The Rise of Minimalism

MH/37 – Colin Cina
from the collection of National Galleries of Scotland

By Alice Healy, First Year English Literature and History

Minimalism began as an art movement in 1960s New York, focusing on extreme aesthetic austerity. Minimal sculpture and hard-edge painting were culminations of reductionist tendencies – styles which allowed artists to distance themselves from abstract expressionism. The influence of minimalism has now extended far beyond the severe geometric artwork of the late 20th century; its values of simplicity and reduction have more recently been applied to lifestyle.

The minimalist movement is surging. The idea of less is more is gaining traction in mainstream media, most recently on Netflix. Marie Kondo, a Japanese organising consultant, was given a six-episode Netflix series in which the ‘tidying guru’ helps to clear out cluttered households. Gratitude is at the forefront of Kondo’s advice, encouraging clients to only hold onto items which ‘spark joy,’ and to rid themselves of items which do not.

It is undeniable that the majority of the population accumulate a huge amount of, largely impractical, valuables.

While at first the question ‘does this item spark joy’ feels like a kind of disingenuous marketing strategy, applying the expression to your own possessions reveals a shocking truth about our consumerist habits. It is undeniable that the majority of the population accumulate a huge amount of, largely impractical, valuables. Yet, seeing what we own as valuables, whilst holding onto what does not truly bring us value, is paradoxical.

Minimalism can appear as a movement of deprivation. The monochrome, stark interior which many associate with minimalism can be off-putting, as it depicts the idea as a severe interior style. Yet, this is merely one way of incorporating minimalism into your lifestyle. The aim of minimalism is not to deprive yourself of everything, but to choose selectively and carefully what enters your space. There is no reason to see minimalism as owning the least amount possible, but rather as a way to carefully curate your space to include only what you truly love.

Emotional triggers drive us to react in certain ways, and for many, this results in emotional consumerism. The dopamine release when we anticipate a reward actually occurs whilst shopping. This encourages us to buy more, as we crave the instant gratification which purchasing provides. However, this dopamine release inevitably ends, and what we are left with is a huge amount of ‘stuff’ that we don’t need, or even truly want. By being aware of this we can take the time to decide on what will genuinely enrich our wellbeing.

Minimalism not only has an impact on human wellbeing, but also on the environment.

Minimalism not only has an impact on human wellbeing, but also on the environment. Appreciating what we already have stops us from buying excessively, in turn reducing the amount going to landfill over a long-term period. Kondo’s Netflix series has been criticised for showing multiple bin bags filled with unwanted items, perhaps destined for a landfill. The show does, to an extent, glamorise the idea of throwing items away with little regard for the environmental impact, yet it also very much encourages a process which values quality over quantity. If you’re undertaking a Kondo style clear-out, perhaps think of selling or donating unwanted items – this either helps you financially or helps the wider community.

Our surroundings have a significant impact on our emotional wellbeing, so allowing yourself to let go of possessions which do not bring any happiness into your life is potentially a form of self-care. By embracing minimalism as a way of living, whilst acknowledging minimalism is different for everyone, we can truly appreciate the things we are lucky enough to own.

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