Social media has multiple uses, but ultimately it serves as a way to communicate with others. Because 81% of Americans have at least one social media profile, one can assume that a majority of people gain at least a shred of their knowledge of the world around them from this genre (Statista). This is why movements such as the minimalist movement primarily focus on raising awareness of their cause through these means. On the most successful minimalist blog called The Minimalists, minimalism is defined as, “a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom” (The Minimalists, 2017). However, because not everyone follows these minimalist trail blazers on social media, the ideologies of the movement are often defined by one’s perception of related social media activity. Through social media, the minimalist movement is able to convey its ideological structure in order to persuade others to live a life that emphasizes experiences and ridding oneself of physical and mental clutter.
In order to understand the ideologies of the minimalist movement, we must first define what an ideology is. According to Sonja Foss, “Ideologies ensure that members of a group generally ‘act in similar ways in similar situations, are able to cooperate in joint tasks, and thus contributes to group cohesion, solidarity, and the successful reproduction of the group.”’ (Foss, 2017, p. 238) Some specific aspects of minimalist ideology that will be discussed throughout this analysis include membership, group relations, position, goals, core beliefs, values/norms, and activities.
Membership, Position, Group Relations
Sometimes the perceived members of a group influences whether or not a movement is successful. This is partially due to that fact that certain groups of people are better able to persuade others to join their cause as a result of factors such as race and economic status and whether or not these characteristics are kairotic. So who exactly are minimalists, and what characteristics are associated with this group of people?
If there is one thing that stood out to me through analyzing media on Facebook, Youtube, and Pinterest, it is that the minimalist movement is very white. Historically white people have been highly influential because of the power they held within society, but today if a movement is seen as lacking in diversity, it could harm its ability to take spread. Nearly all of the people in photographs labeled as “minimalist” that I came across during my analysis are thin caucasian young adults. A majority are also women, but interestingly enough, the persons who many consider to be the authorities on the movement are both men. It is possible that more women are interested in the movement because they are more interested in the values that it promotes. However, is also possible that more women appear to try minimalism because of the three social media sites that I analyzed, two are predominantly used by women (Vermeren) .
(Two of numerous examples of asian or white You-tubers and Pinterest posts)
It is important to note that the frequency of posts containing images of people depends on the social media site. When I searched “minimalist” on Facebook and Pinterest, I found that a majority of posts didn’t contain images of people at all (see photos below for examples). This contrasts with Youtube, which had dozens of videos of white minimalist bloggers. Because a majority of images associated with the movement do not contain people, it cannot be assumed that to be in the movement one must be white. Furthermore, I failed to come across a single post that addressed a specific demographic requirement, and the comments made on minimalist posts were positive and encouraging and did not ostracize any ethnicity.
(Most pictures contained no people, and had neutral colors and simple designs)
Another aspect of membership that many ideologies touch upon is economic standing. I discovered that of the few negative comments I came across on my social media analysis journey, almost all of them had to do with the belief that minimalism is for rich people.
Although not specifically stated anywhere, the objects that are advertised on social media that are deemed “minimalist,” and are available for purchase have a tendency to be expensive. This may explain why some people feel that they cannot afford to be a part of the movement.
The fact that items that are for sale are labeled as minimalist is ironic, as it contrasts against other minimalist posts that encourage people to purge material possessions. However, if one only sees supposedly minimalist objects for sale, they might assume that minimalism is a look to be achieved rather than a movement, and that this “look” is for rich people. But if they are exposed to other posts containing values of people within the movement as opposed to the stereotype of the aesthetic, they would see that poor people are just as capable of following the movement as rich people.
(Expensive nursery items labeled as Minimalist and Boho)
(Expensive shoes labeled as being part of a “minimalist” fashion line)
Still, even though less wealthy individuals are capable of following the movement, one Youtube user points out that the movement does not appeal to many poor people because when one is used to having nothing, one wants to make sure that they have more than they need because they fear they might not always be able to get what they need. Say for example someone has three pairs of boots. Some minimalists might say that this person should only keep the pair that you need, however, if a poor person has only one pair and that pair becomes unusable, they may not be able to afford to buy a new pair.
