Mari Kondo and The Home Edit on Netflix telling us to free ourselves from clutter, so-called digital nomads leaving everything behind to travel freely and tiny houses as a new way of living. When I look through Instagram, Pinterest or glossy magazines, I frequently come across posts and articles promoting minimalism. Similar to the avocado bread, the minimalist lifestyle – freeing yourself from things and finding happiness in relationships and experiences – has become part of the millennial generation.
As I have mentioned in my Monday Postcard #65, I am all about decluttering. I love to reorganize closets and drawers. And as you may have read on this website, I also “freed” myself from many things when I decided to quit my corporate job and start a business.
Back then, I quit my job and my rental apartment and moved to Hong Kong with two suitcases. I went back to sharing a flat – when I started my job in corporate I said that I would never do flat sharing again. Already before that I did not own furniture because I had to move around so much that I had gotten used to furnished apartments. And when I started my own business, it saved me not only money but also a big headache because I did not have to ship or sell my stuff. Over the past years, I had to be flexible and having a fully-decorated home was not part of that lifestyle.
There I was, in this café in Hong Kong. I had coffee with a young founder who was quite known in the startup scene. “I don’t need much. You know, I travel, I stay with friends and if I need a new T-shirt, I buy one. But I don’t need any of this”, they referred to our capitalist system. At the same time, they wore the most recent edition of Tod’s loafers. This was not the only person I met with a big rift between what they claimed and what they actually did. What all of them had in common was that they came from backgrounds where they could afford to opt for a minimalist lifestyle. Worst case, they had enough savings or a social safety net to tap into.
In a certain way, I do agree that the basic idea of a minimalist lifestyle is something useful. Running my own business naturally changed my lifestyle. I used to love shopping sprees – shopping was my go-to activity on a bad day to brighten my mood or to treat myself when I achieved a milestone. I stored shoes in my kitchen cabinets, my closet was never big enough. “Things” made up for something else – when I was unhappy with my job, for example.
Founding my own business has drastically changed my view. First of all, I became much more diligent with money and what I spend it on. Especially since starting Pelagona, I know what it costs to produce a certain item and under which circumstances they are made. Moreover, it is not about the brand name but more for what this brand stands for. I know if it is worth spending on that particular item. I buy less and am more mindful about it.
But to come to my point, I have decided to become more minimalistic. This is the important argument: I DECIDED to do it. Or let’s say my business influenced my choice to become more minimalistic. Do I really need to decorate my living room or can I invest the money in my business?
All the above-mentioned articles and posts are promoting a minimalist lifestyle which is a choice. A choice for people who can afford it. They choose to not have a lavish lifestyle. The minimalist founders chose to “free themselves from overconsumption”. But in the back of their mind, maybe not all of them but some know that they can go back to a non-minimalist lifestyle.
All of the articles glorifying this minimalism overlook that it is not a choice in most cases. Consequently, it is not a trend either. As one critical article said: An empty apartment is a lifestyle for a few, but for many it is only due to the fact that there is a lack of money. Many people have to be minimalists because they cannot afford any other lifestyle. It is simply no option to fully decorate their homes or buy the newest clothes. They may not have many things to “free” themselves from.
At first sight, the minimalist lifestyle may sound romantic. It is the old tale of leaving everything behind and starting something new. But this tale is only accessible to those who can worry about the fact if their job makes them happy and who can afford to travel the world for six months without a job.
When you look closer to what is called a “minimalist” lifestyle, you will discover its true cost. Referring to the above-mentioned founder: flying across the world is expensive, even if you stay with friends. Minimalist home decor in fact only works with high-end design. And, let’s be honest, unless you want to escape a lavish lifestyle, I doubt that anyone enjoys living in a “tiny house” on 11 square meters.
I agree that we all should assess our lifestyles. Overconsumption is a notorious problem of developed countries. Over the years, I have learned a lot about spending money and making smart choices. I would not call myself a minimalist, but I have definitely incorporated some ideas of it and I do find it useful. At the same time, I am grateful that I can make that choice.
I would like to use this Postcard to send a reminder that overconsumption and freeing ourselves from it is a privilege. Already before Covid, but now even more, paying next mont’s rent or buying school supplies for the kids is a struggle for many. When you swipe through the news feed or go through all these glossy magazines and think about “freeing yourself”, take a moment and be grateful. Many others do not have the privilege of waking up and questioning if their job really makes them happy. Be grateful that this can be a “problem” for you. And maybe instead of hopping on another trend, think about how you could spend your energy to change the lifestyle of those who find themselves as “minimalists” without ever actively choosing it.