Minimalist Lifestyle For Sale?

When I was a teenager, I was enamored with the J. Crew catalog—not so much for the trendy-preppy clothes, but the chic lifestyles depicted on its pages. I’d spend a lazy hour with each new issue, looking for inspiration as to what kind of glamorous life I might lead someday.

When the spring issued arrived, I’d daydream about cavorting in a meadow of wildflowers with ten of my closest friends (no matter that my friends were far more interested in going to the mall than a meadow).

The summer issue had me fantasizing about riding a perfectly-battered vintage bicycle, in my flipflops and sundress, through a quaint little beach town (no matter that the nearest beach towns were crammed with cheesy bars and sweaty tourists).

With the fall issue, I imagined myself strolling the leafy paths of an Ivy League campus, and cozying up in a grand old library filled with leather-bound tomes (ok, I actually lived this one).

And, oh, the winter issue! That’s when my imagination would really take flight. I pictured myself celebrating the holidays, with my extended family, on a fabulous New England estate–riding in our own sleigh (of course) to pick out a Christmas tree on the expansive, snow-covered grounds. (No matter that landing on such an estate would likely require marrying into a moneyed, Kennedy-like clan—and my teenage heart fell for artists and musicians rather than the sons of senators).

I consumed these lifestyles just as I would the flirty sundress, low-rise khakis, or roll-neck sweater that went along with them.

But after years of envisioning which “catalog life” I might lead, complete with its clothing and accessories, the one I fell into was so vastly different—and, I’m happy to say, required no purchases whatsoever.

When I became a minimalist, over a decade ago, there was nothing trendy or chic about it. In contrast, people considered my penchant for empty spaces and few possessions to be rather strange and eccentric.

Fast forward to this NY Times article, “Selling the Pared-Down Life.” It’s about LifeEdited, the latest venture by Treehugger founder Graham Hill, and describes the aim of his fledgling company to sell “small-space, sustainable… high-end living” to the masses. (If you have any doubt that big profits are anticipated, consider that billionaire entrepreneur Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, is being wooed as an investor.)

I certainly appreciate the idealism behind it, and applaud any effort to champion a “right-sized” lifestyle to the public at large. But I can’t help but wonder (or should I say worry): has minimalism become another lifestyle to consume, along with the right convertible furniture, smart phone, and wardrobe of merino wool?

One might argue that I’ve contributed to the “packaging” of minimalism as a lifestyle; after all, I’ve been blogging for nearly three years and have a book for sale on the topic (with yes, a link at the bottom of this post—but you can borrow it from the library if you prefer). However, I’ve stopped short of peddling other products or selling advertising space on my website. In my opinion, minimalism isn’t conferred upon you when you purchase a snazzy set of nesting bowls; it’s a state of mind that’s cultivated slowly and deliberately, and ideally, will lead you to decide that you don’t need said bowls in the first place. ;-)

I’m all for quality over quantity, and being mindful about the products we buy—it’s a great strategy for avoiding the clutter that can accumulate otherwise. However, let’s not use minimalism as an excuse to consume more stuff (however high-end, beautifully-designed, or space-saving it may be). Let’s keep in mind that what we’re really striving for is less—and that remaking, reusing, and repurposing what we already own can be a far more effective way to achieve it.

Do you think minimalism has been co-opted by corporate America? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Related posts:

  1. Minimalist Inspiration from Millionaires
  2. A Short Guide to Consumer Disobedience
  3. Minimalist Living: Movement or Fad?

72 comments to Minimalist Lifestyle For Sale?

  • Fantastic article, Francine!

    I’m not from the U.S, but largely I’m finding that Corporations worldwide are jumping on the bandwagon of being sustainable, minimalist and environmentally friendly with claims that they are using less waste with the products they sell but it is unfortunately an absolute farce. They are just doing everything they can to try and pull back ‘minsumerists’ into their grasp so they can continue turning them slowly into consumers again.

    For example,the new flashy small apartments you posted look incredibly nice and sleek but are they all that sustainable? All of that plastic, laminated wood…. it just seems like what you’d normally see in a lifestyle catalogue, but just smaller. It seems to emphasise too much importance on the look instead of the purpose of a home. To me… the purpose of a home is to use it as a base, a stepping stone from nearby areas that I can explore together with friends and not an expensive apartment to just look at.

