June 5, 2020

The Pitfalls and the Potential of the New Minimalism

Sometimes, what seems like a great idea at first hides less appealing consequences beneath the surface.

In the case of certain flavours of minimalism, a deeper look reveals a tendency toward class inequality:

Less is more attractive when you’ve got a lot of money, and minimalism is easily transformed from a philosophy of intentional restraint into an aesthetic language through which to assert a form of walled-off luxury—a self-centered and competitive impulse that is not so different from the acquisitive attitude that minimalism purports to reject.

Or, perhaps worse, a distraction from the actual solutions to the problems it purports to solve:

The worst versions of life-style minimalism frame simplicity not as a worthy end in itself but as an instrument—a tool of self-improvement, or of high-end consumption, or of self-improvement through high-end consumption. It is a vision shaped by the logic of the market: the self is perpetually being improved; its environment is ready for public display and admiration; it methodically sheds all inefficiencies and flaws. This vision also forgoes any recognition that the kind of salvation so many people are seeking can happen only at the level of the system rather than at that of the individual. (As Chayka puts it, Your bedroom might be cleaner, but the world stays bad.”)

This doesn’t mean we should throw out the baby with the bathwater, but pieces like this are a good reminder to be thoughtful about the systems and ideals we align ourselves with.

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