Can living with less result in more consumption?
Minimalism, the art of having less, is becoming more and more popular. More people are choosing to live with less, and there is an abundance of guidance on social media to teach people how to do it.
Minimalism is not seen only as a home economics tool, but also as a way of life—a way of life that defies the world of consumerism. But does minimalism always do this?
In order to understand the relationship between minimalism and consumerism, it is worth considering the different types of minimalists.
The aesthetic minimalist—likes the look of less.
Stereotypically, this person is from Scandinavia, uses Apple products, and shops at Ikea. The few things that they have are white…and maybe some soft pastel colors too. But regardless of the hues they choose, the main thing is that the objects all match each other. This person cannot have a clash of colors or styles in their home. To the visitor, sitting in their empty, monotone living room could feel akin to being in a museum or a karate dojo.
The psychological minimalist—can’t handle clutter.
This is the type of person that cringes at a wardrobe full of clothes of different styles, or a cupboard stacked with random pieces of plates and cutlery. To others, it may seem that they are an aesthetic minimalist, but in fact, it is their psychological need for order and control that urges them to continually cull their belongings. They have little, because it helps them feel calm. And the little they have is perfectly organized in a designated place.
The practical minimalist—finds it easier to function with less.
This is closely related to the previous person but less compulsive. This person, though not driven by the obsessive need to live with less, recognizes the effectiveness of doing so. They have learned through experience that having too much weighs them down, wastes their time, and impedes their overall efficiency in life. For them, it is like walking with wet sand in their shoes.
The environmental minimalist—wants to lessen their carbon footprint.
This person doesn’t care if their living room looks like a room in an Ikea catalogue or not, and they do not need to have less as a mental crutch. They see the direct link between having things and harming the earth. They have connected the dots between the earth’s resources, how they are exploited to produce goods, the destructive by-products of that production (CO2), the finished product, and the consumer’s need to possess that product. Not willing to contribute to that destruction, they willingly forego contributing to the producer/consumer cycle.
The ethical minimalist—doesn’t want to exploit.
Closely related to the previous minimalist is this person who is also driven by their conscience. We could say that environmental minimalism is really just a part of ethical minimalism for the environmentalist is acting on their conscience to limit the amount of goods they purchase. But more generally, this could also be connected to avoiding buying things that have not been produced in an ethically sound way. Of course, this may not necessarily lead to minimalism; that is, if the person can source a product ethically, then they will buy it.
So how does this all relate to consumerism? Well, without sounding judgmental, we could say that the first two minimalists are really consumers who keep less. They may well be participating just as much in consumerism as the average consumer, but could, in fact, be worse because not only are they buying things, they may be constantly throwing them away. This is probably most severe for the aesthetic minimalist who has to deal with the temptation to constantly be looking for the ideal objects to have in their home, and the endless discarding that follows.
So which type of minimalist should we aim to be?
The answer to that seems clear: an ethical/environmental minimalist. I would say that the ideal is to consciously consider the effects of buying material objects on the environment, animals, and other people. Choose to buy less in order to avoid harming the world.
If one is a minimalist for practical or psychological reasons, they may be purchasing as much as an ordinary consumer—for there is a chance that in order to have less, they are not buying less. It could be the case that they are continually buying things, but also continually throwing things away to maintain their desired number of possessions. This shows that minimalism is a “first world” phenomenon—the need to have less comes with overabundance.
But being ethically motivated doesn’t mean living the life of a martyr. While being ethically motivated to live with less, we can also enjoy the practical and psychological benefits of this shift in lifestyle. We can consider the earth and care about the style and order of a life with less.