    I don’t like to be the pessimistic sort of kind but on this one I don’t think this is what minimalists look for. However, if this forces people to consume less because they live in smaller apartments then surely that is a good thing? But we’ll have to see about that :P

  • My friend commented the other day how she would, ‘love a minimalist lifestyle, but couldn’t afford it.’ Clearly she has been reading to many magazines :)

  • Very interesting post, and stuff to think about! I consider minimalism more as a ‘state of mind’ than as a lifestyle (in the way magazines etc use that word), actually. I think here minimalism as a way of designing things (homes, furniture, etc) is mixed up with minimalism as a state of mind. I like minimalist things, but wouldn’t be lured into buying a minimalist designed thing to replace something less-minimalist-designed that still works fine. On the other hand: my boyfriend and I are in the process of building our own house, and yes, that will be looking minimalist :) It won’t be tiny as we plan to have children in the future.

  • Great point, Francine. I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately as I consider my own possessions and how I would have purchased something a bit different if I’d had the mindset I do now. But should one replace what is already there because a different item will be more multi-purpose or take up less space? Hmmmm…

  • A

    This is a really great question!

    I think that some corporations have almost always “sold” minimalism – but not the way we think of it.

    Ads featuring home interiors – unless they’re showing how messy, distraught, or otherwise incompetent someone is – show expanses of space, with nothing or nearly nothing on surfaces.

    The message is “if you buy our stuff, your home will also be this awesome.”

    Obviously, though, the way to get your home that awesome is not to buy their junk and try to fit it in your space. (Aside from home interior and tchotchke peddlers, Real Simple magazine is a huge example of this.)

    Two other thoughts come to mind:

    First, a quote that I’m sure someone knows the origin of: “The rich aren’t like you and me – they have storage.” (Really captures that aspirational quality of ads and that article, actually.)

    Second, paraphrasing something from the defunct (last I checked) blog, The Simple Rabbit Society: Minimalists don’t organize. They don’t have anything to organize.

  • Marissa

    I think EVERYTHING becomes co-opted by corporate America. With the good (minimalism) always comes the bad…there will always be the people who see it as a way to make money and scam a few million people while they are at it. However, I think creating higher end, smaller living spaces would be beneficial. My family (of five) recently tried to downsize from our 2500 square foot house. After 1.5 years of paring down, we have no problem moving in to something between 1000 and 1500 sq ft. In our area though, it is almost impossible to find a place small enough that is still in a good area with good schools. In America, bigger is better and it is a sign of wealth. Corporations think that if we have more money to spend, we always want to be able to get more, more, more. It would be wonderful if that mentality could disappear.

  • new mom

    I used to dream about camping eventhough I was a minimalist at the time. I’d check out camping store websites. The message is nowadays people want to carry light loads so they can travel faster and cover larger area in a shorter timeframe. The ad hints that if you buy this or that type of camping gears, they help you achieve better results. I bought a tent, and I am happy to say that I stopped at that. I don’t want to spend money on stuff and pay for a place just to sleep in the wilderness. The home is much more comfy and convenient. I applaud avid campers/hikers. I still love to day hike though. I walked/hiked the whole San Francisco bay and across the golden bridge with a 10+ year old backpack (used in high school) carrying snacks & water. I was in a T-shirt, hat, pair of compfy jeans, and a pair of sneakers. This was before I had a baby. Now I have to carry a bit more such as diapers/formula/extra change of clothes etc.

  • Meg

    Oh, good grief! It’s a mixed blessing, I suppose–the raised profile for Minimalism is good, especially the parts that are not simply aesthetic, and the TreeHugger fellow seems to have some awareness of that. I agree that the R & D he is doing requires a lot of money, and I think it is good that those with money are provided with an alternative to taking up more space just because they can afford it.

    But it’s all so glib, isn’t it? I see an interesting dynamic here: as real-life, practicing Minimalists we are keyed into the exploitative marketing tactics of capitalism, including the lifestyle-as-marketing types like Hill, Hsieh (Zappos), Branson (Virgin group), Stewart (Martha Stewart), and Jobs (Apple). They can’t make money to do what they do unless people buy the stuff they make to aspire to do what they do.

    Your example of the J. Crew catalog is exactly what is likely to happen with LifeEdited; Real Simple magazine has been doing it for a while, too.

    Therein lies the danger. Capitalism co-opts trends in order to maintain control, and it does so by marketing, which in turn makes the masses feel like lesser beings if they don’t participate. A big capitalist marketing push toward smaller, simpler living might be desirable on the surface, but somewhere along the line they need to sell products that ostensibly enable this lifestyle, and that means Real Simple-type products and perhaps de rigeur merino wool clothing.

