Consumption, Ethical Choices

Minimalism : Proceed with Caution

Does opposing consumerism mean embracing minimalism?


I read an article published in The Guardian about minimalism as another form of conspicuous (non)consumption. The author argues that the “pared down” aesthetic, from clothing, to food, to decor, are not only boring, they’re classist. Minimalism as a lifestyle is a way to unlock the ‘good parts’ of being poor without actually having to suffer the financial hardship. The author makes a lot of good points that boil down to : is it really a genuine movement if you have to spend a lot of money to join?

The “no-makeup” makeup look that requires expensive, “cool girl” products to pull off (rather than just literally going without makeup) or the expensive, handcrafted furniture that will “last a lifetime,” if only you can put up the money. The story is pointedly illustrated with Instagram of some people that I follow (yikes!!!) and it really stuck with me.

In the process of rejecting consumerism, I want to believe that I’m avoiding a similar misstep by adopting the idea of minimalism as a moral and spiritual platform. But is that really the case?

I don’t think I’d ever qualify as a minimalist, simply because I love the things that I love, even if takes me awhile to find them. On my bookshelf right now is a mirror in a colourful frame that I bought from Target while in high school, and a tiny set of drawers atop my desk from the same era. I took those things across the ocean with me, when I probably should have done something like abandoning them to the void, if I were truly letting minimalism into my life.

There is a very faux-Buddhist idea in minimalism that you have to be able to let go of any item at a moment’s notice because the mantra is, as always, that “suffering comes from attachment” and you’ve got to discard your way to enlightenment.I’d make a bigger argument about suffering coming from an attachment to outcomes, rather than actual stuff, but that’s a post for another day.

In minimalism, you curate, you purchase intentionally, you plan each new seasonal acquisition to your wardrobe based on your overall aesthetic. Yet still, you consume.

I’m trying to figure out if I’m playing into the cultural zeitgeist by not buying more than one pair of pants at a time, or using up my skincare products and not replacing them, effectively reducing what I use. Am I performing conspicuous non-consumption, or am I genuinely trying to seize control over my personal impact on the environment and the humans involved in the supply chains on the other end of my potential purchase?

The answer to this question is likely how long my efforts to change my consumption habits last in comparison to minimalism. While I hope that minimalism doesn’t swing the other way and lead the masses back to conspicuous consumption of brands, and consumption in massive volumes, I doubt it will stick around forever. It’s a trend, and trends change, it’s just a matter of how long it takes for them to run their course.

If the changes that I’m making to my consumption habits outlast the arrival of my first few paycheques, I’ll know I’m on the right path and not simply on the bandwagon. If I can restrain myself from over-sharing my decisions and purchases on social media, if I can be working toward ethical and environmentally neutral consumption even when it gets gross. If this is something I’m doing in 5 or 10 years, then I’ll know.

On the other hand, if you see me around town *ever* wearing taupe, or god forbid a shapeless sack dress (which, as we’ve gone over, are strictly forbidden by the rule that I love myself and my shape), then you’ll know I’ve gone to the dark side of consumerism-as-minimalism.



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