In a culture of overconsumption where you’re constantly the target of ads being slung at you like piss in prison, Minimalism seems to be the perfect antidote for quelling our consumptive urges. But is Minimalism a realistic end, or just a fantasy that grips our attention until we buy into the next best thing? The Minimalist documentary and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up book seemed like good places to find answers.
Minimalism aims to declutter your surroundings by providing you with a simpler, more manageable lifestyle centered on just the important things, the things that spark joy. Josh Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are the men behind The Minimalist documentary. In the film, they tour the country to share how minimizing transformed their lives. Speaking events started slow, but they always seemed personal and intimate. One guy always got a hug from the audience, even if he couldn’t answer all their questions. You got a true sense of a community being developed. But just as I was gaining respect for them, they wrapped their tour by going on the Today Show. They had been selling me on their idea the whole time, but it wasn’t until that Today appearance that a red flag came up.
To end on the Today Show where their book, if purchased, would most likely be placed on a shelf and never thought of again seemed so out of whack with the whole premise of minimalism. Surely they knew that consumers who watch that program for the best holiday deals and which celebrity wore it best had no vested interest in minimizing their consumption. In fact, that audience was the holy grail of consumerism. That’s when it hit me – these guys want to make money. They don’t care who buys their book or if the message ever lands. All that matters to them is sell, sell, sell. And it just so happened that the current item they’re selling is about reducing what you have. That’s an easy sell because it feels necessary. It feels like they’re doing you a service. But it’s not. It’s just a buttoned up, newly packaged form of capitalism.
Another simplify-your-life device that has caused me grief is Marie Kondo’s Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. This book instructed me to place everything I own in a pile on the floor and discard all of the items that bring no joy. Now, don’t think I’m crazy for getting rid of my things – I needed to organize my closet and this was a shortcut. The idea of keeping only the things that “spark joy” really appealed to me. I mean, who wouldn’t want a closet full of things they love? The trouble I ran into, is most of my clothes didn’t inspire happiness or excitement. They were without sentient.
Fast forward a couple weeks and I have extra hangers, fewer shorts to sleep in, virtually no old tee shirts, and no slutty black dresses to wear under baggy button up shirts with knee high socks. What have I done?! So the life changing magic of tidying up actually left me without essentials… which meant I had to go shopping to replace them. A year after “tidying up” I’m still in the consumer cycle needing to purchase more things to feel like my wardrobe is complete.
For many people entrenched in consumerism, minimalism is not a cure for the disease, rather a restart button to induct them in the cycle of consuming all over again. This is evidenced by the fact that minimalists specifically target mindless consumers to consume their minimization techniques. Some may have good intentions, or more accurately may have started out with good intentions, but after getting a taste of how much they can make off consumers, they change their tone quickly to be in tune with the very corporations they’re persuading you not to buy into.