    I agree that Minimalism is a mindset that is cultivated deliberately, as opposed to a lifestyle that can be bought.

    • Grace

      :)!

      As usual Meg you are spot on!

    • Dinah Gray

      As much as I am visually attracted to Real Simple magazine, I have had to swear it off. It’s a magazine of articles trying to get you to buy things (which is most magazines). The magazine itself is clutter and it creates clutter. Other than lovely photos, it has no added value.

  • Kim

    Good questions. Mine: is minimalism a fad?

    • Hi Kim – to answer your question – I think that minimalism is a fad for some. For others it’s a lifestyle.

      The “voluntary simplicity” movement has been around for quite a while in the US among a small segment of the population. I think the recent recession made the concept more attractive to the masses, but eventually many people decided that minimalism was too big a change to sustain long term, after a lifetime of consumerism. However, I think just becoming more aware of what they own and purchase, and asking if it’s really used and needed can create lasting impact beyond the short term popularity that minimalism has recently enjoyed.

  • You’re exactly right, and it’s a scary thought! Oh, and I can definitely relate to the “catalog life”. I think there are many people who get sucked into that. It’s tough not to. =)

  • Nothing of substance to add. Just want to let you know I’m out here reading and enjoying your blog. Thank you so very much.

  • They can try but I doubt they can make enough money to stay in business from real minimalists. Sure some companies might try to make a minimalist style product line but I have a feeling that is something that most minimalists would be able to see through as an effort of big business to hijack minimalism into a way for us to make us minimalists buy more stuff from them. When it comes to simple items that are made well to last longer I do not see that as minimalism but just good products. I think it is a natural tendency among most minimalists to spend a little more on better things. Beyond that it is impossible to try to use marketing to convince minimalists to buy more stuff from you when their material values center around owning and buying less stuff.

  • As long as capitalism and the growth at any cost model continue to dominate our economic system, corporations will always get on the bandwagon with new trends and figure out how to sell us more of what we don’t need. I guess you can’t blame them in some ways because the whole system is set up (especially in the US) to where we must constantly be figuring out ways to make money and stay ahead. I hope I live long enough to see a complete overhaul in how the world does business. I’m not even sure what that would be exactly but I do know the present monetary system is broken and unsustainable but that’s a whole different topic!

    As Meg mentioned in her comment, maybe this is a mixed blessing. If more people are introduced to the concept of minimalism through corporate initiatives, then maybe it’s a good thing. Especially if people then figure out they don’t need to buy buy buy to experience the blessings of living simple and minimally.

    Great article Miss Minimalist! I love these kinds of topics.

  • Jaci

    I honestly believe, even without reading the article (I’ll do so in a few) that one cannot buy a minimalist lifestyle. Some may think they can jump on a bandwagon and try and sell it, but it cannot be for sale. It goes against the nature of the lifestyle. Look at it like those ‘space bags’ designed to reduce your bulk items into something manageable. All they did for those who needed more space to live was give them more space to fill. The minimalist lifestyle is NOT a product that can be sold, it has to be learned and accepted and adhered to in order to work. It is a process, it is NOT a thing.

    • Karen T.

      Amen, Jaci! Minimalism is a process, not a thing. “Minimalism isn’t conferred upon you when you purchase a snazzy set of nesting bowls; it’s a state of mind that’s cultivated slowly and deliberately, and ideally, will lead you to decide that you don’t need said bowls in the first place.” Exactly!

      Unfortunately, consumerism is the true religion of this country, and many people won’t understand or care about the difference between “minimalist” stuff and true minimalism. I don’t know if we will ever overcome the tendency to try to buy happiness, but I can keep fighting that tendency in myself and try to live so that others can see what I truly value: family, friends, nature, the life of the mind, and the life of the spirit.

    • Dinah Gray

      You are right. You can not sell minimalism, since it is not an object to sell.

  • AussieGirl

    I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. A lot of people are visual and for them, the thought of being in something claustrophobic, empty and unattractive, is enough to turn them off the idea of minimalism.

    However, if they are faced with an attractive variant of minimalism, then they are more open to the idea. Once you hook that person in by showing them how asthetically pleasing it can be, you will also be able to draw them into the spiritual and moral/ethical side of minimalism down the track.

    Just my thoughts anyway..

  • Ariel

    Well said! Brings to mind another article I read years ago that argued that just because the new fad is “sustainable,” doesn’t mean you should go out and replace everything you own. Yes, those organic bamboo dishes might be better than the plastic ones you have now, but trashing those to go buy new ones is only creating more waste. Replace things as needed, but don’t go out and overhaul a perfectly functional setup just cause something “better” comes along! Save your money. (And as you said, you might realise you never needed those dishes in the first place!).

