Minimalist Living: Movement or Fad?


I was recently asked by a reporter whether I thought the current popularity of minimalist living was a passing fad, or a bona fide movement.

First of all, I’m thrilled that minimalist living is on the radar of mainstream media. I’ve been a minimalist for a long time, and I remember when my Google searches on the term turned up little more than references to modern architecture, John Cage’s music, and 1960s art. Today, the same search returns a treasure trove of websites, blogs, and discussions – and yes, some actual newspaper articles – on how to live a simpler life.

Years ago, when I told people I was a minimalist, they looked at me like I had two heads. Today, they invite me over to declutter their closets and basements.

My answer: I believe that minimalist living is an important new movement that will transform our lives, our society, and our planet.

As I see it, a movement involves the convergence of three factors: a precipitator, an enabler, and a means of communication. Here’s how they’re contributing to the rise of minimalist living:

Precipitator: the Recession. When the economy was booming, few stopped to question the status quo. Money was flowing, credit was easy, and we all went shopping. But when things turned south, all bets were off: many of us looked around at the stuff we’d bought, and realized what a deep hole we’d dug. We realized that trading our time, energy, and financial stability for a pile of possessions just wasn’t worth it. Plus, many of us had run out of space to put it all! And so began a massive re-evaluation of our consumption habits.

Now, I know a lot of minimalists (myself included) whose lifestyle choice had nothing to do with the recession. However, I do think the economic downturn gave minimalism more widespread appeal; when money is tight and jobs are scarce, living with less is a fantastic alternative to digging deeper into debt. Furthermore, staying in the job market often requires much more mobility these days, and it’s no picnic dragging around a lot of stuff.

Enabler: Technology. At the same time, digital technology has enabled us to turn more and more of our physical stuff into intangible bits and bytes. We no longer need to be saddled with CDs (or DVDs) and their cases, boxes of paperwork, or heavy loads of books. We can scan (or digitally save) our documents, and store scores of books, songs, and movies on our Kindles, iPods, and iPads. Of course, that also means less need for furnishings like bookshelves, file cabinets, and CD racks.

Means of Communication: the Internet. Corporations and big media have long dominated mass communication – and they used it to spread the message that more is better, and material accumulation is the measure of success. Now, with the proliferation of tweets, blogs, and discussion forums, we’re exposed to a lot more messages from “tiny” media – and a lot of these messages are saying “hey, ‘more is better’ didn’t work for me, but ‘less is more’ does!” Minimalism has gained a voice (make that thousands of voices), and we’ve only just begun discovering its joys and singing its praises.

So does the idea of minimalist living have staying power? I think it does. We’ll likely become more mobile as a society, and location-independent as a workforce (google “digital nomads”), and technology will only progress in reducing our dependence on physical stuff.

Will some people return to their old levels of consumption when the recession ends? Sure. But I think enough of us have discovered that we prefer living with less, and will continue to live a pared-down lifestyle by choice. Whatever our reasons for adopting a minimalist lifestyle in the first place, we’ve likely discovered some of its myriad benefits – like less stress, more freedom, and more time to spend with friends and family rather than fussing over stuff. Not to mention, it’s nice to know we’re contributing to a healthier planet; because the less we buy, the cleaner our air, the fuller our forests, and the emptier our landfills.

It’s pretty amazing, actually: if minimalist living is a movement, we have a unique opportunity to change the current paradigm – from one of overconsumption, to one of conservation and sustainability. We can be pioneers of social and economic change simply by consuming less.

I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you think minimalism is a temporary trend, or here to stay? Is it a short-term or long-term lifestyle choice for you? Let me know in the Comments!

58 comments to Minimalist Living: Movement or Fad?

  • Tina

    I have never wanted much and now I want less. I am selling 2 bracelets this week. I have enough. If I don’t need to fill my closets and drawers, I can’t imagine others feeling a need to fill their spaces. I think this feeling of enough is what makes me a minimalist.

  • Tina

    I was talking with my son and we agreed that minimalism makes you more mobile. Since a lot of young people don’t want to commit to living in one place because of an uncertain job market, it makes sense to travel light. We have many fewer possessions than our parents because we didn’t want to own good china, crystal or silver. The coming generations will own less.

  • Shannon

    Well it is now 2015,and 5 years have passed since you wrote this article In the last year and a half the minimalism movement has exploded. There is so much content available now, new youtube channels and blogs are popping up daily.Folks like The Minimalists and Project 333 are are popular topics even with main stream media. I’d say we have far surpassed FAD status! FADS usually only last a few month to a year tops…although corporate america would love people to think this fad will fizzle…

  • Tina

    There is actually a TV series on the tiny house movement. These homes are all under 400 sq ft. I would hope that urban sprawl is a thing of the past and no one needs a McMansion with all the heating and A/C costs. I hope people are taking a more global view. THe fewer resources we use, the more is available for everyone else.

  • Tina

    Friends are now talking about moving from their giant homes to retirement communities. They are afraid they will never be able to sort their stuff. We sorted and tossed in our 50’s. We are always giving things away. There is so much my kids won’t want.

  • Janice

    May 12, 2016 and the current Google results are About 57,700,000 … I’d say change is here!

  • I get my arts and crafts supplies second hand. Except for the occasional small bottle of school glue or a few small boxes of crayons if my grandsons or other kids come over. When I lead a summer crafts program some years ago, we bought nothing new at all. I buy a bag of craft supplies at Sal Army or Goodwill and give away the items I will never use. My friend goes to rummage sales and flea markets and leaves her business card. Recently, someone wanted keys for a project and I was able to donate all my Mom’s keys.

  • I honestly can’t wait to become a minimalist but my parents own so much stuff and i woul’nt want them to see me sell it off my kids can’t wait either i already don’t own much at the moment but sorting and cleaning is a step in the right direction right now.

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