Think of the first twenty things you could never live without. Then, imagine having only those twenty things—and practically nothing else.
Could you do it?
Many people, especially millennials, could actually say yes, thanks to the resurgence of a movement known as minimalism.
“Millennials like minimalism the same way 1960’s typographers liked the Helvetica font: out of the noise, color, and visual chaos of the decade before, here’s a clean, bold, legible alternative,” said Jake Thompson, an event DJ and co-founder of a theater company in Milwaukee.
And he is not the only one.
In a world defined by advertisements, consumerism, clutter, and advertisements to consume products to control your clutter, many people have opted out of this hectic lifestyle entirely. Among them is Kevin Wolff, a senior public relations and advertising major at Chapman.
“Minimalism has become so popular with millennials because we grew up in this cacophonous, busy, cluttered world with so much going on,” Wolff said. “Between technology bringing all this constant information, and the millennium forcing so much consumerism down our throats, minimalism is a way to break free from it all.”
And it’s the freedom that seems so appealing to minimalists.
“Minimalism allows me more freedom because I don’t waste time associated with things that usually come with material possessions,” said Kevin Palmer, a management consultant and photographer in San Diego. “I have less stress and I can focus more on the things that are important in life.”
Walking into the home of a true minimalist may at first seem shocking—some may see the smooth, empty surfaces with bare walls lit by nothing but sunlight and sparse home décor as sterile and unwelcoming.
However, some students almost see it as refreshing.
“Being a minimalist comes easier to some people, but it’s mostly just getting down to questioning everything you’ve previously held, such as keeping things out of respect,” said Alex Popescu, a Chapman University graduate student and manager of the Chapman Fund.
Popescu’s bedroom is the essential minimalist environment. It contains a white bed with white bed sheets, a white desk with a white chair, and a white nightstand with nothing but a thin, white lamp. The room’s white walls are entirely bare except for a single, framed award from when he won the Fatburger “Triple King” challenge.
“A lot of us have grown up in households with lots of junk, and have learned this lesson from our parents,” said Popescu. “But they’re just unneeded things that add more unnecessary clutter to our lives.”
Although the aesthetic of Popescu’s home may seem a bit extreme to some, never fear—those who are new to minimalism do not have to immediately throw everything they own into the Goodwill bin.
“Bear in mind that minimalism is different for everyone. It doesn’t necessarily mean white walls and a perfectly coordinating capsule wardrobe,” said Angela Flores, a student at College of the Canyons. “For me, minimalism is the absence of excess.”
Both the aesthetic style and livelihood of minimalism have become increasingly popular with millennials, and therefore on social media—searching for #minimalism on Instagram immediately loads over four million posts.
“Millennials want simplicity because we grew up in a decade saturated with noise, color, and sound effects. It’s exhausting. It’s juvenile,” said Thompson. “Look at the evolution of the Nickelodeon logo. It’s not a loud, messy, green, slimy splat anymore. It ‘grew up.’”
In addition to the aesthetically pleasing side of minimalism, this need for less has most likely been born out of the fact that many millennials are highly indebted.
“It probably has more to do with a reduction in disposable income than anything,” said Palmer. “It may also have something to do with watching the previous generation trying to keep with the Joneses and the negative impact it had on their lives.”
The modern-day concern for environmentalism and preservation has also had a large influence on the movement.
“You frequently hear the ‘three R’s’ when it comes to environmentalism: reusing, reducing, and recycling. A lot of people will reuse and recycle, but we rarely actually reduce,” said Popescu, a self-proclaimed environmentalist.
As the idea of living with only what is necessary continues to resonate with people desiring a life of simplicity, the future of minimalism looks positive and will most likely continue to grow as a movement.
“In today’s modern times, life is so hectic. Perhaps this trend is a sociological cry for peace and quiet,” said Flores. “We must look at objects plainly as recognize them for what they truly are: dead, inanimate, and unnecessary.”
With the growing awareness of how much we consume, we just may be able to pick our essential twenty needs for a life of both survival and pleasure.
“Realize that you are enough and you deserve to be here,” Thompson said. “Stuff is fun, so by all means buy it—we live in a capitalist society, after all—but keep an eye on what you buy. Consume responsibly.”
But who says minimalism can’t be beautiful?
“Minimalism has improved my life by bringing a sense of balance, clarity, and organization to it,” said Wolff. “Physically it keeps my life free of excessive material possessions and clutter, and mentally that bring me peace and clarity It’s also a very beautiful look, which improves my mood.”