Capitalism

Less is More is Less

8 August 2018

I am a hoarder. On the cluttered shelves above my desk, among stacks of loose paper and magazines, miscellaneous trinkets and nametags, I have a mason jar filled with 12 tubes of rainbow glitter from a dollar store in Brunswick. I’ve only opened one, using it as costume makeup during o-week 18 months ago. I doubt I’ll need this cheap glitter again—weekends as a second-year consist more of lounging around playing Mario Kart with friends than questionable fancy dress parties.

But I refuse to throw out the glitter.

It feels wasteful to get rid of an item that may have a future purpose. After all, those plaid trousers from my try-hard hipster phase have somehow cycled back into fashion.

Conversely, minimalism has an entirely different yet somehow quite similar ethos. Instead of saving time/money/ effort by keeping stuff, there is a belief that you can save time/money/effort by not buying it in the first place. Both movements—and yes, I just called my casual hoarding a movement—oppose prevalent fast-paced consumption cycles.

However minimalism has evolved to represent far more than its original philosophy, and can be divided into two categories: functional and aesthetic. The former is the lifestyle practice whereas the latter encompasses the way minimalism acts as a trend in industries like fashion and design.

As we become increasingly aware of the global social cost of mass consumption, the guilt over partaking in this inequitable system is unavoidable.

But for some, both functional and aesthetic minimalism become entwined to act as a self-perceived upgrade from mindless consumption without having to give up the luxuries of affluence. I’m tired of being told to look up to self-indulgent, hyper-curated white-on-white minimalist lifestyles, as if this personal performance art is accompanied by moral superiority. I’m tired of being told that this way of life is a cultural marker of taste, while simultaneously encouraged to redeem my guilty conscience through buying a MacBook Air and Scandinavian jeans.

While I may be criticising followers of the minimalism cult for turning it into a frivolous trend, true functional minimalism has many benefits. It can encourage sustainability by eradicating single-use items such as plastic shopping bags—something Woolworths phased out in June!

I truly believe functional minimalism and capitalism could become a greater power couple than Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson. Think supply and demand: if we become accountable and demand fewer cheap mass-created goods, we encourage innovation in agreement with environmental and ethical standards. The KeepCup, a reusable coffee mug beloved throughout campus, was founded to combat excessive packaging waste.

Unfortunately, businesses have preferred to embrace aesthetic minimalism. The thought that ‘less is more’ has become commodified seems contradictory, but businesses have still found a way to capitalise (pun intended) on this trend, targeting people who feel overwhelmed by consumption culture. Minimalism as a branding decision makes financial sense: Uniqlo and Muji have built their empires on the back of a simple, “unbranded” design. A lack of expensive packaging and decoration saves costs, while simultaneously enabling the business to charge premium prices, allowing customers to indulge in the fantasy of a faux revolutionary lifestyle.

Furthermore, capsule modules can be viewed, rather cynically I confess, as a marketing tool to get consumers to purchase goods that cost more than what they would traditionally be willing to pay. Then, they must be updated for the seasons, or for workplace requirements, or fluctuations in weight, and so on. Buying a whole new wardrobe consisting of pieces each worth over a hundred dollars—especially when there is still no guarantee its manufacturers’ working conditions—isn’t the only solution to combatting fast fashion.

Does minimalism make people happier? Is the lifestyle satisfying? Is it possible to avoid our overwhelming sentimental attachment to material possessions?

Functional minimalism can be exciting. I love watching the ingenuity of tiny house designers on YouTube and learning about how tech giants like Google and Apple integrate minimalist approaches into their product development. However, it doesn’t get a free pass.

This lifestyle is innately tied to wealth, or at least, financial stability. Even asking, “How can I rid myself of excess and only have what I need?” presumes that your basic needs are met; enough that you are considering whether you have too much. We can distinguish functional minimalism from simply living because the first is a choice, whereas the second often isn’t. The philosophy of only owning the absolute necessities assumes that if one item breaks, then you have the luxury of time and money to get another.

Sure, there may be beauty in simplicity, but sometimes, life is better when you keep the glitter.

 


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