by Bára Skorkovská
The internet connects people, making the spread of new ideas and comparison of lifestyles easier than ever. But with all the new and exciting information comes the fear of being lost in the wide world, of being forgotten, and of not living life to the fullest. Many people spend the most productive parts of their lives working to acquire the money to enjoy the rest of it, only to discover that their life slipped between their fingers as they were working a dull job or spending money on useless items. Maybe because of this uncertainty and anxiety that affect mainly younger generations, the spread of alternative lifestyles is becoming a new trend. One of those is minimalism and the following article shall explain the art of letting go of the worthless to make space for things that really matter.
Geometry and the History
Starting as a mainly American art movement, minimalism becomes prominent in the late 1950’s and spans throughout 1960’s and 1970’s. The movement is formed as a reaction to abstract expressionism (represented by Jackson Pollock for example) that features paintings based on artists’ spontaneous thoughts and emotions expressed through their art pieces. Minimalism, on the other hand, shows only the simple and essential. Its objective is not to raise any possible metaphorical interpretations of the piece, as it can take the audience’s mind away from the art itself. Minimalistic paintings and sculptures are often made of simple geometric shapes stripped of any unnecessary decorations and additions that could distract the viewer. In short, minimalism is manifested in a wide variety of art pieces that share the principal idea of simplicity.
Just as not everybody recycles or follows vegetarianism, it depends entirely on what the person is willing to do and what they feel comfortable with.
As Simple as Plain White Walls
There are similarities between the minimalistic art movement and the lifestyle that has emerged in the past 10 years in America and that is – thanks to the Internet and fast and fairly inexpensive travel – quickly spreading across the globe. The notion of simplicity is present in both the new lifestyle as a system and in the aesthetic it features: stripping everything down to its essence to express thoughts in the most simplistic way possible, to get rid of everything that can visually distract the mind.
Plain white or grey walls with black or gold accents, white bicycles, and cold marble surfaces come to mind when the stereotypical minimalistic aesthetic is mentioned, but today, minimalism is more of a lifestyle than an art form, although some people like to furnish (or rather not furnish) their minimalistic homes in this way. To get the general idea of how the minimalistic approach to furnishing and construction can be exercised, the house where the movie Ex Machina (2014, Alex Garland) takes place might be used as an example – built from concrete and glass, with right angles everywhere and minimum of decorations, it evokes futuristic and clean feel. Nowadays, however, the concept spreads far behind the plain walls with no decor. It is about living without the things that bring no joy to life and only clutter the living space, or in the extreme cases, living free of all the things that are not an absolute necessity. The meaning of the word “things” is definitely much more generalised, denoting not only the physical items, but also social connections, habits, thoughts etc. Some minimalists declutter not only their houses, but they also strive to make their timetables less overcrowded, their experiences more valuable, sometimes even clearing their speaking habits as well as their diet. It seems that in the end, it all comes to the notion of taking control over one’s own life through “…simplify[ing] our lives by stripping away the excess so we could focus on what’s truly important.” (1) And just as the definition of minimalism is broad and ambiguous, so is the understanding and realisation of those features.
Free Time Decluttered
The reasoning behind becoming a minimalist varies from person to person. In case of the creators of TheMinimalists.com, they made a radical 180 degree turn from being successful corporate workers, making large amounts of money, and living in luxury, to becoming freelance writers almost overnight. They quit everything because they felt, as they say, that their lives were without any meaning:
We weren’t happy. And we discovered [that] working 70 to 80 hours a week to buy more stuff didn’t fill the void — it only widened it: the endless pursuit of more stuff only brought us more debt, anxiety, fear, stress, loneliness, guilt, overwhelm, paranoia, and depression. It was a solipsistic existence.
What’s worse, we discovered we didn’t have control of our time, and thus we didn’t control our own lives.
By contrast, some people become minimalists for completely pragmatic reasons: by downsizing their homes and the amount of things owned, they are able to live life without the constant fear and worry of losing everything, or to travel freely everywhere they want. A minimalist mindset also prevents spontaneous purchases and money splurges as it forces the minimalist to think about the joy the item will bring them and if it is really necessary.
Throwing Things Away Is Too Radical
Usually, there are two possible ways to start living a more minimalist lifestyle, although they are not mutually exclusive. One is through a complete and radical life revolution: that means throwing away everything that has not been used for a certain period of time or that was bought only for the sake of buying something; getting rid of the things that one does not like anymore and not buying new ones without a proper consideration. Plenty of techniques exist to help people discover what they really want in their lives. For example, the Project 333 allows their participants to choose and wear only 33 items (including shoes and accessories) of their wardrobe for three months. Marie Kondo’s method is based on picking up every single item in one’s possession and asking themselves if it brings joy to them, whereas with the four box method all of the person’s possessions are divided into boxes standing for: want this, throw away, donate, and undecided. Using the closet hanger technique, all the hangers are faced in the same direction and as the pieces get worn, the hangers should be rotated the opposite way; after a while it is quite clear what was left untouched and thus may be eliminated from the closet. And then there is the minimalist game, best played when challenging somebody else to see how far both “players” can get – each day of the month they throw away or donate a number of things that correspond with the number of the day. All of the previously mentioned methods can be combined together as well and many more can be used.
The other approach to introducing minimalism into one’s life is by a slow evolution. Starting with cleaning up and sorting one kitchen drawer or a corner of a room; evaluating the things one finds and thinking about their use, potentially giving some away and not buying anything new, thus making the life more minimalistic; or not becoming an actual minimalist and just enjoying the fact that the house is clean and sorted. There is no guaranteed method of getting the minimalist mindset, straining not to buy pointless junk or simply getting rid of useless items. Just as not everybody recycles or follows vegetarianism, it depends entirely on what the person is willing to do and what they feel comfortable with. As Joshua Fields Millburn from TheMinimalists.com says: “The truth is there are very few things I could never do. The same goes for you: minimalism is a continuum. My version is different from Ryan’s [Ryan Nicodemus, TheMinimalists.com co-founder], which’ll be different from yours. And that’s okay – minimalism isn’t meant to be one-size-fits-all.” (2)
Sleeping on the Floor in an Empty Room
The most famous minimalists are probably the most radical ones, setting standards in the minds of the observers. People living with only 51 personal belongings like Colin Wright from a blog called Exile Lifestyle; people that can pack their whole life into a bag and travel the world without a second thought about what they have left behind; people owning only a pair of jeans, three T-Shirts and a notebook, burning all their photos, selling houses, and donating thousands of books to charity; or people who never masturbate to preserve their energy for more meaningful activities, and who only rent airbnb’s to live in like Ted Carr, a fruitarian and a YouTuber behind the channel Ted Carr from Fruitliving. A slightly different, but still quite radical approach is living (or just making a short term escape not to think about work or life in general) in tiny houses. As environmental awareness plays larger and larger role in our everyday lives, some have decided to move into the moveable, environment-friendly low-cost houses built and furnished with things that spark joy and are not excessive – to live a simple, clutter-free life. However, these people make only a part of the minimalist movement, because not everyone can and is able to leave everything behind or simply is not interested in a complete life revolution.
Looking at the people who chose to live with a bare minimum of possessions, it can be tempting to think that minimalism is a radical, hard-to-follow lifestyle, and that everyone wearing more than three shirts is thus a hoarder.
Looking at the people who chose to live with a bare minimum of possessions, it can be tempting to think that minimalism is a radical, hard-to-follow lifestyle, and that everyone wearing more than three shirts is thus a hoarder (3) – but as another of Ted’s videos shows, the comparison is quite distorted. Ted’s flatmate could easily be a minimalist as he seems to enjoy everything he owns and does not consider his possessions excessive – this is the definition that fits minimalism completely. There is much more people living in houses, owning cars, and having clothes, who embrace minimalism. As one of the founders of TheMinimalists.com website, Joshua Fields Millburn, writes in one of his essays:
I don’t count my stuff, but I have hundreds of things, even after I got rid of 90% of my stuff: I own a car. I own pots and pans and kitchen utensils. I own a queen-size bed. I own a smartphone. I own a laptop. I own a desk. I own a guitar. I own some furniture. I own a shelf full of books. I own a dresser and a washer and dryer and more than a few days’ worth of clothes.
But there are three key distinctions: 1. I don’t own excess. … 2. I constantly question possessions. … 3. I don’t give meaning to possessions. (4)
Millburn and his friend Ryan Nicodemus, a co-founder of their web page, both discovered minimalism as a way to free themselves from the excessively filled lives which they were living and which did not make them happy. They started to raise awareness of minimalism, giving talks, writing essays, blog posts, and books, and eventually, making a documentary. Now they have followers all around the world reading their posts and books and watching the newly released documentary called Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.
However, some people decide not to change their whole lifestyle, but only to tidy and sort their excessive wardrobe, room, or house, influenced by the largely popular book by the Japanese author and organising consultant Marie Kondo (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, 2011) – by asking themselves: “Does this bring me joy? Do I still use it?”, as these are the main questions which define Marie Kondo’s cleaning philosophy.
“Does this bring joy into my life? Am I using this?”
Almost as a mantra, these Marie Kondo’s decluttering instructions can be heard from many people in the minimalist community all over the previously tackled spectrum. Although it is not the only way to approach decluttering and minimalist living, it somehow summarises and ties together all the takes on the same concept. Choosing to live with 51 or 551 personal possessions, minimalism is more about the attitude to living rather than strict rules. Minimalistic life should not feature anything redundant, but it should not lack anything either. The amount of items anyone needs to be happy is purely a matter of individual choice and personal preference as long as it brings happiness or at least usefulness into one’s life.
1 Millburn, Joshua Fields, and Ryan NIcodemus. “Our 21-Day Journey into Minimalism.” The Minimalists. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2017. web: http://www.theminimalists.com/21days/
2 Millburn, Joshua Fields. “I Could Never Do That!” The Minimalists. N.p., 18 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2017. web: http://www.theminimalists.com/never/
3 hoarder = a person that possesses things they do not need and do not use just for the sake of having them
4 Millburn, Joshua Fields. “Minimalism Is Not a Radical Lifestyle.” The Minimalists. N.p., 09 Sept. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2017. web: http://www.theminimalists.com/radical/