  • Betty

    Yes I do. As with most everything, someone finds an angle to market to the masses and unfortunately, we often buy (no pun intended) into it.

    True minimalism is more than less stuff. It is a mindset.

    Great post, Francine!

  • Claire

    Hi Francine,

    It’s funny that you mention catalog-generated fantasies; I’ve been working hard not to fall prey to their sirens. Sundance (way overpriced, but so pretty!), with its minimalist, slightly derelict Western aesthetic, and Athleta’s catalog with its photos of Baja California or Bali, are my ultimate fantasy self generators. I’ve taught myself to picture my messy bedroom to remind myself that buying from them won’t magically transport me to the catalog spread. Instead, I’ll have less money and I’ll need space for what I just bought. Not fun, but effective.

    I did see that New York Times article and the apartment designer invented nothing new; Gary Chang did it before him. I agree that corporations are trying to find ways to market the simpler/minimalist life; it is, after all, so pleasing not be surrounded by clutter. Spot the oxymoron, “Buy from us, live with less!” I find it amusing that Real Simple magazine is still around; given its title, shouldn’t it have exhausted its purported subject a long time ago? ;-) There’s also a tension between its hawking products and showing minimalist interiors – its photos of closets are always so beautiful because they have nearly nothing in them, which is not the case for me nor for a likely vast majority of its readers.

  • It’s pretty ironic when you think about it…buy this thing so you can be a minimalist too. 0.o

    I’m pretty sure they are missing the point.

  • Linda

    You rock, Ms. M!! I was hoping for this topic to come up. Corporate America, for all its sneakiness, is sometimes so transparent. Real Simple should be renamed something like Complicating and Selling the Completely Corrupted Idea of Simplicity (only snappier, of course).

    I must admit, as someone who did not grow up in the digital age, that while many things I read online about minimalism have greatly inspired me, other things leave me really dubious. I see in some minimalist blogs the same “catalog fantasy,” only this time around the perfect 100 items (or fewer! Like a competition!). I can just see people obsessing: re-counting their items and wondering if they should upgrade this or that one, photographing endless Before and After scenes, reading endless other blogs on minimalism, feeling superior to Joe Schmoe America and his McMansion. (And I’m no simplicity saint either – I recognize this stuff because I see it sometimes in myself.) I have to remind myself to hold all this stuff (mental AND physical) lightly and with a deep sense of humor.

    The reason I referenced my stone-age upbringing is because I find so many things in this relatively recent age of 24/7 connecting with everyone about everything, to be absolutely anti-minimalist.

    Thanks, Francine, for your continually inspiring, thought-provoking blog. And happy Plumblossom!! Lucky little girl.

  • Little Snail

    Thanks for your post Francine. I do think that this is an instance of the idea of minimalism being hijacked to sell things. I do like apartments like the ones discussed in the article, but I’m not a fan of calling a lifestyle minimalist if one has to spend money to achieve it. These apartments sound like they’re all about having the same kitchen, storage and living areas as a bigger place would have, but still being able to *say* that you’ve pared down to a smaller space.

  • I’ve felt that corporations were trying to get a piece of the minimalist movement ever since Real Simple magazine came out. A lot of home design magazines try to capitalize on this as well. There’s a whole industry dedicated to “organizing” stuff and selling organizing equipment when the real solution is just to have less stuff.

    I do think corporations are trying to get their cut in the same way they’re trying to cash in on the “green” movement. It really comes down to consumer demand though. That is what will ultimately drive the market. In the beginning I was seeing a lot of “greenwashing” with fake “natural” products on the market. Now I am finding a lot more legitimate organic choices out there, although there’s still a lot of fraud.

    As a minimalist, I am starting to focus more on quality as I cut down on my overall posessions. I’d love to see the market break away from a focus on cheap, disposable consumables and a return to more long-lasting quality items that can be repaired when they break down. If consumers demand this, as they did 50 years ago, the market will have to provide it. So although right now I think corporations are just trying to make a quick buck riding on the back of this movement, it’s encouraging to think the movement could end up impacting the market in the long run. Hopefully in my lifetime…. but these changes take time. It’s hard to resist cheap consumables, hence the success of Walmart.

