Minimalism and False Gods

Minimalism — the faux revolutionary lifestyle that requires its followers to rid themselves of unnecessary possessions and to live a simpler life of frugality and social responsibility. Minimalism frames our consumption under capitalism in moral terms — the movement’s most well-known proponents portray a minimalist lifestyle as a moral response to our wasteful culture, as a way to remove oneself from the destruction of the environment by consuming less, as well as a way to ethically respond to and alleviate social ills / to become more “in tune” with the problems of the globe. Worry not, capitalism is back (again) to save us from itself.

All of these aspects of minimalism are barely paraphrased from official statements by Josh Fields and Ryan Nicodemus, the public faces of the movement. Josh and Ryan are two reformed petite bourgeoisie white dudes who sold 90% of their possessions, took on the Mormon-inspired Kinfolk aesthetic, and set about making tons of money selling their minimalist literature to existentially distraught millennials and mid-life crisis genX who attach themselves to this movement like a drowning sailor death-grips a life-buoy. Nicodemus and Fields serve as the harbinger of the latest false attempt to save our cancerous economy from self destruction. This generation’s Al Gore, they are peddling a more responsible way to participate in capitalism’s death-march while simultaneously positioning themselves as the next generation of managers who seek to uphold the phantasmic “kind-capitalism.”

Fields says it himself,

minimalism is not a radical lifestyle

He means this is a good way, of course, but in stating this he unknowingly exposes his lifestyle for what it is — devoid of anything remotely revolutionary or useful. A world in which discourse on capitalism simply offers new ways to consume is a world that is not-so-secretly devoid of real discourse.

The minimalist aesthetic needs you to ask, “did the Apple employee find the apartment this way, or did he spend an abhorrent amount of time finding the perfect wooden table (stool?) to place this particular book on?”

Minimalist’s ardent followers will tell you without solicitation that they are so much happier now that they have made the switch — now that their house look like no one lives in it, now that their only possessions are cookware, the latest iPhone, and a smart car they keep in a secure garage beneath their building. The vast majority of the people taking this lifestyle on are the petite bourgeoisie; the amalgamation of middle managers, bureaucrats, programmers, journalists, and a few guilt-ridden working class folks who see the earth dying and are too bewildered to see the insidious machinations behind their new “ethical consumption” habits.

At its core, minimalism is the latest response to the the crisis of capitalism that, like every other lifestyle choice or new fad among progressives, is nestled comfortably within the capitalist mode of production and consumption. The last two generations ravaged the planet and the job of the next generation is to pitch in to save it through (surprise!) a more moral and cool model of consumption. A model asks us to consume less so that we can continue consuming, asks you to exert tight controls on yourself so that we can keep on controlling, asks you to produce ethically so that we can keep on producing, asks you to ride your bike so you can save the planet while the power-elite poison your air, and asks you to eat organic and only buy from your local capitalist. Through buying less of the right products and by consuming the moral way, we can save our way of life for another few years. We avoid confronting capitalism by finding cooler and seemingly guilt-free ways to participate in it. By withdrawing into hyper-mindfulness of our minimalist aesthetic, we simultaneously withdraw from true revolutionary politics.

Through rigorous management of your consumption, you too can wash your hands of the guilt you feel as a middle class worker on the eve of global catastrophe. Through a meticulous evaluation of where your only chair and table come from, you too can withdraw from the class war being waged in the streets of your “up and coming” neighborhood. Through an extreme internalization of the effects of global capitalism, you can take it upon yourself to save the planet from the very system that your new lifestyle hinges itself upon.

The planet doesn’t need our minimalist lifestyles, but capitalism salivates over it — so long as we continue to take it upon ourselves to participate in the system in the right way, the system is safe for another day.

The working masses won’t wrest itself from their banal lives by internalizing capitalism’s failings.

Owning less will not stop the rich from destroying the planet and ordering from Kinfolk magazine won’t absolve you of your position within capitalist hegemony.

Just like the “green capitalism” of the early 2000s, the politics behind minimalism is as empty and sterile as the apartments of the petite bourgeois who exhort it.