It could be argued that if a person buys only exactly what they need and what brings them the most joy then they will save money as opposed to facing debt, and be able to buy what they need when they need it. However, there are some people who can barely afford the essentials, so if life sends blessings their way in the form of objects that may be considered extraneous by minimalist standards, one might understand why the idea of giving such objects away would become unappealing.
Beliefs/ Values/ Goals
The values, goals, and beliefs of the minimalist movement are perhaps best represented through the style of the rhetorical artifacts associated with it. For the purpose of this analysis, style refers to expression through aesthetic means (Arnold, 1996 p.703). Often groups who agree upon an ideology share a distinct style. Across the various social media platforms that I analyzed, searching the phrase “minimalist” generated images that were simple and uncluttered. These images have a style that some may label as boring because they minimize the amount of colors, textures, text, etc. that are used in favor of clean lines and neutrals. Such style leads one to believe that minimalists value cleanliness and simplicity and believe in paring down what one owns and only keeping and/or buying things that are completely functional.
(Neutral, free of clutter)
Although some of the goals of the minimalist movement can be understood through the style of image-laden digital artifacts, digital artifacts that inform people of minimalist beliefs through language potentially hold more persuasive power by more obviously appealing to classic rhetorical devices such as ethos and pathos.
In this image that I found on Pinterest by searching the term “minimalism,” the text against the mountain-lake scene is persuasive through the use of pathos. One reads the text and thinks about the joy and other emotional responses that experiences bring that objects never can. For some, the serene background might suggest that by “collecting moments not things,” one will become emotionally more stable. Others might imagine themselves diving off of the dock and letting the refreshing, cool water flow over their bodies as they swim; a beautiful moment amongst nature that one cannot buy. Because this media is labeled as being minimalist, all of the emotional responses above and more contribute to the belief that minimalism is about removing clutter in favor of experience.
In this Youtube Video, The Minimalists Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields immediately appeal to viewers’ emotions by verbally encouraging them to, “imagine a life with less stuff, less clutter, less stress, less stress in debt and discontent in life…more meaningful relationships, more growth…”(Fields and Nicodemus, 2014). Essentially, they touch upon many sources of unhappiness that people have before introducing them to the minimalist ideology. They then build ethos by talking about their lives as rich men climbing the corporate ladder, and talking about how they lived the American dream of “having it all” only to discover that the American Dream made them miserable and anxious. They offer minimalism as a solution to this problem, and outline minimalist beliefs such as reducing clutter and focusing on relationships and community over consumerism
This Facebook post is also by The Minimalists, who have established ethos through their documentary, books, and tours and who now have nearly 560,000 followers on Facebook. By developing such a high amount of credibility, they have become authorities on the topic of minimalism, and everything that they post about it is more influential than if an average person wrote it. This post utilizes pathos by inspiring people to think about what is holding them back, and to imagine life without this. Essentially, they are encouraged to reflect on what is cluttering their life, and to become emotional enough to take action. Although technically ambiguous, the phrase “you deserve to be free” becomes associated with the minimalist movement simply because the “authorities” on the movement stated it. Therefore, it may be assumed that the goal of minimalism is to gain some sort of freedom through de-cluttering one’s life.
Norms and Activities
What has been both the success and the achilles heel of the minimalist movement is the fact that it challenges the hegemonic ideology. According to Sonja Foss, “Hegemonic ideology provides a sense that things are the way they have to be; it asserts that its meanings are the real, natural ones” (2017 p.239). In other words, hegemonic ideology is the paradigm from which other movements escape. In economics class, we were taught that in the eye of the consumer, “more is more.” In other words, a majority of people value having as much stuff as they can afford, or more than they can afford, and consumerism is a normal part of their lives.
