The minimalist aesthetic promotes rampant consumerism

Illustration by Kelsey Mason

Contrary to popular belief, the minimalist aesthetic known for its perfect pantries and shades of beige may actually be promoting rampant consumerism — possibly even more than its counterpart maximalism.

If you haven’t thought about this aesthetic since 2015, let’s take a walk down memory lane. An article entitled “The History of Minimalism” discusses how minimalism first became popular in 1850 as famous transcendentalists like Thoreau or Emerson romanticized the concept of simplicity. Fast forward to 1960 up to today and minimalism has been transformed from sleek white design and architecture to meticulously labeled cookie jars and color-coordinated refrigerator content. 

Take that concept and flip it on its head and you have maximalism. The article “The Return of Maximalism” notes that after World War II, many women wanted to reinfuse the home with light and brightness, and the start of a new trend was born. Designers of the 60s associated minimalism with optimism and it wasn’t until 1970 that maximalism fully emerged as an established aesthetic. 

Maximalist and content creator Clare Sullivan shares tips for transforming a space in her TikTok series “budget luxuries” in which she shows viewers simple tips for enhancing their space on a budget. 

Although Sullivan’s home is covered with eclectic knickknacks and colorful patterns, it doesn’t appear cluttered. In fact, Sullivan is constantly de-influencing her followers. A recent TikTok featured the creator explaining that you don’t need to buy new decor every Halloween and instead, offers up the hack of changing out prints in picture frames to reflect the current season.

The Daily Targum points out that “This brand of American minimalism can lead to enabling new modes of consumption,” begging the question of what defines a minimalist aesthetic if the individual is simply buying new items to fit the cohesive look.

With the maximalist aesthetic, individuals can change up their space at any given time (as long as they have good storage) and aren’t locked into a certain look. If a minimalist decides they don’t like the glass containers they have all of their cereal in, do they have to buy an entirely new pantry organization system?

One of the most perfect examples of this hypocrisy can be seen with the beige and white encased mansions of the Kardashians. This family is known for their perpetuation of an effortless look that takes thousands of dollars to maintain. With the maximalist aesthetic on the rise in popularity, the National Design Academy highlights the irony of Kim Kardashian embracing “a slightly outdated style, born out of the financial struggles of the public.”

Oftentimes the maximalist aesthetic promotes shopping second-hand or thrifting to ensure you’re finding unique or eclectic pieces. For a minimalist, shopping discounted or second-hand would prove to be difficult as most items are bought in a set or matching pairs.

Consumerism and capitalism plague all of us and the maximalist aesthetic that perpetuates more items in a home brings with it its own set of issues. However, most individuals are unable to see a connection between capitalism and an aesthetic that boasts of simplicity and less clutter. Rich businessmen Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are profiting off of a “minimalist business model” that teaches audience members to implement this way of life. 

There are no statistics that prove that one aesthetic is worse for the planet than the other. However, it is notable that the constant purging associated with minimalism may not be a sustainable lifestyle. Finding pieces that spark joy and allowing your style to shift and fluctuate throughout the years is a way for individuals to focus on making their space feel like a home.

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