Is Minimalism over? …Or is it ramping up for a major resurgence?

A few days ago, influential blogger/vlogger Matt D’avella released this video titled “Is this the end of minimalism?”

Matt has been a big proponent of minimalism over the years and you can see his refreshingly simple home in the background of most of his videos.

He builds a case in his video with data pulled around minimalism as a “trend”–likely pulling Google keyword search popularity as part of this data set (his source is Google Trends). You can see the spikes and dips–the largest spike being in 2016 after the “Minimalism” documentary was released (he directed/filmed/produced this with The Minimalists). He refers to Marie Kondo several times, the author of the best-seller “The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up” and recently known on an even larger scale for her Netflix series “Tidying Up”, despite her website declaring that she is not a “minimalist.” She is a tidier, NOT a minimalist. Regardless, she did teach the general public how to declutter their things by determining what “sparks joy” and to thank the items for the use or joy they once brought. But once you dig deeper into minimalism, you realize there is a lot more needed to truly let go than these two little tips.

Matt believes that minimalism has reached “saturation” and that most people understand what it means. Because the intrigue and novelty has worn off, he thinks minimalism is over. To be fair, he doesn’t think minimalism as a lifestyle will go away, but as a “trend” the word minimalism will be used less in marketing and there will likely be less new books and bloggers focusing on it.

While I understand what he’s saying, I have to respectfully disagree.

In his video, he references the global financial crisis of 2008 when people lost their homes and life savings in an instant and began to question the feverish marketing messages of “more! more! more!” as we entered one of the worst recessions we’d seen in decades.

The Minimalists (who recently published a fantastic new book on minimalism, “Love People, Use Things,” which is selling out of tickets for their book tour, and also released a new documentary, “Less Is Now,” (which Matt D’Avella also directed)), were on the forefront of the scene during the recession and sparking a renewed interest in minimalism, after online influencers like Zen Habits and Joshua Becker of BecomingMinimalist (who is publishing a new book on minimalism soon and recently launched a decluttering app, ClutterFree) had begun paving the way in defining what it meant to live with less. Matt says that this recession urged the minimalism trend onward.

Minimalism as a trend on Google (screenshot from Matt D’avella’s video)
Minimalism as a trend on Google (screenshot from Matt D’avella’s video)

What Matt does not mention, is that we are currently in the midst of another financial crisis.

We are still weathering an unprecedented global pandemic. As a whole, we are feeling beaten down as we come to the conclusion that this horrid thing will be with us for a long time. We had hope that once vaccinations were given, that life would “return to normal,” but alas, it has not proved to be true. We still are wearing masks; we still are not having large birthday parties for kids; we still are nervous wrecks deciding whether to send kids to school or to isolate them at home until children are vaccinated; we still do not hug or shake hands with strangers or even friends; we still are scrubbing our hands and dousing ourselves in hand sanitizer; we still are opting to eat outdoors instead of inside a restaurant; we still see far less gatherings, festivals and concerts, etc. We still are navigating a tricky societal division between those who choose to be vaccinated and those who refuse vaccination. The tension between the two is ugly and full of judgement. The political divide is deepening because of it. The divisions between entire countries are becoming more entrenched and ugly because of it, too. Traveling is very difficult to navigate. The death toll continues to mount. As an American, I hardly know a single person who hasn’t been affected by COVID in some way—a family member or dear friend deceased or a hospital bill from surviving it themself. As a collective, we are nervous and frustrated. But this you all know, dear reader, as you are living it. Still.

When the pandemic left China as a seemingly distant news story and the effects began being felt in the U.S., it was February of 2020. On February 20th, stock markets worldwide closed mostly down, while oil prices fell by 1% and yields on 10-year and 30-year U.S. Treasury securities fell to 1.51% and 1.96% respectively. In March, the U.S. stock exchanges seemed to free fall. On March 9th, now nicknamed “Black Monday I,” stocks plunged -7.79%. A few days later, on March 12th (nicknamed “Black Thursday”), stocks fell -9.99%. Panic set and a few days later, on March 16th (now nicknamed “Black Monday II”), stocks fell even harder– a whopping -12.93%. Thats a total decline of -30.71% in a very, very short period of time.

While the stock market eventually recovered, it was the beginning of a shaky financial period for the U.S. and all countries across the globe.

Let’s skip ahead to present day.

I’m sure you have all noticed how high gas/fuel is now. “The gas market chaos, which has driven prices 280% higher in Europe this year and led to a 100%-plus surge in the United States, is being blamed on a range of factors from low storage levels to carbon prices to reduced Russian supplies,” states an article in Reuters this week.

We are in the midst of a frightening level of inflation. The “normal” amount of inflation to experience year-over-year is around 2%. Currently, the CPI (consumer price index) is indicating inflation at around 5.4% or 5.3%. (Source)That may not sound like a big number, but I bet you’ve been “tightening your belt,” haven’t you? Even more troubling is that our measuring stick for inflation (CPI) does NOT include things that most laypeople use as their personal measuring stick…such as groceries or home prices. *Brain Explosion*

So let’s take a look at those. “Food prices in July were up 31% from the same month last year, according to an index compiled by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, ” states this article in Bloomberg, published in mid-August.

