Minimalize The Bullshit: The Politics of Decluttering

Ashley Fairbanks
May 22, 2017 · 3 min read
Minimalist Bedroom by Mr. Kate on YouTube

If you’ve been on social media, especially YouTube in 2017 you’ve probably heard a lot about minimalism. This new wave really came to the light last year, when two white dudes from some hipster city started calling themselves the minimalists and did a TED talk and made a documentary…blah, blah, blah.

They are probably the least interesting thing about minimalism.

Another catalyst was the popularity of the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and her Konmari Method, developed by Marie Kondo. The most important part of that book is the idea of only keeping things that spark joy.

So you have a)The Minimalists, telling you to only keep what you use and b)Konmari telling you to touch all your shit and see what makes you happy. Suddenly every former beauty-guru on the internet is purging her collection. Not to mention the crazy fruit eating vegans who are on a quest to own less than thou.

As a 30-year old former collector who has dove head-first into minimalism (I’ve gotten rid of about half my stuff) and has watched the rapid spread of it, I began to wonder why people were so quickly grasping on to something that seemed to reject everything we’ve been instructed to do. And I think I know why.

We’ve Realized how Broken The System Is

Things have finally unraveled enough for us to see the cracks. Society seems to have lost its collective shit a little in the past year.

While minimalism and politics are rarely mentioned in the same context, there is something radically political about this movement. The beginning of social media has been deeply, deeply rooted in capitalist pursuits. Haul videos. Tutorials for makeup and hair that push you to buy product after product. Dudes smashing iPhones just to see what happens. Always seeking something bigger, better, sexier.

And here we are, and most of us still can’t afford health insurance or our student loans, much less a house or a retirement fund. And we aren’t happy.

Minimalism rejects what we’ve been taught, that consuming will make us happy. And more than that, it clears the clutter from our lives, giving us room for other pursuits. As a generation, we’ve grown up watching our parents consume. They got the house, the car, the debt, the divorce. A lot of us who grew up in poverty watched our parents long for a day that they’d finally get all the things that they thought would make them happy. And they either did, and they still weren’t happy, or they didn’t, and felt like failures for it.

So maybe the answer wasn’t stuff.

And maybe it didn’t matter if it was stuff because we can’t afford it all anyway.

Minimalism says “live with less. live more. do more. work less.” It is, at it’s core, antithetical to the American Dream, which so many of us have come to realize is a fallacy.

Space to Breathe in a Scary World

Even more, in a time that is politically frightening for so many people, minimalism is also a way of self-soothing. Lightening your load, freeing yourself from as much debt as possible, clearing up money for self-care, all make it a little easier to survive a daily reality that is often hard to digest.

We have a President that threatens the lives of so many queer, undocumented, Indigenous people and people of color. A president that shits in a golden toilet and believes that he is the picture of success.

Minimalism is a rejection of that idea of success. Of Trump. Of the business-oriented, work hard and eventually you’ll own a BMW and finally be happy life we were lead to believe was our savior. It is a reject of the idea that 14 dresses from Forever 21 are going to make you feel fine about your body, or that you need 3000 sq. ft home to justify that your college degree was worth it.

Minimalism tells us that no thing, nothing, is coming to save us from ourselves. We have to reconcile with our world, we have to make peace with ourselves, our homes, to stop confusing the pursuit of things with the pursuit of happiness. We have to stop consuming to save our lives, our planet, and our future.

And the lack of clutter looks super sexy in your Instagram feed.

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