We live in a capitalist age that values consumerism. Whether in the east or west, people love to flaunt their wealth, even when they don’t have it. High street brands like Zara and H&M thrive on making cheaper versions of high fashion clothes. Chinese and Korean markets sell cheap knock offs of the latest runway styles, encouraging people to buy.
India likes to advertise itself to the world as the land of spiritualism but in reality, when it comes to our festivals and weddings, we love to splash out money and gifts. In fact, the poor of our country are often driven into debt because the social expectation is to spend dil khol ke.
However, lately, people have started to realise that this excess in the house is actually not delivering any happiness. In fact, it is suffocating mentally and tiring physically to take care of all items that they have accumulated, like cobwebs on Miss Havisham’s wedding cake.
This is where minimalism has become popular, as a way to de-stress and take control of one’s life and finances. Minimalism as a lifestyle, takes a lot from Japan’s Zen philosophy and the simple, elegant lines of Japanese art and architecture. There is an appreciation in Japanese aesthetics of not just what is present, but also of the empty spaces that allow the mind to ponder peacefully.
People are increasingly looking to let go of things that don’t add value to their life. Thus, the popularity of Japanese organising consultant Marie Kondo has become so popular. She is known for the Konmari method which tells people to let go of things that don’t, in her words, “spark joy.” She bases her method on Shinto, a Japanese religion, where each object is thought to have a spirit. Thus, letting go of things that don’t give you joy is also a way of freeing those things up to go where they are meant to give joy. At the same time, it is about keeping the things that surround you with positive energy.
Similarly, Scandinavian minimalism, popular in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, focuses on living practically and owning things that are simple, beautiful and also functional. Here, the focus is on quality and practical usefulness over quantity and fast fashion.
Before one embarks on one’s own minimalist journey, there are some important things to remember so as to be a conscientious minimalist. First of all, people are letting go of excessive consumption because it is increasingly apparent that more things do not equal more happiness. But people are also doing it because it makes financial sense. In the long run, a good quality pair of sensible shoes is more budget friendly than a cheap, poorly made pair that will wear out fast, leading to wastage and unnecessary spending.
Secondly, our planet is in crisis and people are more aware of the dangers of climate change. In the west there is a growing, conscious effort to be vegan, organic and minimalist, to try to reduce one’s carbon footprint. When we consume less and more thoughtfully, there is lesser burden on the world’s resources and wastage comes down too. So, it makes complete sense to own less and use what we do have, more often. Do you remember how our parents had the one car and the one television that lasted them till they almost retired? They valued their things and got good use out of them. There were memories and emotions tied up to clothes, cars and furniture.
Lastly, to be a conscientious minimalist means being aware that our actions have consequences. There are people who declutter by throwing things in the dustbin and then feel the need to go out and buy a couple of more things to replace them. That’s not being a conscientious minimalist. That’s just giving yourself permission to splurge. These easily replaceable clothes are cheap because many of them are made in sweatshops in third world countries where workers are overworked and underpaid. The landfills of the world are overflowing with fast fashion goods. They are a burden on our planet. So, the conscientious minimalist must learn to recycle and repurpose.
Minimalism today, needs to be practised, not just as a personal lifestyle, but as an ethical necessity in a world where human beings are more conscientious about how they live and consume.