The Ethics of Minimalism

Minimalism has recently skyrocketed in popularity, and there are many misconceptions floating around about just what minimalism entails. A few years ago, I never would have even considered minimalism. I thought that it was merely an aesthetic, and that to be a minimalist, one had to have a completely white home with hardly any furniture. However, I soon discovered that this thing called minimalism is much more multi-faceted than I once believed.

Minimalism can seem like a trend that is based purely on aesthetics. When you think of minimalism, it’s easy to think of expensive, futuristic-looking houses and fancy marble countertops. But this is not what minimalism has to be. Minimalism should be about becoming wiser with your money, not spending more money to emulate trends that will likely be gone tomorrow.

For many of us, minimalism has a significant ethical component. Many people choose to spend less and have less stuff so that they have more money to give to others. As the saying goes, some choose to live simply so that others can simply live.

Many minimalists have also seen the destructive effects of the fashion industry and have chosen to consume more consciously. This means shopping a lot less, and also shopping at places where we know we are not going to contribute to the exploitation of the poor and the destruction of the environment.

Many of us have also become disillusioned with the beauty and food industries and are disgusted by the fact that toxic chemicals and ingredients are in so many of the items and products we ingest and put on our bodies. We have decided to be intentional and research before we buy. We no longer ignore ingredients labels.

Many minimalists have become aware of the destructive effects our purchases can have on the environment and choose to live more sustainably. This means cutting out the amount of plastic we use and opting for more environmentally friendly and sustainable items. It can even mean avoiding the dairy industry, and other destructive and unsustainable industries, altogether.

On a more abstract level, many of us view minimalism as a quiet rebellion and protest against our relentlessly consumerist culture. With an endless onslaught of advertising and psychological messages regarding what we supposedly need in our lives, we have had enough. We have realized that simply buying more things for ourselves will not fill any emotional voids and that the most important things in life are not things.

Being a minimalist is about taking responsibility for one’s consumerist habits. It is about being fully aware that your purchases and your lifestyle choices cause a domino effect, that in the various industries where we spend our money, there is a web of interconnected issues. Minimalism is about staying educated so that we are always aware of the impact our lives and our spending are having on others and on the environment, and even on our own physical and psychological wellbeing.

If minimalism doesn’t have an ethical component, it’s bound to turn into a fad or an aesthetic trend. There is nothing wrong with liking minimalist decor, but minimalism is about so much more than ticking an aesthetic box. If you want to live a truly minimalist lifestyle, you have to be motivated by more than just aesthetics. You have to be committed to living a life of intentionality and financial and social responsibility. If you’re genuinely invested in these things, you won’t just get bored of minimalism as soon as it stops being trendy.

If you’re just now getting serious about minimalism or trying to live more simply, I recommend that you define your values and the ethical motivations that are propelling this lifestyle change. It’s okay if one of your motivations for becoming a minimalist is to have a clean, white home like you see on Pinterest. But it’s important to focus not only on how this change is going to benefit you materially and aesthetically, but also ethically and on a more abstract and intangible level.

Maybe you’re tired of how various companies have monopolized on and exploited your insecurities, and you want to protest by refusing to buy into our culture’s lies of perfection.

Maybe you’ve always had that nagging feeling that your consumerist habits haven’t benefited humans or the environment, and now you finally want to live in a more socially and environmentally responsible way.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to give more to those in need, but you got so used to spending money on unnecessary items and products that you never had enough left over at the end of the month to do so.

Maybe you’re aware of how corrupt and exploitative various industries are, and you want to stop contributing to a system that you don’t agree with.

All these various industries need is for the average consumer to take a stand and to demand that changes are made. If we stop buying the lies of advertisers and spending our money on things that cause more harm than good, things can and will change.

It may seem like individuals making simple lifestyle choices doesn’t make any dent in the moral and ecological crisis in the world, but if each and every one of us were to make these changes, the difference would be astounding. Ethical responsibility is finally becoming more mainstream, and we can certainly thank the minimalist community for that.

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