Minimalism has been all the buzz for the last few years. We’ve all noticed the shift to flat design, the simplification and decluttering of websites and apps alike. But the movement goes deeper than appearances.

A minimalist’s dream house; source.

To older generations, especially those who survived the Great Depression, accumulation of things was equal to wealth. Money could come and go with the economic rollercoaster, but things would last long after the banks collected their loans. In today’s globalized world, obtaining things isn’t hard. Increasingly efficient logistics make anything we want available quickly and cheaply. Buying and accumulating things isn’t what it used to be.

Not only that, but we have digitized our consumption. We buy apps, ebooks, and mp3s instead of hauling to the store to buy a physical copy; it’s more cost efficient and hassle-free. Millennials are undoubtedly more environmentally-conscientious than previous ones, and care about the environmental impact of their consumption. That could mean more DIY, upcycling, self-sufficiency, anti-consumption, green habits, and frugality.

Some of our media has minimized as well. Major hits on the radio feature minimal sounds, from Lorde’s Royals to Iggy Azalea’s Fancy. Twitter has allowed us bite-sized, concise communication. Games likes 2048 and Flappy Bird have simple mechanics and aesthetics. Plenty of non-minimalist consumers played into the ideology without realizing it.

In the digital world, minimalism rules. Having too many options is no longer considered a selling point. For example, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 has been criticized harshly for the obscene amount of icons, power toggles, and uninstallable bloatware. Minimal, flat design has penetrated every corner of the design world – even Apple redesigned their iOS to better suit their minimalist aesthetic. Most of my friends and family have installed Adblockers, widget blockers and other extensions that declutter popular websites (Beaupedia, Youtube’s Feather). People want a clean, customizable experience.

And it’s not a sentiment that applies only to the digital world. More and more people have embraced minimalist lifestyles, buying only what they need and making do with what they have. The environmentalists reduce their carbon footprint and upcycle items that outlived their purpose. There are students that try to reduce their distraction and force themselves to experience rather than buy, to “live” rather than “collect”. Still yet there are people who have had to go through a deceased’s overflowing estate, realizing nobody wants or has room for most of it. There are those who spent stressful, long weeks moving boxes full of worthless trinkets to their new house, where the boxes collect dust in the attic, still unopened. And then there are young adults who live in tiny rooms or apartments because urban living has skyrocketed in most major cities.

It is easy to consume, easy to buy, because it’s easy to make and easy to ship and easy to sell. We buy on credit cards and loans and fill our houses with “stuff” – things that we will throw into our garage later and forget about. Millennials have seen this happen to their grandparents and their parents, and while plenty will go on to live like that, many are pushing back. In fact, millennial are the smartest consumers yet because they have more choices. They can deny patronage to companies who do not represent their ideals or morals (for example, the increasing interest in cruelty-free or vegan products). Amazon, blogs, and specialty websites have made it easier to everyday consumers to review products honestly. Everyone can now choose what they can buy.

And do we need to buy much? The economy is limping, and basic necessities like housing and transportation are skyrocketing in price. Meanwhile, people feel pressured to keep buying: there is advertising in every corner of our lives. Is it any wonder people want to be left alone?

Perhaps minimalism is a trend for the young, and perhaps it will fade once millennials start settling down and having kids. For now, though, the ideology shows no sign of slowing down.

Further reading:
How Materialism Makes Us Sad, The Guardian
Mnmlist, Leo Babauta’s blog
We Live Simply, Jonathan Blundell’s blog
The Story of Stuff, a classic (slightly outdated) video


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