COLUMN: Minimalism is for the wealthy

The recent trend of minimalism is meant to focus less on material goods, but it actually does the opposite

Elizabeth Okosun is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about social issues.

Less is more.

Unless, of course, you can’t afford it. Minimalism has been a trending topic over the past few years. It is meant to serve as an alternative lifestyle to America’s rampant consumer culture. According to Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists, it’s all about owning less material things, thus saving money and “find[ing] happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

However, minimalism is simply an overrated hashtag meant for a small portion of people who can afford it.

When you peruse the many photos that capture the aesthetic of minimalism, it typically features seemingly bare faces with hundreds of dollars worth of makeup on and plain t-shirts and sweaters the price of a plane ticket. The furniture that minimalists use don’t have much furnishing, yet they could easily be worth the same amount as a mortgage payment. From Glossier to Everlane, basic brands who embrace minimalism have gained traction for their simple approach and outrageous prices.

A movement centered around living simply rather than focusing on material goods and the excesses of capitalism seems to have quite an excessive price tag. It’s also clearly not for those who aren’t wealthy because most people can’t afford what it means to be a minimalist.

According to CareerBuilder, up to 78% of American workers live paycheck to paycheck each month. The same article states that one in four workers don’t set any savings aside on a monthly basis. A large part of minimalism is spending money on higher quality products so you don’t have to repeatedly buy cheap products. Yet, if the majority of Americans can’t even afford to live off of savings, how are they expected to pay an exuberant amount of money on items that look unfinished?

The minimalist movement is steeped in privilege. The “KonMari method,”a popular minimalist tactic catapulted to fame by Netflix and Amazon, is an example of this privilege. The creator of the method, Marie Kondo, encourages followers to rid their spaces of items that no longer spark joy in their lives. The process of getting rid of items based on a fleeting emotion is a luxury that many people cannot afford. How can someone spend their hard-earned paychecks simply to toss it due to a fad?

The ability of choosing to purchase something only to get rid of it is a privileged choice. People don’t have a hard time letting go of things because they have a hoarding problem or emotional issues. They hold onto things because they are not sure if they will be able to afford to repurchase it later in the future.

When you’re on a limited income, it makes sense for you to hoard certain things because you don’t know whether you’ll have the money to purchase them in the future. Yet, it’s different for those who are well off: it’s easy to want nothing when you have the choice to have everything.

It’s that privilege of having choice that makes minimalism hypocritical. They preach to let go of things because society has become too focused on material goods. However, when you can afford to buy any material good you want, getting tired of all the things you have isn’t all that difficult.

Despite all the talk of making the choice to live a simpler life, the past opulence that minimalists are used to is visible in the price tags of the items they purchase. CB2, a home brand that calls their items “furniture and décor for the modern home” features an unfinished looking daybed for more than $1,200 and a stripped-down lamp for $300.

The minimalism hype hasn’t just affected the home décor industry either; makeup and clothing brands are selling simple, basic items that cost way too much for what they’re marketing.

Perhaps you’ve come across Glossier while scrolling through your Instagram feed; with 2 million followers, the brand that minimalists love has gained a cult following over recent years for their “Skin first. Makeup second” approach to cosmetics. Admittedly, Glossier’s aesthetic is quite attractive if you’d like to spend $26 on a face tint that’s not meant to cover anything on your face whatsoever.

The fashion industry has had somewhat of a minimalist makeover as well. Forbes mentions a “less is more” approach should be taken when shopping for fall, but it fails to mention that if you have less than most in your wallet, these brands are not for you. The article lists Helmut Lang as a minimalist brand to keep on your radar. On the brand’s website, they feature a white t-shirt for $150. At less than $150, one could easily buy four to five complete outfits at a thrift store, which is much better for the environment than buying new clothes.

The minimalist trend is nothing but a new fad for the wealthy to buy into. It preaches focusing on the things in life that matter while leaning into aesthetics and branding that the average American can’t afford. It’s traction online has created room for even more items and ideas to be bought and sold by consumers, the complete opposite of what it’s allegedly about.

Although consumer culture in America should be addressed, it won’t be fixed by hypocritical influencers and their unattainable “must-haves.”

Edited by Bryce Kolk | bkolk@themaneater.com

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