When Minimalism Feels Oppressive

For however much I am trying to be more thoughtful and purposeful about my consumption, I am not a Minimalist and probably won’t ever be one. I’ve got a lot of stuff. Craft supplies, DVDs, games, books, tchotchkes… I live in a small, city apartment and this thing is full.

That being said, sometimes I lust after pictures of those perfectly curated instagram-ready homes that have like monochromatic themes and clean lines and no clutter. (No clutter! What a dream!) I am very fortunate to have stuff and also have a partner who gives me a reality check when I get too amped about cleaning when people come over.

However, when thinking ethically/minimally about consumption, I think it’s important to not start treating minimalism as its own product to fetishize and consume. The Financial Diet just posted about this and it’s full of some good real talk:

Long story short, the past 10 years or so has sold us one of the most oddly logical, yet no less cloying, answers to our hyper-consumerist late capitalism: minimalism as a secular kind of religion, an add-on to the cultures of yoga and green juices and general living well by putting together a tapas platter of cultural and spiritual practices without ever fully committing to one.

So, it’s not an article against minimalism so much as against minimalism as a product that purchases superiority: With $5,000, you too can get rid of all of your clothing and own a 100% ethical, sustainable wardrobe of shapeless tunics and solve all your problems! 

Even ignoring the class angles, this idea that any “decluttering” in your life is automatically a positive thing is simply an aesthetic choice being reframed as a moral one because, let’s be honest, it’s really easy to look at a lot of what (mostly) women own as being totally frivolous. Makeup, more-elaborate wardrobes, cozy home decor, art, supplies for hobbies, nice home goods – it’s not a coincidence that most of the stuff we’re being told to flush away from our lives happens to be stuff that women mostly accumulate.

And, yes, there is a very strong capitalist-critical argument to be made about buying in more intentional and ethical ways, but color me shocked that very few of these minimalist troubadours ever really take things to an economic or class-based argument. It’s about reducing for personal enlightenment and pompous blog posts, it’s not about arguing for a more equitable society in which people consume proportionate to their needs.

The class dynamics of consumption are important, and it’s hard to see that zoomed out view when you’re thinking about yourself. If I commit to buying sustainable and ethical clothing, will Walmart go out of business? No. But I’m going to feel pretty good about my own shopping practices without looking at the systemic issues that depress wages, exploit workers and segregate ethical and environmental products into price points that only the wealthy can afford.

My approach (so far) is trying to be realistic about what I use and need. (“Need.” Do I ever “need” another dress?) I can appreciate the minimalist #inspo blogs and instagramers I follow and definitely get ideas from them, but I am never going to be the kind of lady who wears $250 linen culottes and an oversized kimono cardigan. That is not my style, and I would look like a clown and feel extremely uncomfortable.  My mindful shopping can’t just be theoretical, it has to be practical.

I want to be mindful of the way I consume and why I consume (a work in progress) as well as mindful and thoughtful about the broader systems that perpetuate inequality (a much larger task). That second part is something I’m still mulling over and researching… and it seems like it’s definitely an uphill battle, particularly with this current administration (like for regulations that would protect labor and ethical manufacturing or crack down on companies that use cheap overseas labor). So, this is kind of a bummer post, but I liked the article on TFD and think reminders to check my privilege are helpful and warranted.

Read more:

Minimalism is Just Another Boring Product Wealthy People Can Buy
    –This reddit thread
discussing the article is also interesting

Marie Kondo and the Privilege of Clutter
On the immigrant experience and why minimalism doesn’t always translate

How to Declutter Your Life, Assuming You Can Afford to Buy New Possessions at Any Time
some satire to lighten it up



One thought on “When Minimalism Feels Oppressive

  1. Similarly to your own views, I see minimalism as starting point. It begins with things (letting go of them, that is) and then migrating to cultivating a more robust mindset. If our focus is always “the stuff” instead of the reason behind living with less, we miss the point entirely.

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