Millennials and Minimalism

A growing demographic trend

If you search for all of the industries that millennials are “ruining”, the list of results is laughably long. Being a millennial, my first reaction to these articles is that they’re authored by disgruntled baby boomers who figured out the art of click-bait titles. However, the more I think about it, I think it’s almost certainly a fact:

Millennials are killing entire sections of the economy with reckless abandon.

If you’re a millennial reading this, don’t grab your pitchfork just yet. The rest of this post will be dedicated to explaining what I believe is going on and why it’s a good thing.

We value experiences over tangible goods

I think this is the main contributing factor to our reputation as industry killers.

Not too long ago, social status was determined by the amount and quality of “stuff” one collected. When you walked into someone’s home, it was an extension of them. The books on the shelf represented intelligence, the art on the wall represented culture, the car in the garage represented financial success. This paradigm no longer exists with millennials.

Now that our entire lives are documented through social media, experiences (and the photos we take of those experiences) have become much more valuable than owning physical goods. While this has been bad for most of retail (RIP American shopping mall), it has been a boon for industries like restaurants, tourism, and adventure sports.

Having a bunch of stuff actually inhibits experiences like traveling or moving to a different city. I personally get great satisfaction out of downsizing because I have less stuff to worry about and more space in my apartment. I think that’s why second-hand marketplace apps like LetGo and OfferUp are so popular at the moment.

Millennials understand that material wealth doesn’t translate to happiness. The trend now is going in the opposite direction, where we want to have as little stuff as possible. If you watch HGTV, you have probably seen shows about “tiny homes”, where people are choosing to live in homes around 500 square feet. This means they have to be extremely economical with how they use the space and most of the items inside serve multiple purposes. It’s not that they can’t afford a normal home, these people just understand what makes them happy and a large 4 bedroom house just isn’t on the list.

Tiny homes are becoming more popular world-wide

So yes, millennials are killing off large sections of the economy. But what needs to be recognized is that we are also creating and expanding other industries at the same time.

We’re not just the Internet generation

We’re also the generation buried in student loans. When I lived with my parents after college to help pay off loans, the gravity of debt really sank in. It felt imprisoning, like I couldn’t live the way I wanted to until the debt was paid. At the same time, it taught me the value of personal finance and fiscal responsibility.

I still purchase plenty of products, but when I do, I make damn sure it’s a smart purchase. There’s nothing worse than buyer’s remorse. This is generally what I think about when buying something:

  • Will I use it frequently? I don’t want to buy something, use it once, and then have it take up space and collect dust. If I don’t think I’ll use it at least once a month on average, I won’t buy it.
  • Will it last a long time? I’m willing to pay a premium for a product that will last a long time compared to a cheaper alternative that will need to be replaced.
  • Does it help me do something I love? If you like to read, buying a Kindle makes sense. If you enjoy cooking, you should buy nice kitchenware. Spend money on what makes you happy.
  • Is it an investment or a purchase? The best way to spend money is to invest in yourself. I feel much better spending money on products when I see them as an investment. A new laptop can pay dividends in productivity. Buying a DSLR camera will teach me photo composition and editing.

Gone are the days of impulse purchases. Millennials are still buying products, we’re just much more careful about what it is we buy.

We lack patience, so simplicity is key

Each new generation has a progressively shorter attention span. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is debatable, but the fact remains that we have no patience for things that complicate our lives.

When we buy something, it has to make our lives easier…

As a digital designer, I understand that if an interface takes too long to figure out, usage will drop off a cliff. It’s the same with physical products. If I unbox a product and have to refer to the instruction manual, something is wrong (unless it’s a piece of IKEA furniture).

The Apple TV remote has reduced the number of buttons from 50 to 3

Rewarding companies that manufacture intuitive and well-designed products is a good thing for everyone. It raises the bar for competitors and the overly-complicated products get weeded out. If this results in companies going out of business, I don’t see that as a bad thing. It’s creative destruction at its finest.

Celebrating the Millennial spirit

In the future, I want to write similar blog posts that celebrate minimalism, inventive product design, and the millennial spirit. Older people can call us “snowflakes” all they want, I know our generation is moving the world towards a positive future.

Just because we do things differently, doesn’t make it bad

Instead of pushing mindless consumerism, like most forms of marketing, I want to encourage people to be smart with their money and look for products that will truly enhance their lives.

Don’t worry, the economy will be just fine.