Note — Jan 19, 2020

We Are Forever Being Urged to Declutter and Simplify Our Lives. But Does Minimalism Really Make Us Any Happier?

Seen in → No.109

Source →

If you aren’t interested in minimalism, do open the article anyway and jump to the end, beginning at Steve Jobs, which is very good on how simplicity can obfuscate superstructure, the idea of the “second body,” and the supply chain, which also connects to the next article.

Before that part though, and it’s not the topic of the article per se—which is more oriented to minimalism as a reaction to our times—but it makes me think of the difference between minimalism and simplifying. The “socially mediated” minimalists are almost another kind of consumerists. They seem to think that they need to scrap everything and buy simple, clean things. They don’t dream about more stuff but many of them do dream of better stuff which also fits in a certain aspirational view of what they want to become. How about learning some of the lessons of minimalism, i.e. let go of consumerism, but then follow that up by simplifying, instead of a great reckoning of throwing things away and replacing them with fewer, new minimalist looking things? (The article is an excerpt of Kyle Chayka’s book, which I’m looking forward to reading.)

We are addicted to accumulation. The minimalist lifestyle seems like a conscientious way of approaching the world now that we have realised that materialism, accelerating since the industrial revolution, is literally destroying the planet. […]

Minimalism, I came to think, is not necessarily a voluntary personal choice, but an inevitable societal and cultural shift responding to the experience of living through the 2000s. […]

The iPhone’s function depends on an enormous, complex, ugly superstructure of satellites and undersea cables that certainly are not designed in pristine whiteness. Minimalist design encourages us to forget everything a product relies on and imagine, in this case, that the internet consists of carefully shaped glass and steel alone. […]

The phrase describes the alienated presence that we feel when we are aware of both our individual physical bodies and our collective causation of environmental damage and climate change. While we calmly walk down the street, watch a film or go food shopping, we are also the source of pollution drifting across the Pacific or a tsunami in Indonesia. The second body is the source of an unplaceable anxiety: the problems are undeniably our fault, even though it feels as if we cannot do anything about them because of the sheer difference in scale. […]

It is easy to feel like a minimalist when you can order food, summon a car or rent a room using a single brick of steel and silicon. But in reality, it is the opposite. We are taking advantage of a maximalist assemblage. Just because something looks simple does not mean it is; the aesthetics of simplicity cloak artifice, or even unsustainable excess.

More → When it comes to the “minimalist look,” it reminded me of another Chayka piece from 2016, also worth a read; Welcome to AirSpace.