Which lens do you see minimalism through?
Minimalism has gained a lot of traction over the years. This isn’t surprising considering how fast-paced and consumeristic our modern lives have become. Minimalism has reached almost buzzword level status, with its popularity being perpetuated amongst YouTubers, bloggers and Instagrammers whether it’s a tour of an apartment with white walls, white furniture and a canvas print that says ‘live, laugh, love’ or a top down photograph of someone’s neatly arranged outfit for the day. Whilst these trends can be eye-roll inducing at times, they are more often than not oddly satisfying and visually pleasing. What is it about the minimalist aesthetic that draws us in so much, and how is it different from actually – you know – being a minimalist?
Minimalism? What’s that?
Minimalism was originally an art movement that began in post–World War II in the 1960s and early 1970s. It has since spread to several artistic disciplines and fields such as architecture, literature and music. Prominent artists associated minimalism include Philip Glass (the man responsible for the haunting soundtrack of Koyaanisqatsi)
Aside from music and modern art, another domain that minimalism applies to is fashion and design, which is what our team at Horizon Ave. is focused on. However, all of this pertains to the view of minimalism as an aesthetic and says nothing of the ideology or principles behind the actual lifestyle and practice.
The Meaning of Minimalism
Minimalism as a lifestyle and philosophy is a complex topic and will likely mean slightly different things for different people. But what it boils down to in the end is living only with what you need and value and eliminating the things that draw you away from that. It is in essence about living your life with great intention and saying no to anything frivolous.
This definition of minimalism can have a wide application, and that all depends on you. It could mean choosing what information you take in, decluttering your wardrobe, having one or two friends instead of many acquaintances, eliminating social media, or as extreme as wearing the same shirt every single day of your life (and washing it every now and again I hope).
Whatever minimalism means to you, the majority of people who identify as one report feeling calmer, less mentally fatigued and an overall greater sense of wellbeing. While it seems ridiculous that a lifestyle in which you only choose to wear white and black outfits can yield such results, it turns out that there are very concrete reasons for this.
Minimalism As A Lifestyle
Minimalists are all about keeping only what they need and eliminating anything that is unnecessary. Outside of the essentials – anything that does not have a specific purpose in your life is deemed as a huge distraction to emotional fulfilment because it takes up vital brainpower that could be spent actually living.
Scientists and researchers have found out that the more choice we have access to, the more unhappy we are and the more we feel overloaded and want to avoid making a decision altogether. There’s a name for it – decision fatigue, and it’s ruining your life.
Every time you have to make a decision, it saps a little bit of your mental energy. Imagine making decision after decision and you can see how this can quickly accumulate and dampen your mood. We make decisions all the time. Something as simple as choosing what tie to wear or what to have for breakfast drains our mental energy, now think about all the small decisions you make every single day.
A 2011 Columbia University study found that judges were more likely to give prisoners a favourable ruling at the beginning of the day when they were fresh and ready, and after lunch when their energy levels had been somewhat restored. We are only human, and once our mental resources start to dip, we look for the easy way out.
That’s where minimalism comes in – if you simplify your life through processes like decluttering, you will eventually reach a point where you are making a very small number of decisions on a daily basis, which will not only result in a clean looking wardrobe or apartment, but a clear, happy, fulfilled state of mind.
Minimalism As An Aesthetic
The visual appeal of minimalism as an aesthetic is undeniable, the simple colour schemes, cleanliness and prominent straight lines you see in those Instagram posts create for us a temporary sense of order in our otherwise chaotic worlds. There is something so satisfying when seeing things that reflect simplicity, that paintings that are literally just a blue canvas are considered an innovation in modern art (clearly I can’t get over this).
When it comes to minimalist fashion and décor – this can often be entirely separate from the minimalist lifestyle, and people often confuse the two. You can enjoy wearing wispy tops in various shades of grey and working on a desk that only has 2 items on it and not be a minimalist - because you spent a lot of money acquiring those items and have a large wardrobe for example. Just as well, you can have a studio apartment where your walls are pink and your bright red sofa serves as your bed, desk and kitchen table and be a hardcore minimalist (please no one actually do that).
Minimalism as aesthetic is in theory separate from minimalism as a lifestyle, but in reality there is considerable overlap and that is completely ok.
From an aesthetic point of view, the monochromatic colour palettes and simple designs that are becoming popular in fashion and interior design is as much about making a statement about what your worldview is, as it is about looking good. In these areas, quality is much more emphasised over quantity, and that is much closer to the essence of minimalism than people who criticise those only interested in the aesthetic side would have you believe.
Which Is Better?
This is a tough one to answer but the answer is really very simple – it doesn’t actually matter – and I’ll explain why.
At first glance it seems that minimalism as a lifestyle is much better, those people have after all figured out that less is indeed more and us expensive-item hoarding posers could not possibly understand their newfound wisdom with our puny lower consciousness. It makes sense, if you are going to embrace minimalism, why would you buy more stuff? It seems to defeat the purpose.
However, this is ultimately false and one-dimensional. The aesthetic minimalist will scoff at the lifestyle minimalist, saying that it is just thinly veiled asceticism, denying yourself any kind of enjoyment of life in the name of holier-than-thou self righteousness.
The unsatisfying answer is of course that neither one is better and it’s a little bit of both. There are many different types of people who take to minimalism – you have those that have found the mental clarity that having less brings and live life this way as a mindfulness exercise. You have those that want to reduce their impact on the world and are anti-consumerist, who fit their entire lives into a backpack and buy one of everything as long as it lasts several years. You have those are all about the optics and love to accumulate simple objects, decoration and clothes that reflect what minimalism means to them, reinforce how they see the world and bring a sense of order to their lives. You also have those that love to discover just how much they can live without.
Whichever type of minimalist category you fall into, there is an overlap of lifestyle and aesthetics. The more you focus on one, the more it will re-inforce the other. You create an apartment that is all white, you will become more of a minimalist in mindset naturally. If you live out of your suitcase – it goes without saying that your aesthetic choices will lean towards blacks, greys and the most simple functioning objects.
So whether you want to get rid of 95% of everything you own or rock a new watch that has no dials on it – go for it! It doesn’t make you any less of a minimalist.