Minimalism in an Era of Peak Stuff
This past century has experienced a broad spectrum of financial climactic shifts: From periods of extreme poverty and desperation to periods of abundance and glorious convenience. In a recent panel discussion on corporate responsibility, Ikea’s Chief Sustainability Officer Steve Howard admitted that we as a society have reached ‘Peak Stuff’. With human success so strongly affiliated with the acquisition of ‘stuff’, it wouldn’t be terribly presumptuous to assume we should be consequentially experiencing ‘Peak Success’ and ‘Peak Happiness’ along with our ‘Peak Stuff’.
This is not however, reflected in any scientific study I have ever come across despite my not at all problematic addiction to Ted Talks and socio-cultural documentaries. In fact many studies will conclude that an increased focus on material goods will result in decreased life satisfaction and reduced empathy for the environment and fellow humans.
Many people have begun connecting the dots and purging their material goods en masse with a view to de-stress and re-connect with what is important in life. These people have come to be known as ‘minimalists’ and the good news is it’s no longer reserved for hemp wearing hippies living in self sustained communes deep in the forest. Thought leaders of this movement are in fact lifestyle bloggers, professional organisers, authors and podcast hosts - #relatable!
In entering this lifestyle, minimalists will often say they were surrounded by too much stuff and it was getting in the way of their own life. Or that they were not getting the satisfaction they wanted out of pursuing commercial success. The concept is fairly flexible and open in that the process of becoming a minimalist involves any avenue of conscious lifestyle change that simplifies your experience on this earth. It can be as extreme as living with just 100 items, simply removing unnecessary stressors, reducing one’s negative impact on the environment or simplifying one’s wardrobe. From there, consumption becomes a conscious process. Instead of floating through cheap chain stores buying whatever catches their eyes, often minimalists will be much more discerning and opt for quality items or sustainably sourced goods.
One of the most interesting aspects of this cultural trend is the focus on reducing one’s consumption of the earth’s resources. It is of interest because the movement has a high level of representation from millennials: a generation born into a polluted, dying planet and raised through the digital age. So what is it about millennials that has driven them to become critical enough of the status-quo to curb their own spending habits in pursuit of a more (dare I say) organic experience?
The answer may lie in eco-psychology, a branch of thought exploring humanity’s connection with the earth and how mental illness can arise from the destruction of our surrounding natural environment. Eco-psychologist Theodore Roszak states that humans have what he calls an ‘ecoconscious’ and that on a subconscious level ‘‘the human psyche is grafted to the planet out of which we evolve’’. In using up excessive resources and inducing global warming he believes we have entered into a period of subconscious grieving for the slow degradation of our planet.
With so much of the stuff we now buy having been produced through dubious means that have no doubt exploited our planet and fellow human beings, it is not surprising that young people are beginning to reject the unhealthy systems we have inherited in exchange for more transparent ones.