What Is Extreme Minimalism? Fulfilling vs. Changing Material Needs

The minimalist trend in its current shape and form has been going strong for some years now. It is obviously closely related to, but should not be confused with, the architectural ideals of Bauhaus and De Stijls and their disciples – straight lines and clean, rough surfaces devoid of ornamentation. Instead, many influential minimalists of today would describe minimalism as a way of life, rather than any particular style of architecture, fashion or the like. Many minimalist influencers and authors are strongly influenced by stoicism, asketism, anti-consumerism, and various cultural and religious traditions, adding up to an eclectic pick-and-mix – inspiring and challenging at its best, offensive and culturally appropriative at its worst.

Being raised poor, we ourselves have tried to be very clear on one thing: minimalism has nothing to do with poverty. Being able to work less, spend less and slow down – a few of the cornerstones of minimalism – is in many ways the exact opposite of being caught in a wheel of debt, stress, keeping a number of low paid jobs and constantly having to spend money because the crappy car you need to get to work breaks down, your water heater is prehistoric, or because you have to order take out to get through the day. Having said that, we certainly see that our single mothers would have benefited greatly from minimalist ideals – rather than being fed capitalist and consumerist ideals telling people that the ability to spend money equals freedom and human worth. It would not have changed the fact that they were poor – but it might have lessened some of the shame, stigma and stress associated with being poor. Minimalism is definitely no solution to structural, societal injustice, but it is revolutionary if taken to the extreme – a refusal to work your arse of to make someone else rich, while spending the money you earn on consumer goods that will, once again, make someone else rich, all the while destroying the environment. What if large groups of people would just stop spending money?

That being said, there are many minimalist proponents who – rightly – describe minimalism as a potential way out of debt and towards greater economic independence, not only for the affluent middle class, mindlessly spending money for recreational purposes, but for anyone who is struggling to pay their monthly bills.

Lately, we’ve been following some minimalist bloggers who call themselves “extreme minimalists”. Personally, I’m very attracted to the polar extremes – why settle in between? Kristoffer is – luckily – more of a pragmatic. Many (but not all) of these self-identified extreme minimalists are WASP-middle-class kids who have been brought up in complete material comfort, but who now refuse to own any furniture, sleep in hammocks and sit cross-legged on the floor working on their laptops. They also tend to be twenty-two-year old fruitarians dressed in pale linen robes. I strongly suspect they will develop various nutritional deficiencies and back problems well before they hit thirty. Nevertheless, their youthful refusal to abide by social norms is rather inspiring. I applaud it, even though, as a born and bred working class adult, I may have slightly different priorities and needs. A chair and a table for my laptop while working, and a decent bed to sleep in, for example.

As we’ve been discussing the many labels of minimalism, spanning from liberal to extreme, reading up on some of the most influential blogs, I can’t but wonder if we’re not, ourselves, quite extreme, after all. We saw this video on minimalist packing, featuring Joshua Fields – minimalist poster boy number one, or number two, depending on which one of Joshua and his partner in crime, Ryan Nicodemus, you prefer. When we realised Joshua Fields actually includes a hairdryer in his packing, we both screeched “But then you don’ have a minimalist hairdo!” This was a defining moment, as we realised our take on minimalism isn’t really about fulfilling current, material needs as simply and neatly as possible. It’s about changing the needs.

Minimalist (?) packing for a day in the mountains of Spain – water, two cans of mackerel in olive oil and a spoon. I often forget the spoon, and do manage anyway, but it’s a nice detail.

Compare the two: “I need to blowdry my hair for it to look good, so how can I fit a hairdryer into my suitcase?” versus “What kind of hairdo can I sport, that doesn’t require any gear to look good?” Now, admittedly, we all have different priorities – some are invested in their hairdo, some sit ethereally on the floor. The lesson we take from watching extreme fruitarian kids and admittedly more relaxed middle aged bloggers, is that we ourselves are both extreme and pragmatic – a combination of our respective natural inclinations, as it happens. The extreme aspect would be that we prioritise the principles of minimalism above the state of current affairs; my favourite example being my learning to prefer ice cold showers in order to being able to live truly frugally, not needing hot water. Again, compare the two questions: “How can I satisfy my need to take hot showers in a minimalist fashion?” versus “How can I eliminate my need for hot showers?” The pragmatic aspect, then, may have to do with a certain, and hard won, maturity that takes into account the volatility and finiteness of our bodies.

By: Emmie




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