Ever wondered what this whole minimalism thing was about?
If you have then I have some great news for you! Netflix will answer all your questions about minimalism in one little film. Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things has just recently been added and it’s a must-watch for those who are interested in sustainability, fast fashion, and our impact on this orb we call home. While a film all about minimalism the crux of this doco is the journey of Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, also known as “The Minimalists” from blogging and social media fame and how they are spreading their philosophy of minimal living. If you aren’t all that interested in their journey don’t be put off from watching this gem, in between the ‘blogging tour’ stuff there is plenty of meaty bits of info from academics, minimalist living persons of influence, and even links to the sustainable fashion industry.
Scratching and clawing for more.
The doco starts by setting the scene for the foundations of human dissatisfaction. The argument is that the ‘machine’ that is our social systems, norms and marketing agendas has set us up to feel like we are not achieving enough. Entrepreneur Jesse Jacobs boldly states that:
“as human we are wired to become dissatisfied’
This pre-programming (whether you believe it to be something hardwired or the result of conditioning) is why many lottery winners are miserable and the doco believes that the addiction to dissatisfaction is maintained through technology and information. That this media and our social norms (specifically now we are all connected through social media) gives us an illusion of how our lives should be. Through marketing and advertising but mainly social media we are able to use others lives as a ‘yardstick’ on which to judge our own successes. And for most part these successes entail meeting certain levels of attainment through career, family life and the possessions we surround ourselves with.
Years in the making.
The never-to-be-satisfied consumer didn’t appear overnight. It’s been years in the making. According to the doco it’s taken over a century to get us all into this ‘need-the-next-consumption-fix’ frenzy. While many of us would like to assume that we are exempt from buying into the ideals of marketing and advertising economist and socialist Juliet Schor knows us better than we know ourselves:
“Advertising has polluted and influtrated our culture. It’s in our movies. It’s in our Television shows. It’s in our books. It’s in our doctors offices. It’s in the taxi cabs. It’s in the bar sitting next to you. The person who you are having an idle chat with could have been placed there by an alcohol company”
So while you might like to think that your decision making exists in a vacuum advertising messages are sometimes so subliminal and sneaky you can’t be certain that there hasn’t been some external influence along the way. The need of things has been programmed into us and results in the desire for the newest, latest and greatest. While those that read blogs like Sustainability in Style might be a little more ‘enlightened’ in the way they consume the general trend is that our desire for ‘more’ is growing. Since the 1990’s ever year sees us on a buying spree like no other and the trend is for growth. We (in the West) have three times the amount of space per person than we had in the 1950’s yet we have more stuff than space, which has resulted in a 2.2 billion square foot storage industry (I’m assuming this doco stat is referring to the USA?)
Does this add value to my life?
When we consume we should really be asking ourselves this question. However our relationships with ‘stuff’ isn’t always that straightforward. A hoarding expert interviewed on the film suggests that people can develop deep attachments to things. That many of the things that people introduce into their lives can be valued as highly as people. Which is why (if you have ever happened to watch one of these series) people in shows like ‘The Hoarded Next Door’ are often treated for psychological trauma that has occurred following the death of a loved one. That the attachment for the departed has spilled over into an obsession for ‘stuff’ to fill the void the loved one left. I’ve personally had gripes with the way that minimalism has become a trend on social media. I’ve struggled with the way that capsule wardrobes and perfectly curated closets have been lorded all over social media like they are the only way to be ‘eco’. Why? Thanks for asking. I’ve HATED this trend because it adds additional pressure for people to have their life ‘picture-perfect’ sorted. That we should all know ourselves so well that our expression of ourselves could be conducted in a collection of just 33 items. Which is why I loved this little snippet from the doco from Colin Bevin of ‘No Impact Man‘:
“I was talking to author and socialist Julie Shaw (writers note: I think he was referring to Juliet Schor but it sounds like he is saying Julie Shaw) and said that ‘the problem with our society is that we are too materialist’ and she said ‘actually if you think about it in some ways we aren’t material enough’”
The film then clips to Juliet Schor who continues to explain this point. She says that we are materialist in a very shallow sense, caring only for the status that the items we bring into our lives give us, not about the actual items themselves. She continues on to say that we need to be true materialists and actually think about the materials of the good and services we use and their supply chain to get to us. Which gets us to the bit where we can talk about fashion.
Minimalism and sustainable fashion.
Shannon Whitehead is the documentaries sustainable fashion expert. When interviewed she explains how the fashion industry moved from two or four season a year to the 52 seasons a year model that we currently see in our stores today. It can be a little hard to believe that there was a time when stores only got new collections a couple of times a year but this is because we have become accustomed to having fashion ‘on-tap’. Whiteheads notes that:
“The status quo in the fashion industry right now is driven by fast fashion…They want you to feel out of trend after one week so you will buy something new the fooling week’
This cheap and fast clothing is a worry because it has made items that we traditionally treasured as disposable as the food we buy and eat from the supermarket. The price we see on the tags of our fashion items does not account for social or ecological costs. Whitehead also goes on to explain something that she sounds shocked by but I can vouch for having seen time and time again in my years in the fashion industry.
“There have actually been accounts of big fashion retailers bailing all of the clothes from one week together slashing though them with scissors destroying them and leaving them on the side of the road. So that noboday can resell them or even wear them. They want consumers to by as much clothing as possible”
Whats scarier is that fast fashion is extended to all areas of the home now. We are seeing homewares, furniture and all other manner of household items being part of a global ‘decorating’ trend. This is in some way fuelled by the social media that we consume and by ‘keeping up with’ the current homewares trends so our house is always ‘picture perfect’ for the ideal integral shot. The doco looks at the fashion based minimalism Project 333, a capsule wardrobe challenge (dressing in 33 items only) that has taken the world by storm with it’s dressing with less approach. I can honestly say that while this may be appealing to some, I believe it somewhat feeds back into the idea that one must know themselves well enough to be able to express their personal style in such a limited number of items. As a minimalist maximalist my experimentation with capsule wardrobes was a complete failure. I LOVE getting dressed and adornment is part of my creative expression. My soul is crushed by limits on this expression. I have concluded that I am a life minimalist and a closet maximalist. My sustainability ventures involve minimising waste, my carbon footprint, stress, and wasted time. In my closet I like to be surrounded by colour, texture and culture, I am a true materialist in that I love material and the story behind it and could never stick to just one specific style or way of dress. The crux of the minimalist movement is not about throwing things away and living out of a suitcase its about living deliberately and asking yourself with every purchase
Is this adding value? Am I being deliberate with this decision?
What is your take on minimalism? Are you a capsule wardrobe dresser? Do you love your stuff in excess? Perhaps you have an empty closet and busy life? Share with us below.