31 October 2020

The Guardian: “The empty promises of Marie Kondo and the craze for minimalism”

In the 21st century, across the developed world, most of us do not need as much as we have. The average American household possesses more than 300,000 items. In the UK, one study found that children have on average 238 toys, but only play with 12 of them on a daily basis. We are addicted to accumulation. The minimalist lifestyle seems like a conscientious way of approaching the world now that we have realised that materialism, accelerating since the industrial revolution, is literally destroying the planet.

Yet my gut reaction to Kondo and the Minimalists was that it all seemed a little too convenient: just sort through your house or listen to a podcast, and happiness, satisfaction and peace of mind could all be yours. It was a blanket solution so vague that it could be applied to anyone and anything. You could use the Kondo method for your closet, your Facebook account or your boyfriend. Minimalism also seemed sometimes to be a form of individualism, an excuse to put yourself first by thinking, I shouldn’t have to deal with this person, place or thing because it doesn’t fit within my worldview. On an economic level, it was a commandment to live safely within your means versus pursuing dreamy aspirations or taking a leap of faith – not a particularly inspiring doctrine.

Kyle Chayka

I have never been particularly attracted to this sort of one-size-fits-all life philosophy, and this article makes a good case against it, exposing its shallow and unsatisfying aspects. I liked how it uses the iPhone design as a prime example of minimalism driven to the extreme, of its underlying dependency on society and the systems build over years to support it.

It is easy to feel like a minimalist when you can order food, summon a car or rent a room using a single brick of steel and silicon. But in reality, it is the opposite. We are taking advantage of a maximalist assemblage. Just because something looks simple does not mean it is; the aesthetics of simplicity cloak artifice, or even unsustainable excess.

It’s certainly not wrong to live a more spartan life style, if it fits your needs, but going too far in one direction can prove destabilizing. At the start of the pandemic I saw people on Twitter lamenting their earlier minimalist convictions; being stuck in the same sparse space for week after week made them wish they had more stuff around to ‘spark joy’.

Tidying Up with Marie Kondo
From the ‘KonMari method’ to Apple’s barely there design philosophy, we are forever being urged to declutter and simplify our lives. But does minimalism really make us any happier?

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