77 | Minimalism

November 9, 2021

Imagine an empty room, except for Steve and his backpack. This backpack contains all his valuable possessions. He is at peace here. Steve is a minimalist. He is the extreme metaphor. But seriously now, what is a minimalist?   

By Nanko Hefting and Eva le Navanec 

Well, it can be someone like Steve, but not necessarily. First and foremost, minimalism is a way of living with just the things you really need. Not to make your life miserable, but to give yourself room for things that make you happy. Minimalists firmly believe that more belongings do not actually make you more… happy. We all have (or are) that one friend who compensates for that gaping part in his soul by buying more and more things, without seemingly filling it up any time soon. ‘Obviously’, a minimalist would say, ‘You cannot just buy happiness at a store, take it home and put it on your table. Happiness comes from inside.’ What do you think? Total rubbish, or sensible? Many have tried to answer this question. Plenty of role models for you to look at and get inspired by. Take for example the two Netflix documentaries: Minimalism and Less is Now, by Matt D’Avella. 

Money does not create happiness
These documentaries share the stories of Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. While writing three books and producing a podcast, they have named themselves the Minimalists. They are sharing their life stories and how minimalism has improved their lives. “When we were growing up, I feel like we could have used minimalism, because minimalism is basically the intentional use of resources you have by being more deliberate with those resources.” Both men started working hard in their 20s and thought they would therefore find fulfilment in their lives. However, they soon found out that this was not the case. Money does not make you happy. This is a well-known lesson and although money does so to some extent, one should also keep in mind that you are never going to have the money for everything you want.  

So, where does the pursuit of money come from? And why do people feel as if they must comply with a certain template? Good job, expensive car, beautiful wife, big house, great children… You know the ongoing drill. The documentaries refer to this as the “American Dream”. 

The American Dream
We all know how unrealistic it is and still we strive for it. What feeds this relentless pursuit? The advertising world! The money spent on advertising has increased tremendously over the past few years. Most of advertising has also moved from television and radio to digital advertising. “The result, intelligent and predictive advertisements that seem to know us better than we know ourselves.” Companies now know how to stitch our devices together, knowing whenever you pick up your phone or switch on your laptop. Using the GPS on your devices, they track your locations and see which stores you visit frequently. Compiling this data, they know the perfect time to message you next.  “And the end goal is always the same. To get you to buy more stuff.” Another trick companies use is called deficit advertising. “They send us advertisements that make us subconsciously feel like we are inadequate, if we do not have this product.” This feeling causes us to buy more and repress this inadequacy till it eventually comes back.  


Less stuff, more love
Another very important point shown in the documentaries is how children encounter this phenomenon at an increasingly younger age. Many children have a device at their fingertips before the age of four, which has led to companies advertising to children themselves rather than to parents. This means that the disaster of shopping with children now also takes place at home. In addition, the concept of shopping is already within your own home. You can find what you need on the internet. It is delivered to your address, in some cases the same day or within 24 hours. Shopping becomes an automatic activity that does not require a single brain cell. Convenient, is it not? Well, no… Instead of using time to work hard to afford that new expensive bag, people should think about what they really need. By asking yourself that question, you are likely to save money. Saving money allows you to work less. The free time can then be used for hobbies, family, friends and community. In the long run, having less belongings permits you to live in a smaller space and for a lower price or rent. Perhaps even live closer to your ‘happinesses’.   

Design for less
So, as designers, we have more say in people’s lives than we might care to admit. Minimalism makes this abundantly clear to us. Therefore, we should ask ourselves what we want to achieve with our designs. Imagine someone purchasing your product. Of course, you would want them to use it, to cherish it, to feel excitement every time they look at it. This is what minimalism can teach us: to limit our belongings to those that add as much value to our lives as possible and to make sure they last. As designers, we should prevent our products from ending up in stores that are designed to let you buy as much as possible (We äll knøw whät störe we äre tälking aböut hëre) without needing most of it. We like to talk about our responsibility to innovation. Yet, we rarely discuss the immense influence we have on the environment by creating products that are ready to be thrown away as soon as they are unboxed. This does not mean a responsible designer is by definition a minimalist, but that we should all consider how our design identity contributes to wastefulness. Why not take it a step further, from identity to policy? We should regulate companies that sell products that break easily due to bad quality. The shorter the lifespan of a company’s product, the more they should have to invest in cleaning up the mess they make. After all, it is not the products that last for generations that end up in the ocean. It is the cheap products, fabricated for quantity instead of quality.  

Challenge your inner minimalist
A lot of inspiration can be taken from those who have already adopted this lifestyle before you. Community is larger and older than you think, and a lot of books and documentaries have already been made (Fun fact: minimalism is a movement started in the visual arts in the 60s.) There are many techniques to make this a habit. For example, there is the 30-day challenge, in which you say goodbye to one of your products every day. Start small and pick up the pace. Many people have also tried the 33 items challenge. They reduced their wardrobe to 33 items. This is proven to be enough to mix and match. A more drastic approach is fake moving. For this, you pack all your belongings in boxes. For the next month, you only unpack what you really use. The rest remains in boxes. The biggest lesson of minimalism is that it is a learning process of discovering what gives you value. So, your Turn The Page magazines may stay on that one shelf! 

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