Minimalism; Less is More?

One quiet boring day, I found myself clicking on the “Minimalism” documentary. A simple, washed-out, sepia cover surrounded by vibrant and carefully marketed TV shows. I was pulled into a concept based upon reducing the number of items in your life to feel fuller, happier…grounded? I became fascinated, as I imagined this feeling would make me feel fresh, free and as if my life path was significantly clearer. Minimalism is a growing trend, growing alongside the tiny house obsession sweeping the world and Marie Kondo’s KonMari method. Some diss the concept of minimalism and attempt to group these people into a cult due to humans’ tendency to want to classify or assign groups. Yet every time I clear out my closet, clean my room or even make my bed, I feel slightly less flustered. So are these minimalists onto something about feeling happier and whole?

I am a huge procrastinator, especially when I feel like there’s a million thoughts running through my mind and too many items flooding my room and closet. A 2018 study conducted with young adults found individuals had decreased life satisfaction due to clutter, which also contributed to life-long procrastination problems. Interestingly, procrastination worsens with age and induces a physiological response of increased cortisol levels, as demonstrated by a second psychological study conducted by Dr Joseph Ferrari. What causes this clutter? More specifically, why is it hard to declutter? Ferrari attributes it to over-attachment. I guess that explains why Marie Kondo teaches people to identify items which speak to the heart and say thank you and goodbye to those that do not. However, if you are young (like me) and on social media (like me), you can barely go 20 seconds without having an advertisement shoved into your face. You may even google something once and all of a sudden, 10,000 different zodiac necklaces are popping up in your newsfeed for the next two weeks (data invasion and privacy concerns is a whole other can of worms). So basically, even if you say goodbye to those items you no longer value, consumerism is being fed to you repetitively even when you’re not even fully conscious of it. What can we do about it? Awareness. More is not more.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is the man who first coined the aphorism “less is more.” If you’re like me, you may not be aware of this origin, yet still use it all the time. Ludwig was an architect and he rejected the traditional way of enclosing. Creating structures with enclosed rooms was completely thrown out the window to create a “bigger window,” to dissolve boundaries. For me, dissolving boundaries in materialised structures runs deeper. In a world where we are confined to office spaces and the indoors due to work-life, structures that incorporate an exterior feeling are essential; for freedom. 51 years since Ludwig’s death, the world is deep amongst the tiny house movement. There are many logical reasons why a tiny house is better for you and the world. They’re more environmental, they’re low maintenance, they’re simple, low cost and they encourage you to be in outside spaces whilst only using your tiny home for basics. Obviously if you like space and like your things, it may be hard to see the positive side of a tiny house. But, are you really living if you’re fluttering around in your mansion all day long? If you have people over all the time for dinner and parties, then fair. If you have a painting or a music studio in your house then fair. If you have a psychology office, a library which you sit in everyday or a gym for your clients, then fair. But during a work week, majority of people spend 8 hours a day sleeping and approximately 2-3 hours eating or getting ready. That leaves almost 14 hours not in your house, so I can see the beauty in having a tiny house with your few important things. Another beautiful thing – no stress attributed to a mortgage, most people can build one using savings or selling all the items that they once wanted rather than needed. More money to travel, for hobbies, for dining out at nice restaurants…I’m almost sold but I have the devil/mansion on one shoulder and the angel/tiny house on the other. So what does money have to say about all of this?

A little while ago, someone in conversation told me more than a certain figure did not increase happiness. There is a cap at happiness? Princeton University says the more money you make, no more than $75,000 will contribute to happiness. Before $75,000, people feel run down about issues that are already in existence, where at $75,000 or more, people have enough cash to do what they want. The most interesting point of the study I found was: wealth or money is not linked to happiness, but the amount relatively. Meaning, if you have more money than your friends or neighbours in which your “status” is higher, the happier you are. This links to a second study which evaluated the “reference-income hypothesis.”  Once again, life satisfaction is linked to how much more you earn compared to others. It’s about rank? To me, I read this as relating to your self-worth and feelings about yourself…needing to appear better than others doesn’t seem quite healthy to me. We are all told from a young age not to compare yourself to others, compete with YOUR personal best. It seems to people people get it twisted, we start innocently striving for the best for ourselves and end up striving for best above others.

A psychological study which focused on social class and self-evaluation, was especially relevant to my above line of thinking. The research suggests your health and life well-being, is tied to your perception of self within an economic society. If you believe you are low in the economic hierarchy or have a self-enhanced ego due to belief you are high on the hierarchy, researchers believe this will seep across to general self-evaluations in all areas of life. In an experiment, the researchers assigned university undergraduates to either equal or lower economic resources. As expected, higher social rank was correlated with positive self-esteem overall. The patriarchy is still very real and possibly innate? Let’s look at the Dominance Theory. Social ascendancy is seen in animals; animals create hierarchically organised societies in which the higher the rank, the more resources and suitors. Humans are complex animals and rather than physical dominance, people symbolically evaluate each other above their peers. How do they elevate their self-esteem? Through striving for dominance. 

Upon evaluation of my above thinking, from clutter, to tiny homes, to income and social rank; in my opinion, materials are just distractions; from confronting our worth and self-esteem. Striving for dominance, social rank or success is positive, until it’s not; until you find yourself comparing everything to others and wanting to rise above. Having an abundance of items and money or more objects than one’s neighbour is of no happiness benefit, as there is a cap on what money can enhance. Social rank or economic standing in society suggests life satisfaction, but why should we believe more items indicates social rank? When we strip back all the smoke screens, it is indeed our self-esteem which can foster dominance via confidence in ourselves. Living a minimalistic lifestyle allows us to focus on our goals, our minds, our creativity, our richness in life via moments. At the end of our time, all we have is this moment.

Further reading:

Minimalism & Happiness Through Scientific Eyes



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