Broken Minimalism: Sterile?

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A few weeks ago, in my post Broken Minimalism: Elitist?, I took a quick look at one of the issues that are commonly raised with respect to minimalism. Today, I want to tackle a different common argument.

Minimalism: another boring product wealthy people can buy is the title of an article in the Guardian by Chelsea Fagan. At first glance, it seems to be a very similar article to the one linked in the last post, attacking minimalism because of its wealthy, elitist overtones. But that’s not entirely true. Instead, Fagan attacks minimalism as an aesthetic. The opening two paragraphs read:

I hate minimalism.

I hate it as the incredibly tedious piece of personal performance art it has come to be in our society, but I also hate it as an aesthetic: your white-on-white-on-white life and meticulously crafted wardrobe of only the most wispy products Everlane and Aritzia have to offer are, frankly, a saltine cracker’s idea of what a Cool Girl would wear.

She’s obviously got a bone to pick with minimalists. These are a couple of the things she’s got to say.

… Let’s be clear about what the minimalist aesthetic … actually is: it’s a way of aping the connotations of simplicity and even, to a degree, asceticism, without actually having to give up those sweet, sweet class signifiers.


It is just another form of conspicuous consumption, a way of saying to the world: “Look at me! Look at all of the things I have refused to buy, and the incredibly-expensive, sparse items I have deemed worthy instead!”

So is minimalism as sterile as Fagan claims? Well, it’s true that the common image of minimalism is one of white on white, sharp angles, and emptiness. But my house looks nothing like that. So is it really minimalism that she’s attacking?

No, not really. She is actually attacking an aesthetic, like she says, but she calls it by an unhelpful name.

Yes, minimalism does strive for simplicity. But it can do so without the “sweet, sweet class signifiers” that she hates, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. I’m a minimalist with a closet of $20 jeans and $3 t-shirts. I don’t have any Apple products (too expensive). And I only wear white-on-black when I feel like it.

Minimalism doesn’t have to be sterile. It can be a vibrant, colourful lifestyle that simply puts values on things other than objects. It values people and experiences. At least, that’s what true minimalism values. If you don’t really care about anything other than “white-on-white-on-white”, that’s perfectly valid. But you’re not a minimalist. You just like a certain aesthetic.

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