The twisted cult of minimalism


The twisted cult of minimalism

It's a monster mainstream trend. But the honourable roots have been hijacked by capitalism. Today's minimiluxe is about more expensive, not less, writes LAUREEN ROSSOUW.


NOT a day goes by that the word minimalism doesn't pop up somewhere on my screen or in company. Every fifth story on my Google feed is tiny home, or sleek, or clean, or Scandi, or Nordic minimalism. The last one this morning was “Jennifer Lopez's soft minimalism".

The enthusiasm around minimalism is understandable.

The world is in a consumer crisis. Material possessions have lost their appeal. Many millennials will never own their own homes and have a different approach to buying. Gen Z don't want anything (they don't even want to work).

That is why the Baby Boomers, the great hoarders of the last century, remain the target market of this trend — the children of the generation born after World War 2 and the poverty of the depression years. For us it was important to own and pay off your own house and property.

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To deny that you are a minimalist is about as politically incorrect as to deny that you are a feminist. How dare you? (As the earth suffocates in its own heat, you don't want to be the one guilty of further robbing her of her immunity.)

But why does this make me so uncomfortable?

Because this trend has had a run of almost 25 years and renews and reinvents itself every few years and reports in a new guise (and I've spent more money on it than I'm willing to admit). All in the name of a lower carbon footprint.

It all started with the storage hype around the turn of the century. Store and pack away, but in a new way: everything must be visible. Fifties and Sixties bathroom and kitchen cabinets were replaced with open shelves. If someone went overseas, you asked for clear plastic containers from Ikea. If it sticks out or shows, it should be attractive — all brand new, of course. The buzz words were high-tech, industrial and deconstructive.

My kitchen looked like a butchery — everything on wire racks, on meat hooks, packed in tins. The bathroom like a pharmacy full of medicine cabinets and laboratory bottles on trolleys; packaged, arranged and styled. Second-hand and collections became objets d'art.

In the meantime, there are the shipping container houses, micro-apartments, plywood, folding and stackable furniture with buzzwords such as recycle and upcycle. What I did not do myself, I recommended. My alarms must have gone off a long time ago, but the new ideas and products tempted me every time. The DIY trend of capitalism.

These days it is houses with bare walls, little furniture and expensive equipment described as minimalluxe or quiet luxury, like Kim Kardashian's $60 million minimalist palace which she calls her “sanctuary". Here they lost me.

Today's minimalism isn't a trend, it's trendy — a word everyone should be afraid of because it comes with an expensive price tag. It is a new brand and gives new products the right to exist.

Put the word in front of any object, series, podcast or book cover and you have a winner. The Minimalist Home, Minimalism 101, The Art of Minimalism, Sustainable Minimalism.

Be careful of hidden words like essentialism, simplism, capsule and, wait for it … spiritualism.

Like the high priestess of decluttering, Marie Kondo, with her “spark joy" mantra, derived from Shinto, the Japanese belief system where every object has a soul. Basically, if an object doesn't spark joy, throw it out.

To assist you with this process, there are books, a Netflix series and a product line. (How do you know a product is minimalist? By the simplicity of its design and its price.) Meanwhile, she is a multi-millionaire, recruiting consultants worldwide for home visits. Almost like the Color Me Beautiful ladies of the Eighties coming to your house to tell you if you are winter, summer, spring or autumn. If you were autumn, you had to wear brown and orange. Ask me, I was autumn.

At least there is good news too. Minimalism finally got rid of the Biggie Besters who decoupaged all the decor in every room, from the light switch to the waste basket, in the same motif. Also, some of the Frida Kahlo interiors of the Nineties. And by this time hopefully also some of the faux Roman torsos in the “tasteful" gay houses.

The word minimalism originally comes from the avant-garde art movement that arose in the 1960s in New York. This was in response to the overcomplicated works of art of that time. Any redundancy has been stripped away. The idea was to focus on the essence of the work.

So, after all that, where does minimalism get me now? At the beginning of 2024?

Here is my manifesto:

My minimalism has nothing to do with few or many things. It's a value system that is about conscious decision-making on my possessions, time and energy. To escape from the consumer mentality and zoom in on my immediate surroundings and my daily existence and to find satisfaction in it.

And it must start with the end of always wanting more. This is the essence of minimalism.

♦ VWB ♦

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