What I have deduced from social media posts about the minimalist movement is that this isn’t the case. Because they value relationships and experiences over stuff, they are challengers of the hegemonic ideology. This makes it more difficult for the movement to take hold because followers must not only persuade others that their movement is good, but that it is worth giving up the lifestyle that they are accustomed to. Essentially, they must convince members of society to change their learned values and to act according to completely new ones. Rather than buying dozens of new clothes a year, a minimalist would buy what they need. Rather than surrounding themselves with clutter, sentimental or not, a minimalist would only surround themselves with what they use daily, or what brings them joy At least, that is the normal behavior that they seem to promote on social media.
Youtuber Sarah Nourse shares tips such as: Don’t buy things you don’t like, Use the library, Go Paperless, Share
Left: Quote about minimalism. Right: Excerpt from “30 Day Minimalist Challenge” Pinterest Post
Luckily for the minimalist movement, their values are kairotic. This means that they are appropriate for the context of this moment in time (Downs, 2017 p. 467). Although we still live in a society that values consumerism, more and more people seem to be realizing that money and objects aren’t everything. A few videos that cover minimalism on Youtube are 3 years old, but a majority are only a few months or even days old!
As stated earlier, most minimalists appear to be young. Perhaps they are minimalists because they have less money to spend than others on excessive items, or perhaps they are more educated on topics such as climate change and the negative impact that consumerism has on it.
Young white Youtuber Kitty Cotten discusses a “minimalist” capsule wardrobe
Buzzfeed Youtube Video with young white girl touches upon problems with consumerism, chats with The Minimalists, and tries Minimalism for a week.
After analyzing various social media platforms, one would most likely reach the conclusion that Minimalism is a movement for those who wish to improve their lives by valuing positive relationships and experiences over stuff. Although this movement clearly isn’t for everyone as it challenges the hegemonic ideology of mass consumption, and because related posts and materials have a tendency to target caucasian females, its kairotic nature may cause the movement to hold an increased amount of persuasive power in the future.
To view the Storify page that I used to collect quite a bit of my social media data, click here!
Header image created by me using Canva.com
Arnold, M. (1996). “Style” In Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition (p. 703). Philadelphia, PA: Taylor & Francis
BuzzFeedVideo. (2017, July 1st). I Tried Minimalism For A Week [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PDlf8mPMh8
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Custer, S. (2017, August). Screenshot of a Youtube Comment [Screenshot]. Retrieved https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PDlf8mPMh8
Downs, D. (2017). Rhetoric: Making sense of human interaction and meaning-making. Writing about Writing: A College Reader. 3rd edition, (pp. 457-481). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
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Nourse, S. (2016, September 19). Minimalist Hacks [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bbXfpe96a0
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Olander, J. (2017, September 28). Minimal Home with Warm Colors [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://cocolapinedesign.com/2017/09/28/minimal-home-warm-colors/
PrintPlace.com. (2017, October 7). Minimalist Print Brochures [Facebook Post]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/PrintPlace/photos/a.164418928070.117808.24126948070/10155331036073071/?type=3&theater
Project Nursery. (2017, 5 Oct). Neutral Minimalist Boho Nursery [Facebook Post]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/projectnursery/?ref=nf&hc_ref=ARRAfYK4ANRoxHFjrWsMlSip_7zfAOT94BzRLrL9N47_bEJlsSBT_2HkySAgsE7Ebmc
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Statista (2017). “Percentage of U.S. population with a social media profile from 2008 to 2017.” Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/273476/percentage-of-us-population-with-a-social-network-profile/
TedXTalks. (2016, August 24). The Art of Letting Go [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgBpyNsS-jU
The BlissFul Mind. (n.d). 12 of the Best Minimalist Youtubers [Pinterest Post]. Retrieved from http://theblissfulmind.com/2015/10/05/minimalist-youtube-channels/
The Minimalists (entire site). Retrieved from https://www.theminimalists.com/minimalism/
The Minimalists. (2017, September 29). You Deserve to Be Free [Facebook Post]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/theminimalists/?ref=nf&hc_ref=ARSKliGjD7zxZGocZ7ZAQHTY1BrXq39l4Qdxs92Og0pSZ8wnFa0kyoIhffnFHNGHZ0g