  • Wendy

    This is a thought-provoking discussion. I am a practicing minimalist, living in a 430 sq ft condo for 2 years now. I am living day-in and day-out the realities of small space living. One thing I dearly miss about my old house is having the ability to elegantly entertain even a small group for a sit-down dinner. I (and my friends) are middle-aged, and it’s hard for some of us to sit on the floor to eat around my coffee table, which is the only option in my space today. I also work from home and am an avid cook, so many days I’m preparing 3-meals for myself so I’m constantly juggling and emptying my cabinets to reach a pot/bowl/skillet in the back – this being in an already very pared down kitchen, but when you only have one cabinet for pots & pans, such is the situation.

    That said, I truly believe LifeEdited.org provides wonderful solutions for those who want to embrace this lifestyle. I can already see by perusing the site that even if I don’t “upgrade” to a convertible apartment (which would be fabulous, IMHO) they suggest tools to make life in my current small space more workable & comfortable.

    I’m a fan. I think it’s great.

    • Wendy

      Edit to my comment above: I’d like to agree with Linda’s comment regarding Real Simple magazine. They target people form whom the aesthetics of simple living is appealing. But they absolutely miss the mark for people truly living it. That’s where I think Life Edited shines.

  • GreyQueen

    I suppose you could look at it from the point of view that minimalism was an aesthetic movement long decades before most minimlist bloggers were born. A refined and edited taste has long been the hallmark of some elites. As mass-production make a surfeit of attractive goods affordable to the majority, some of the elite will want to distinguish themselves from the hoi polloi with exquisitely-understated design and sparseness. I call this magazine image “faux-poverty”; it’s imagining a form of simplicity without the inconvenient truths of living in cramped conditions or with inadequate warmth, food, security and other items which the elite won’t be sacrificing any time soon.

    It’s the nature of a capitalist economy to attempt to make money from what appears popular but many attempts fail outright or prove less successful than the capitalists wish, and they will soon be onto the next gimmick.

    As a person who is in the bottom 10% by income in a western country, I am incredibly wealthy by the standards of the vast majority of the world’s population, both past and present. As such, I can choose to hyper-consume goods and services, and am regarded as an oddity because I choose not to do so.

    Very few of my belongings were new when I acquired them. I could go and change my thrift store dishes for something more elegant and plainer from a fashionable store, and the result would perhaps be more in keeping with a minimalist aesthetic but it would be a meaningless activity. My home and my belongings are a frame for my life, not a reason for life itself.

    • Angie Hall

      GreyQueen, in one statement, you leave my soul fully convicted. “My home and my belongings are a frame for my life, not a reason for life itself.” I’ll share your comments with my husband, who is considering taking another job just to earn even more than his already top 4% of U.S. income just to continue to feed the lifestyle that we had believed was so necessary. I am sick of it all and the ways in which we have let ourselves become victims of mass marketing.

      • GreyQueen

        Angie, that is a very great compliment you’ve given me there. I hope that you and your husband move forward together in a way which works for you both. Kind regards, GQ x

  • Aline

    The apartment looks so sterile, it’s like living in a hospital or an asylum! Is the movable room divider safe for toddlers? Imho, it’s not very practical for a family with young kids.

  • Lara

    I think that the problem here is that a lot of “practicing minimalists” are so obsessed with stuff that they’re easy prey for this sort of thing. The “100 things” people are a prime example. To them, minimalist living is cool and trendy, and they’ll buy anything to be cool and trendy.

  • It reminds me of the Arts & Crafts movement in the early 1900′s — it started out with people who wanted things made simply by true craftsmen — made by hand and made well, without fussy machine-made ornamentation. It ended with the manufacturers offering the Arts & Crafts style in a cheap, mass-produced version — which totally ruined the entire concept. I think maybe this is the same phenomenon.

  • Mrs Brady Old Lady

    Makes me think of the person who started me off on this get-rid-of-your-clutter stuff road, Peter Walsh, now advertising for storage cabinets etc. He’s moved into selling things too. We’re minimalists and you can’t make money from us because we don’t buy anything we don’t need!
    Loved the comment about minimalists not organising things because we don’t have things to organize.
    Very thoughtful post Francine, and no mention of babies!!!

  • JeffS

    Read any [buymybook] minimalist blog and you’d think [buymybook] that the movement was ALL about selling [buymybook] things.

    If you like this comment, please buy my book.

