Minimalism Is Not Just For White People
February 18, 2017 at 3:00 pm
Whether you fell victim to Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up or feel a brain fog when there's too much junk in your space, you have probably heard the term "minimalism," by now.
Merriam-Webster defines minimalism as a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.
Basically the premise is simple, too many thingamabobs in yo' life will not always guarantee happiness. Enter in Netflix's latest documentary du jour...Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things, and its tagline is "More, newer, cooler: That's the American Dream. But these creative people see the dream as being more about happiness.
That's cute and all...but I think the American Dream has been taken out of context more often than not, I think that initially the premise of the American Dream, in all of its first-world glory was this...that you could come from nothing and work you way up to something in "the land of opportunity." But the American Dream was never particularly all-inclusive, and these days my definition of the American Dream is just being able to achieve a standard of living that means I get to actually use my overpriced degree, eat something green at least once a week, and not living at home till I'm 80, and oh also not be penalized for being brown-skinned.
I started watching the documentary because I've been trying to declutter my soul ever since graduating college, and I realized that after my first job out of college I was prone to spending fifty bucks a month on drinks and walked away with no savings after a year of working, so I'm intrigued by the idea of not attaching self-fulfillment to material acquisition.
Minimalism, featured the usual narratives and imagery that has been associated with a minimalist lifestyle; the story of two millennials who hit quarter life crises before age 30 after climbing the corporate ladder, who then decided to hang up their suit and ties and write a book about it, now Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus travel the world speaking about decluttering and living with only the essentials; like four shirts and two pieces of furniture.
Entrepreneur and world-traveler Colin Wright is also featured in the film, in this particular scene he calls himself “homeless,” then corrects his use of the term, because you see he is not technically homeless. He travels to a different countries throughout the year and lives like the locals. So you can say Wright is homeless-lyte.
At this point in the film, is where I stopped watching. The film is about 90 minutes long, give or take, and halfway through the film the only images of people of color, were seen in cutaway footage of Black Friday pandemonium, depicting people of color snatching doll babies out of the hands of tots and stampeding store aisles for limited edition Nikes.
You see my dilemma?
I could be being hyper sensitive or perhaps just hyper aware, but there must be people of the melanin-owning variety who also like to live simply and who want to cultivate more happiness than possessions in their lives.
Why is it that in a documentary that is supposed to be an appetizer for someone who has never had a taste of minimalism, there was no one who looked like me. While there were plenty of social critics and scientists explaining the detriment of fast-fashion and conspicuous consumption, and a white couple that sells off half of their possessions in order to live on a farm and own a tiny house on wheels.
I can definitely appreciate the diversity depicted in the versions of minimalism, because while the many of the core principles are the same, followers can choose what living a life of simplicity means, for some it means living in the open air and owning the barest of necessities and for some people it means creating a capsule wardrobe.
What Minimalism failed to touch upon, however, is the fact that it is indeed a privilege to advocate for abandoning your desk job and packing only one suitcase to go spend your life as a nomad. As a working-class black woman, with $70,000 in student loan debt I can't exactly tell my family that I’m selling my laptop and phone and moving into a room on wheels in pursuit of happiness.
Much in the same way that people of color aren’t the only ones trampling people in the quest for doorbuster sales on Black Friday. The same way white people are not the only wants who aim to remove materials from their lives that do not bring joy.
It would have been nice to see a broader scale of the kinds of people who practice minimalism. What does minimalism look like for those who live in the inner city? What does it look like for those who can’t vacate their nine to fives or who cannot afford the quality versus quantity mantra of capsule wardrobes?
I can think of many of my friends or family who would like to adopt a life that values people more, and things less, but minimalism has all too often felt like a movement that has a hint of exclusivity sprinkled in it and we need more portrayals of minimalism that makes room for more than just one version of reality.
Minimalism...it’s not just for white people.