Minimalism is a term with several possible modern interpretations ranging from theories of simple living or artistic genres to theological principles and communication theories. As a fundamental basis each usage of the term suggests that the simplest, least complicated forms of a thing are usually the most effective and desirable.
When the complex is necessary, it must only be an extension of the simple.
Minimalism as Simple Living
Minimalism as simple living is often observed in modern culture as a motivation to have and pursue fewer possessions. It is believed that the act of owning fewer possessions enables a freer, happier and more fulfilling life. This simple living version of minimalism is, in part, a rejection of excessive consumerism.
Simple living theories have a long history in philosophy and culture. Currently, minimalism seems to be overwhelmingly influenced by Japanese design aesthetics. Several current popular writers on Japanese minimalism include Marie Kondo (the life changing magic of tidying up), Fumio Sasaki (goodbye, things) and Phillip Lark (Declutter: The Japanese Art of Minimalism).
The underlying principles of simple living are not, however, unique to Eastern philosophy. Similar concepts may be found in Greek philosophy such as the tale of Diogenes of Sinope, the cynic who is claimed to have held poverty as a virtue and to have slept in a large ceramic container as his shelter. At one point, Diogenes observes a child scooping up water with his hand to drink; this inspires Diogenes to throw away his own cup and follow the example of a child that had bested him in simplicity.
While owning fewer things is certainly an important motivating factor for those who are interested in minimalism, this is not to suggest either that owning fewer things negates consumerism nor that owning fewer things is the totality of minimalist theory. It is certainly possible to participate in a consumerist lifestyle other than acquiring objects. Plane tickets, holidays in exotic locations, expensive consumable products are all both consumerist and potentially anti-minimalist in principle.
It should also be noted that minimalism is not an attempt to make a virtue of poverty (or a dishonest imitation of poverty). This criticism of minimalism is inherent in the tale of Diogenes imitating a child that does not have a cup to drink from. Choosing not to own physical objects is not the same as not having the means to obtain them in the first place.
Meanwhile, minimalism may be taken beyond the non-possession of items to reducing quantity and complexity of other aspects of life. In Surfing With Sartre: An Aquatic Inquiry into a Life of Meaning, Aaron James argues that a life spent working part-time and surfing part-time is a valid and commendable strategy when compared to a more acquisitive traditional strategy of working full-time to acquire more and more things. James argues that working and acquiring less is better both for individuals and for the planet. This perspective is complementary to ideas which Matthew Crawford explored in Shop Class As Soul Craft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work; which is, in part, Crawford’s valuation of manual labour and craftsmanship over the currently presiding workplace which focuses on knowledge workers.
Minimalism is a fundamental, though optional, tool for managing both personal and professional life goals, aspirations and strategies.
Minimalism as Writing Theory
Minimalism as a writing theory presents another opportunity to feature a Japanese cultural influence. Haiku and Renku are two of Japan’s most highly recognized (and imitated) forms of poetry which feature a minimalist perspective.
In other modern writing disciplines, minimalism’s influence may be seen in concepts such as “plain language” imperatives. Plain language is seen as a methodology which quickly and effectively communicates to as wide an audience as is reasonably possible. It includes reduced use of jargon, idioms or complicated structure.
In the legislative drafting field, new scholars are trained to focus on uniform and simple language. Sentences with simpler grammar and fewer clauses are featured.
References and Citations
- Matthew Crawford. Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work
- Aaron James. Surfing With Sartre: An Aquatic Inquiry Into A Life of Meaning
- Marie Kondo. the life changing magic of tidying up
- Phillip Lark. declutter: The Japanese Art of Minimalism
- Fumio Sasaki. goodbye, things
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- Original draft: July 2, 2017
- Updated and reformated: June 21, 2018
- Updated July 2, 2018