  • Kurkela

    What’s wrong with catalog fantasies? Have as many catalogs as you want, have fantasies as many as you want, imagine for all it’s worth – and all that doesn’t mean you have to buy anything that is shown in the catalogs. Being ashamed of having fantasies – now that’s weird. You should bet ashamed if you had bought all what was in there, with the last of your family’s money, and then some on borrowed too. Otherwise – go ahead, dream on, let your imagination work, nothing wrong with that.
    As to the rest, I have always stuck to the rule – buy only one, but the very best you can afford, even save to buy it. If you have the best thing you can afford, you won’t be looking around feeling you have missed out on something. I don’t write with disposable pens, I have only one, but expensive one. When I take it in my hand, it makes me feel good, I always know where it is, and I take a good care of it. Just one pen, and it’s enough. The same with everything else: my coat was expensive, I had to save for it, but it is so good, classic and well-cut, it wears very well, and I have to take a good care of it, as it is my only coat. Don’t refuse yourself anything, but have ONLY one. The same goes to cakes, by the way :)
    If what you have is excellent, no corporation can make you want for more, because you already have it – but only one. And one is enough (of course, it doesn’t refer to underwear, socks and such).

    • Mayfair

      Great comments, Kurkela! I agree. Very inspiring:) It reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s famous quote: “I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.”

  • Reana

    what about kindle and apple products? lots of people buy them not because they are a minimalist but because it’s cool and sleek and shiny new stuff. Buy this and your life becomes sexy, not minimalist .

    they pay for value,and aesthetic not just to BE ‘minimalist’.

  • Absolutely! The true beauty in minimalism lies in making do with less and being very happy with it.

  • I’m so glad I found your blog! You put into words what I’ve been feeling for such a long time: I want less. My friends don’t get it. I said to one my goal is to have empty space in every closet and she looked befuddled and said “Why?”. I am in a zone of cleaning out and giving away; I’ll never be a true minimalist (I don’t live with like-minded people!) but it’s my heart. I’m so glad to find a place where what I was feeling for so long is understood! My biggest joy is cleaning out and carting off to Goodwill….I have so few clothes in my closet, and it feels great! Empty spaces in most closets, working on the rest. My biggest challenge is trying to get my family on board: thoughts?
    Laura

    • Debbie

      I read a book recently called, Passionate Marriage and the main premise is to be your own person and to let your spouse be their own person as well. I started minimizing a little over a year ago. I was excited about it but didn’t push my husband at all. Seeing how nice it is (especially with kids’ stuff) and seeing how much we are saving has gotten him into it too. His closet is still quite packed (although he has been motivated and gone through it – and is realizing he doesn’t need more). So my advice: be your own person … don’t worry about the others in your house.

      • Kurkela

        Oh Debbie, it’s not always so easy :) I have a working room of my own which is almost empty if compared to the rest of the house. And then one day I come into my room to work and what do I see? An enormous pile of stuff which is not mine. The family member who had brought it in was truly surprised and said – but you have so much free space, why can’t I put my things in there? I have been asked if I have financial problems and can’t afford to buy myself anything. I have been declared weird for not willing to buy anything I don’t need and been asked what kind of a woman I am (“but you can afford it surely, and the price is good, and it suits you so well, so why don’t you????”) The good news is that the family gets used to this eventually, but oh so slow… It’s hard to be different among all the rest, but it can done, though.

  • CJ

    Being in the UK Real Simple magazine is not familiar to me, so I just checked out their website. Wow! None of the images or items I saw on there even LOOKED minimalist. I looked at a series of ‘before and after’ shots and after still looked really cluttered and busy to me, and I don’t think I live like a minimalist at all, really! (Although someone did tell me the other day that my house is ‘sparse’. I still don’t know whether they meant it as compliment or not, but it made me so pleased!

  • CJ

    I got so distracted by Real Simple I forgot about Francine’s interesting post! I definitely think that minamlism has been co-opted by big business (I’m not going to say Corporate America as I’m a Brit). This is where I start sounding very gloomy…I think in the last 10-20 years EVERYTHING has been taken over by big business. Think of the number of small ‘ethical’ companies who sold out. Think of the number of places that used to be full of little quirky stalls and shops that are now rows of designer shops. Every lifestyle now has a magazine as a vehicle for advertising to a specific audience. The magazines themelves, however appealing they look, all seem to be owned by the same few companies. What hasn’t been taken over by big business has been taken over by big money – the world’s most expensive artworks are now snapped up by the global elite purely as investments. You can’t book tickets for en event without finding all the best ones snapped up by ever expanding touting agencies. If you want to access offers and promotions you need to sign up to a middle-man website. There seems to be no object or process that isn’t viewed by someone as a money-making commodity.

