Comment: Minimalism: Why you don’t need what you want


The Feed's Andy Park spends time with Australians who eschew possessions.

  • Watch The Feed tonight at 7.30pm on SBS2
  • Join the conversation using #TheFeedSBS2

They're not ascetic monomaniacs or highbrow designers obsessed with polished concrete and clean utilitarian lines.

They're ordinary families and couples who became overwhelmed with modern hyper-consumerism and have embarked on a journey towards simplicity.

And they are not alone. With thousands worldwide on a similar journey, they form part of a community which not only defines itself by what they don't have but also by what they have gained by subtraction.


The average Australian household spends more than $1,226 dollars every year on things they will never useEach of us produces more than half a tonne of waste every year - a figure only outstripped by the average American.

With a paralysing amount of choices available to us - on billboards and radio ads and online popups, fuelled by ever deepening debt and spending cycle - it’s easy to wonder if infinite growth is unattainable.

Guilt over perpetual economic flux is particular to the wealthy western world. A group of US economists from the Universities of Pennsylvania and Chicago researched black and white spending habits on cars, and found that “inconspicuous consumption” is unique to the rich, whereas the “richer a society or peer group, the less important visible spending becomes.”

Although the term “minimalism” was originally used to describe a branch modernist Western art, it was adapted to describe anything stripped back to it’s bare essentials.

Now, with that definition in mind, it’s become a reaction to a 21st century free market economy and the downward numbing pressure that it has placed on individual consumers. It’s created a lifestyle movement that is rapidly gaining acceptance and popularity in the Western world.

The Cult of Less

The are many buzzwords in the spectrum of minimalist lifestyles. There’s the “nomadic lifestyle” - adventurers who seek to have no-fixed-address on an endless journey. 

They tend to come from from high-income, high stress careers (which might explain how they can fund their endless summers). David Welsford is one - he gave up the luxuries of land in search for happiness and adventure on a 50-year-old wooden boat in the Caribbean. Even Australian Entertainer Denise Drysdale has embarked on a nomadic lifestyle.

There’s the “tiny house movement”, who are proud of the limited square footage of their mostly one room homes.

There’s the “slow your home, “de-clutter your home” or “spring clean” communities who are stereotypically empty nesters or stay at home mums who have become overwhelmed with the junk of modern life. 

Zen Habits” , the wildly successful blog and books by San Francisco father of six Leo Babauta, began the interest with his tips in “simplicity, health and fitness, motivation and inspiration, frugality, family life, happiness, goals, getting great things done, and living in the moment.”

Then there’s the “minimalists”, who sit somewhere in the middle of the continuum, who mostly begin with the “things” in their lives but discovering a philosophical approach beyond that lies beyond.

How You Can Have Less

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus call themselves “The Minimalists”.  

They run a successful website read by millions and have written books, perform speaking tours and have even made a documentary about minimalism culture.

It’s sort of like a “how to” blog, written by two attractive young guys who push minimalism away from “mummy blogging” about household cleaning and into the realm of streamlined life.

“Quite often people will come up to us after our events and they will say it’s great to see a couple of guys out here spreading Jesus' message or they’ll say it’s great to a couple of Buddhists out on the road sharing these Buddhist principles, or (the thinking of) stoic philosophers like Seneca or Marcus Aurelius,” says Joshua.

“Or these different people who really questioned the things they brought into their lives - but think it’s ultimately not about depriving ourselves the things that we have, it’s much more about attenuating the desire for owning more stuff as if those things are going to make us happy.”

One of their techniques is called a “packing party” where you box up every single item in you life and only remove the items you need as you need them. Eventually, most find that 80 per cent of their possessions stay they way after six months and can be donated to charity or sold.

“What were seeing a lot of is people asking the same questions, people from occupy Wall Street and CEOs from major corporations asking the same question of how do I live a more meaningful life,” Ryan says.

Tonight on The Feed, I join Brooke McAlary, a 33-year-old mother of two, who describes her website “Slow Your Home” as: “Call it simple living. Call it minimalism. Regardless, living a life with less stuff gives you more time and energy for the things that are important.”

Also, a young couple Mark Adam Douglass and Jess Geerligs who also blog under the name The Minimalist Couple.

Surprisingly, I find that they - along with The Minimalists' Joshua Fields Millburn - all have something in common far beyond the tidiness of their homes.

Tune into Andy Park’s story on Minimalism on The Feed tonight at 7.30pm on SBS2.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch