Minimalism for millennials
A line of people snaked its way across the department store aisle as I attempted to navigate my way toward an exit. It was a familiar sight, one I expected at around this time every year: people trudging around glistening department store floors, pushing enormous shopping carts with one hand and picking up tagged store items with another.
It’s the famed August weekend sale, which several malls recently hosted. I would look forward to this time of the year myself. For some reason, this felt like the perfect time to buy those new pillows with more thread count or replace the rice cooker with something slightly bigger. A change of curtains maybe? Or how about new luggage? I’d always wanted to be like those light travelers. We don’t have Black Friday sales, but these weekend sales came close enough.
Those who missed out on these sales either intentionally or accidentally did not have to worry, because as September rolled in, sales events at online shopping apps also exploded from our phone screens. It was all my online ads could ever talk about. They had me at “free shipping, no minimum spend.” And then an airfare seat sale? I was floored. It was all overwhelming. It was all trending, too.
It took me until this year to finally approach these “opportunities” with some restraint. There was still the gentle tug, but at least no longer the overt push to buy even the nonessential. How much stuff should one own, anyway, in order to be happy?
While this new state of mind only dawned upon me this year, it turns out a lot of people have begun embracing this mindset. It has even become a lifestyle and a philosophy—a blockbuster topic on YouTube and on podcasts, and the subject of books and documentaries. Minimalism has captured a following, particularly among my generation. Now we’re hooked.
“Minimalist” is nothing new to my ears. I’ve worked with enough graphic designers to know that this is an eye-pleasing aesthetic. Minimalism, initially an art movement, “stripped” things to only the bare essentials. It would eventually make its way to minimalist photography, music, interiors and architecture.
A quick Google search would no longer lead you to art alone. It will now lead you to lifestyles, guides, 30-day plans and even recipes. And, as some writers suggest, this is also how millennials are approaching life. In 2016, Deborah Weinswig wrote in Forbes: “Millennials Go Minimal: The Decluttering Lifestyle Trend That Is Taking Over.”
Once upon a time, ownership was such a desirable idea. To own something was to proclaim success, as ownership required some cost. And so that’s what we wanted and went for: that dream house, the latest devices, the trendiest clothes, the most convenient appliances.
Ownership meant prosperity, and prosperity spelled success. Notice how, when we wish people well on a task, we tell them to “Own it!”?
Until ownership also began to mean consumption, and consumption then spelled illusion, frivolity and debt.
Our vapid ways of consumption have not only affected our states of mind and our financial wellbeing, they have also manifested in our environment; high levels of consumption simply deplete more of our natural resources. A 2015 study by Diana Ivanova et al. noted how 60 to 80 percent of the impact on the environment came from household consumption.
Ownership and consumption, while providing an aspirational dimension to our lives, can also be misleading, selling happiness in good packaging but actually imposing additional burdens and responsibilities. The more things we own, the more things occupy our mind.
To own less in this day and age is countercultural, given how anything new and updated is held at a premium. But the amount of stuff we own does not positively correlate to our level of satisfaction. Didn’t they seem to be so promising?
One day, I will be able to pack all my belongings in just one suitcase and start anew, to wherever that next destination will be. Freedom—perhaps then I can really say, “I owned it.”
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