  • Grace

    “Let’s keep in mind that what we’re really striving for is less—and that remaking, reusing, and repurposing what we already own can be a far more effective way to achieve it.”
    AGREE!

  • Ideealistin

    I WANT to be optimistic on that (as well as on LOHAS and every sort of trendyfying of sustainability and thoughtful living).
    Because I’d rather have people do the right thing for the wrong reasons than the wrong thing for the wrong reasons.
    Some may never learn – but if you are lured into a new consciousness by a trend, a style, a “must read” book or blog or whatever it doesn’t mean you have to keep surfing on the shiny surface forever. You might as well start questioning what got you so interested in the beginning … It’s true that people are stupid. But fortunately it is also true that people are NOT stupid.

  • hi francine et al,

    i actually work on the lifeedited project with graham. i think many of the comments here are quite valid and that minimalism, as one commentor put it, is an attitude, not a product (paraphrasing).

    the one perspective that is left out here is bringing minimalism to a broader audience. at present, it’s a pretty fringy thing. and there’s a rhetoric of “us and them”–we [minimalists] use what we need, they [mainstreamers] gorge on their excess. while this might be factually true, it ain’t going to win votes. one of the more effective things graham did was help bring environmentalism to the mainstream with treehugger.

    what if we had a new aspirational model–less mtv cribs and more jay shaffer from tumbleweed homes? what if kids aspired to have small homes when they grew up? what if the today’s endemic excess was a cause for social scorn tomorrow?

    one last thing, which is there is actually a dearth of some products that support this way of life. i won’t overstate this one. people can always make due with what they got, but having experienced the lifeedited apartment, it simply works better than the 500 sq ft one my wife and i share.

    david

    • miss minimalist

      Hi David,

      It’s great to hear from a member of the LifeEdited team. Kudos to Graham for promoting small-space living; I’m definitely on board with that!

      And yes, I’d love to see minimalism as an aspirational model–just not one that can be achieved only through the purchase of certain items (particularly high-end, expensive ones). I’d never want anyone to think that minimalism is economically out-of-reach for them, when, with a little decluttering, they can essentially achieve the same end.

      You’re right, there likely is a dearth of products supporting this lifestyle–but that’s probably because we minimalists are looking for ways to do without them. ;-)

    • Debbie

      Good luck to you!! I would love to see small spaces made well. As one someone else commented it is difficult to find well-made smaller homes in nice areas with good schools. We had just read The Not So Big House when we were looking for our home. We had 7000 sq. ft. homes in our price range and were very attached to the idea of having a smaller (3000 ft.) home that was very nice. It took a year to find our house and we are so amazed to have found a smaller, very nice home. I would love to see a trend for smaller homes.

  • Pandora

    I feel like I’m one of those people who has got caught up in the thought that minimalism is what is shown in a beautiful IKEA catalog rather than in my own home. I struggle constantly with focusing on minimizing and not spending on things that fit into the minimalist style right now.

  • Emile

    Well, it seems like most worthwhile social movements get co-opted by the corporate powers that be. In some ways, it’s a sign that you’re succeeding, at least with a group that’s large enough to become a market. It makes me think of participating in the gay pride parade in San Francisco, where small community-based groups are drowned out by huge floats from Google, Wells Fargo, Macy’s, Levi’s, etc.

  • Leigh

    This may be of help to others. I have subscribed to Catalog Choice to stop receiving catalogs.

    https://www.catalogchoice.org/

    I love minimalism and minsumerism. I was an avid subsciber to “Real Simple” and shopper at “The Container Store” (affiliated… organize your stuff with our stuff). When I discovered Miss Minimalist, it was a light bulb momemt. Stop organizing, and sell, donate, recycle, repurpose and only buy what is absolutely necessary. I am in this process now and it does feel great!

  • Heather

    Everything is for sale in America. Sad isn’t??? When I was overseas, people just lived. It may seemd simple or minimalist but they were really just living. The United States has taken it to the next level, packaged it (Non recyclable probably) and sold it at a huge profit. I say bring it to a broader audience by just living. What a concept eh???? :)

  • Bo

    I don’t normally self-promote, but I wrote a blog entry on this very recently, taking an anthropologist’s perspective: http://bosanbo.blogspot.com/2012/05/choice-and-minimalism.html

    Hope this adds to the discussion. Short version: as societies become more affluent, there is a tendency toward conscious self-limitation as a display of wealth or power of choice. You have the power to choose, and the self-discipline to limit, both of which are qualities some want to display as visibly as possible. Consider all the self-limiting diets currently popular in America; we have more food than we know what to do with, so people go gluten-free, low-carb, paleo, vegetarian, vegan, local, organic, etc. Not to say these aren’t valid choices, they are for many people. But they can also be a coping mechanism to over-abundance of choice.