In the U.S., groceries are now 5% higher than they were a year ago. (I wish I could find the data to show how much higher they are since pre-COVID days).

And housing, which is not added to the CPI, has skyrocketed. “Sales of existing homes were up 45% in May over the previous year, according to data compiled by the National Association of Realtors, which recorded a 24% increase in home prices over the same period. Frenzied demand led to the typical home lasting just 17 days on the market, with 89 percent of them being sold in less than a month in May,” says this article from mid-July in Politico.

Rent has skyrocketed in proportion as well, while joblessness/unemployment continues. There are all sorts of terrible scenarios being predicted by analysts and economists for the moment when stimulus checks stop and the pandemic moratorium is lifted and evictions and foreclosures (backed up for nearly two years now) flood the market.

Ah, but this is what happens when you “print” a whole bunch of money and inject that into your economy. How much? Earlier this summer, it was revealed that 40% OF ALL U.S. DOLLARS IN EXISTENCE WERE PRINTED IN THE PAST YEAR. Read that all-caps fact in bold once more. Yeah.

Our brains really can’t compute large numbers. Reading that “on January 6, 2020, the US Federal Reserve had around $4 trillion dollars. On January 4, 2021, the number increased to $6.7 trillion dollars” just doesn’t have the same impact because we can’t even conceptualize what a “trillion” even looks like. But to realize that 40% of all dollars were only recently “printed” (i.e. Someone pressed a bunch of 1s and 0s on a computer…), is pretty eye-opening.

I seriously could go on and on. My FIRE-blogger self (“financial independence, retire early”… another “lifestyle trend” I’d be curious to hear Matt D’Avella discuss) is obsessively clued-in on what’s happening with my dollars and what is happening on a global macro-economic scale. I want to put my dollars to WORK for me. I want them growing exponentionally on auto-pilot. I really love being “retired early” or “semi-retired” in my 30s, so I need to know where to put my money and constantly check myself on what I’m spending my money on.

And it is this last point that brings me back to minimalism: What I’m NOT spending my money on.

The dollar is losing its purchasing power. People in the U.S. are STILL fighting to raise minimum wage, they can’t afford rent on minimum wage in ANY state in the entire country, and countries would rather accept Bitcoin/cryptocurrency instead (even El Salvador made Bitcoin legal tender this summer).

So, how many of us are going to go to Target to buy new tschotzkes for our home? How many of us are going to update our curtains for this year’s trendy color, when window coverings inflated 17.2% this year (??!!?? *brain explosion*). Why would we opt to add another vehicle to our over-stuffed garages, when even USED cars are inflating (10% monthly price increase in April, a 7.3% increase in May and then a 10.5% increase in June, and onward…).

So you see, I think minimalism is about to have a rebirth. And it will begin just like it did in 2008. People will be drawn to minimalism out of necessity because WE CAN’T AFFORD EXTRA THINGS. We will have to re-evaluate our budgets and realize that WE HAVE ENOUGH. Financially, it doesn’t make any sense to pile more things in our clothing closets and kitchen drawers.

Add to that, we are spending so much extra time in our homes. The majority of us are still working from home and staying in semi-isolation, as we hunker down again while the Delta Variant sweeps the nation. We are quickly realizing that, even if we are vaccinated, we can catch this nasty virus and be out of commission for one or two weeks in a miserable way (even if we are not necessarily headed to the hospital, like our unvaccinated friends are sadly, overwhelmingly experiencing). No, we are staying home. Still. And we are feeling overwhelmed by all of our STUFF. That, coupled with boredom, leads to decluttering and purges like never before.

As we “tighten our belts” and attempt to make our homes/offices a place where we can find peace or focus, I think minimalism is ripe for a second wave of new adopters.

While I understand Matt D’Avella’s points, I think he may not realize just how much this inflation is squeezing the general population.

If my book sales from last year’s run with “Have Yourself a Minimalist Christmas” are any indication, then we are far from over with discussing how to cut back on our spending and live a more intentional life with less. My personal data shows that there is still a lot of interest in learning about this lifestyle.

Like Stoicism, minimalism will never simply go away. As a philosophy or lifestyle, it’s always been around and there will always be people who find great benefit to owning only the things that are essential and being careful curators of the the few things that bring them immense joy, even if only aesthetically. And Matt D’Avella makes that point in his video, too. His argument is that minimalism as a trend–something people Google search for, or a term that news outlets want to include in their stories, or a term that marketers want to insert in their branding message, or a topic that bloggers and authors want to write about–is over. And it is this point that I must disagree with. We are ripe for a resurgence in interest for this topic. As we enter 2022 in a few months and the compound effects of both inflation and work-from-home arrangements collide, I think you will see a lot of renewed interest in the topics of simplification, intentionality, frugality and minimalism.

Chatting with The Minimalists in 2020 (Matt D’Avella has directed both of their documentaries)

(And with all that said, I highly recommend you go go binge Matt’s YouTube Channel. It’s really quite inspiring and you’ll learn a lot of positive new habits with him. He’s truly amazing!)