?
The merit of minimalism
Minimalism reduces clutter and unnecessary spending. Through our desire to keep up with the current trends, we often end up spending money on clothing and accessories that we don’t get our money’s worth from. These clothes often sit, wasted and unused at the back of our drawers, until we eventually declutter and inevitably send them to be donated. Cheap, trendy fashion also tends to be made at a lower quality, soon breaking, and again is disposed of.
Minimalist fashion instead propositions to invest in a few staple items that will be of a good quality and will last you many years. In the long term, this reduces spending and prevents the build-up of forgotten clothes that you just never got around to wearing.
By living a minimalist lifestyle and participating less in our consumerist driven society, there will theoretically be less waste. If we only buy what we need, we won’t be tempted to throw things out because of our tastes changing, or realising we actually had no use for it. Companies produce products at an increasingly high rate because the demand is there, including plastic nick-nacks that hold no true purpose or function outside of looking cute. If people start buying less, eventually these companies will produce less, also decreasing the amount of waste created by big retailers.
In a society that always insists on consuming and yearning for more, minimalism forces you to be grateful for what you have and truly consider the importance and impact of the clothes and things you own. More doesn’t always equal more and can often lead to possessions being taken for granted. There’s a higher chance of you looking after your handbag if it’s the only one you own.
In order to achieve the minimalist lifestyle, more waste is initially created. After Japanese consultant Marie Kondo’s popular self help book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (also a Netflix series titled Tidying Up with Marie Kondo), there was a surge in people purging their homes and lifestyles in order to adopt the minimalist lifestyle.
However, this led to huge amounts of clothes and household items being thrown away or donated to second hand shops, where 84% of donated clothing end up in landfills anyway. The process towards becoming minimalist is therefore actually very wasteful - just because the clutter is no longer visible in our homes doesn't stop it from polluting somewhere else.
The moral ethos of minimalism can create a toxic environment in which people only have what they need, and are villainised for indulging in things that they simply just enjoy. In a capitalist society that already perpetuates the harmful lifestyle of the 'constant grind', causing people to feel guilt for taking time off work, minimalism can contribute to this by suggesting that things purchased for enjoyment are a waste.
Minimalism is also arguably boring. It has to potential to take away people’s individualism and a lot of artistic freedom. Whilst you can be creative with a minimalist wardrobe and still participate in some trends, it definitely limits the outfits you can put together and denies certain aesthetics.
Meeting in the middle
Whilst there are many positives and negatives to the minimalist lifestyle, and it is not necessarily achievable for everyone, there are definitely some lessons within minimalism that we could all use going forward in order to be mindful about how we spend our money and what we choose to surround ourselves with.
Instead of mindlessly contributing to consumerism and waste, it is always worth considering why we want to purchase that new bag or iPhone – is it because we need it or it speaks specifically to our own self-expression? Or is it because everyone else seems to have one too and we don’t want to be left behind?