    • Bo

      Sorry, and to answer the main question here: I think it’s a good thing in small doses. A lot of “trends” have been useful things, in the long run. It’s OK with me if rich people want to live minimal lives. It’s OK with me if anyone does. They have more money to spend on it, let them spend it. It isn’t my money. I’ll spend that my own way, and if our paths cross, awesome.

      Making minimalism desirable, fun, etc. is a good thing, if you ask me. It doesn’t lessen an individual’s impact of living small if more people live small. And even if someone else does make a “hollow” gesture toward the lifestyle, it doesn’t cheapen what a sincere person does.

  • Elizabeth

    Dwell magazine is rather minimalist oriented, but it has always been that way. I’m not sure their philosophy necessarily translates to a trend or whatever. They have segued into selling smallish modular homes though.

    As with the green movement in cosmetics, if something becomes attractive to a segment of the population, it will soon be swept up in the consumerism that is the American marketplace.

  • I’m not perfect about minimalism by any means (I’m a book-collector by nature) but I do find that I have no “wants” before I start looking at magazines or walk into a store. It is only after being shown pretty/shiny/functional things that I develop any desire to have “more.”

    Fortunately the feeling fades.

  • I don’t think this lifestyle can be sold. It’s a state of mind, that must come from within.
    It must cry out to you, on that day when you realize your current habits are unsustainable.

    When you realize you have too much stuff, too much space to house your stuff, and spend too many hours working to support housing your stuff.

    One can be just as obsessive about minimalism, as they are with consumerism. Just like getting that one more piece of furniture will make your room perfect, getting rid of that one more thing can also make your room ‘perfect’.

    When your desire to truly live with nothing in your way becomes stronger than your desire to consume and keep up with the Joneses, that’s when you’ve internalized this philosophy.

  • Jasi

    It’s great. There will always be a marketable mainstream that only buys into the trend. Much like green washing this is a baby step in the right direction. I don’t think it’s possible to change the hearts and minds of so many, nor should it be so. But if we can make living with less in a smaller footprint more appealing it’s a win. I chose my own path, seek my own products, research every choice but most Americans don’t live this way. Let’s guide them toward more responsible choices even if we have to sell it to them. =D

  • I don’t see much long term profit or growth in the idea of encouraging thoughtful purchasing. Delaying buying things until they need to be replaced, or feeding the supply of used goods through donating things that you do not need that detracts others from purchasing new is completely counter culture to the goals of modern day companies.

    I suppose if someone wanted to, someone could TRY using minimalism to generate revenue like a religion. In other words ask for money in a subscription format- the way that a church might collect money on a collection plate every Sunday.

    But that’s a challenging proposition- how do you make your brand of minimalist better than everybody else’s? Maybe you could suggest that your brand of minimalism is more hard-core than other peoples? That if you truly want to find your way to minimalism salvation that you should find the path through a particular method?

    So I don’t necessarily think it’s the corporations that we should worry about, it’s probably likely more likely that an ideologue will try to co-op minimalism and sell it and package it like a religion, and then people who have a tendency to want to follow religious like figures will be donating sums of cash regularly to this kind of guru.

    However, I don’t think this will happen. The tenets of minimalism are very simple to understand and there is no salvation promised except for having a less cumbersome life. Minimalism doesn’t promise happiness, it just offers an opportunity to live a potentially richer life with fewer commercial distractions. What we do with the extra time it affords us, is really up to us.

  • I think that everything can be turned into a dream to sell, especially in America. When you look at a magazine and you see that perfect house, sleek, empty and full of light, of course you imagine the wonderful life you would have if you lived in it, and you start dreaming and eventually you want to purchase something that will bring you closer to that dream. Some people do believe that in order to be a minimalist, you have to throw away everything you own and replace everything with a higher quality bunch of stuff, maybe less than the original amount, but still brand new, promising stuff!

    That’s not what minimalism is about, but that sure is how magazines etc will try to spin it!

  • Rae

    I like this entry. I’ve been reading a few articles saying they would buy a simpler phone in exchange for their smartphone.

    I don’t get it. Why would you need to buy something “simpler” when you already have something that works.

    I own a blackberry when I got introduced to the concepts of minimalism. All I had to do is turn off all the features except for call and text. I didn’t need to buy another phone. That’s counterproductive.

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