Misconception of the Minimalist Aesthetic

by Inês Morais
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“Celiling” by Dilek Yıldız

There’s a misconception of the minimalist aesthetic because it’s been used to transform Minimalism into profit, causing pressure on minimalists. Minimalist aesthetic dodges frugality, becoming a burden on minimalists who are tricked into believing minimalism is about looks.

We live in a world that depends too much on looks. It’s unhealthy, however, it’s true. Our society has been gradually driven to pay more attention to looks than to content, and minimalism is no exception. The purpose of the minimalist lifestyle is being overshadowed by the greedy interests in the minimalist aesthetic. Ironic, isn’t it? 

Is there something wrong with the minimalist aesthetic though? Should Minimalism be devoid of any interest seen as superfluous, such as having “pretty things”? How is the minimalist aesthetic affecting the essence of Minimalism?

The Minimalist Aesthetic

Minimalism can be about aesthetics – there’s no problem regarding that. Aesthetics is a great part of our lives, as observant beings with the ability to appreciate beauty, and the minimalist aesthetic is, to some extent, a relevant part of the minimalist lifestyle. There’s, however, a tremendous misconception of the root meaning of Minimalism. 

While the minimalist aesthetic might be a part of the minimalist lifestyle, Minimalism goes beyond it, as it’s a lifestyle set on profound goals. We perceive the people who care only about the minimalist aesthetic and choose to know nothing about the minimalist lifestyle as almost a danger to the concept of Minimalism as we present it here.

The Minimalist Lifestyle

To be a minimalist, as we’ve addressed several times, is to take a step back from materialism while taking a step towards spiritualism. Embracing the minimalist lifestyle is disposing of all clutter, the things that don’t have any emotional nor pragmatic value, and keep only the things you need whether because they’re useful or because they mean something to you. 

Minimalism is essentially a journey that one has thought about carefully and engaged in wisely. It’s a lifestyle that has to mean something to the person that embarks on the journey, and it has to bring something new and positive, spiritually.

Since the minimalist lifestyle is a byproduct – let’s say – of the Zen Philosophy, the point of this way of living is to get rid of the excess so you can focus on what might bring happiness into your life. In this sense, Minimalism is mostly about frugality, depletion of greed, shopping compulsion that leads to debt, and consequent peace of mind and freedom.

Even though Minimalism is flexible, i.e., it can be extreme, radical, functional or ecological (1), it’s about the change of lifestyle with a view to providing something that’s missing, in essence. Many minimalists even add relaxing therapies such as meditation and yoga as to achieve the highest level of inner peace and tranquility they can in a hasty, noisy world. 

The role of Social Media on the Minimalist Aesthetic

minimalist aesthetic
“Phone descending” by Robert Petersen

Over the last few months, Minimalism has become a trend. You don’t have to search too much to find fashion blogs, design pages or photography accounts that portray Minimalism merely as a new style that provides nothing more of value other than… well, aesthetics.

The pawns of the modern world of social media have attentive eyes, and these eyes are constantly on the lookout for something that they can turn into profit; they’re always looking for a trend full of potential. The faster they move and the most audacious they are, the better their chances of sticking out are. 

On Instagram, the Minimalism tag, with more than 17 million results, is predominantly used as a sales tool. Some use it to promote companies and services, others use it to promote travel packages, and others use it to promote themselves as celebrities, or influencers. It is thus grounded on luxurious products and environments that are aesthetically minimalist, but not overall minimalist.

And they’re just that: products of meticulously edited photos. A quick search on YouTube will show that there are even tutorials on how to create an aesthetic minimalist room and how to fastidiously edit photos so they have the correct filter that conveys a minimalist sense. Moreover, there are quizzes about discovering your aesthetics that feature the minimalist aesthetic. What it means to be a minimalist and the concept of Minimalism as a lifestyle grounded on ancient meditative learnings seems to be ignored. 

In the world of influencers paid to proliferate certain trends, Minimalism is simply about aesthetics, not introspection. At the hands of modern culture, Minimalism is about minimalist color palettes, a green plant on a white vase in a corner, white walls, and light-wooden tables, all in a very clean and clear space.  

Pressure 

When Minimalism becomes entirely about achieving the perfect image and not achieving the best spiritual and mental status, pressure naturally surges. Because influencers have to be the best at selling products and (mainly) lifestyles, the bar is set extremely high for those who follow them.

If the notion people have of minimalism is solely based on what they see through platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, VSCO, and so on, two problems arise: first and foremost, their perception of minimalism is completely distorted because it’s not (just) about visuals but about the effects it has on one’s mind; secondly, and more direct, people end up feeling pressured to create an environment in their homes that matches the ones they see on photographs and videos in social media, which, honestly, are unrealistic, most of the times.

When they fail to achieve it, the sense of failure takes over and it’s enough to turn minimalism into exactly what it shouldn’t be: another source of negativity in someone’s life. 

This takes us to the following subheading.

Aesthetic Minimalists vs Minimalists

minimalist aesthetic
“Light – Shadow” by Jukka Kuusela

The use of the word versus might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s adequate because solely aesthetic minimalism bloggers have created an issue for minimalist lifestyle bloggers.

The blogger universe is full of stars, however, some shine brighter than others because of their persuasive techniques and level of engagement in the job. In other words, some stand out more than others because they focus on what attracts social media crowds: aesthetics.

Big bloggers, surrounded by thousands or millions of followers, are more often than not part of the category of internet personalities that use Minimalism as a new aesthetics trend and not a lifestyle that allows you escape partially from the status quo. Minimalist bloggers feel more self-conscious than ever when thinking about sharing their space and lifestyle with followers because aesthetic minimalism bloggers always seem to be more on the brink of perfection than everyone else who runs a minimalist account. (2)

Pretty or Practical?

Aesthetics become a real issue when you need to purchase something. If you live under the pressure of beautifully decorated spaces or simply put a lot of emphasis on aesthetic objects, it gets difficult to choose an object you need but that will mess with the aesthetic of your room. How does one deal with the decision of buying or not the ugly but needed thing? (3)

The consequence of the Misconception

The result of this distortion of Minimalism is quite obvious: the masses look at Minimalism as being nothing but aesthetics. What it means to be a minimalist, or to live in a minimalist way, is more often than not completely set aside in platforms that address only the minimalist aesthetic. For the people who keep up with the trend diffusers, Minimalism is merely about changing the colors of the clothes in your wardrobe, changing the furniture, and altering the decoration according to a Pinterest collection named “Minimalism”. These changes are made, however, the abundance of things is still in the picture – there’s no decluttering process, no understanding of the difference between want and need, no reflection about what adds value to one’s life and what doesn’t. Minimalism stops being the antithesis of materialism and is reshaped by some into a capitalist tool used in the search of the minimalist aesthetic.  

The negative aspects of life that Minimalism is supposed to control and eventually stop end up being amplified. If you worry about others perceiving you as a minimalist based on what you present to them, you’re already forgetting about the essence of Minimalism and being dishonest with yourself: you’re focusing on fitting socially and keeping up with aggressively advertised trends meant to make you feel like you’re not good enough. In sum, you’re back to the consumerist mindset and stopping Minimalism from setting you free. 

Final notes

Minimalism can be about aesthetics if that’s what keeps the individual happy. But that notwithstanding, a minimalist should look at minimalism as more than a trend, and certainly as more than an aesthetic movement. 

The aesthetic minimalism we see isn’t a guideline to become a true minimalist. There are no posers or wannabes in Minimalism. The lifestyle is adaptable to your personality. The minimalist aesthetic is an optional feature of Minimalism which shouldn’t dictate or limit your approach to Minimalism. For example, if you’ve 50 objects but a known minimalist blogger has only 10, that doesn’t mean you’re wrong, it means that your lifestyle depends on 50 useful objects that add value to your life. 

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