How do we fit our life into a suitcase?rebecca algie for varsity

As we move into the new year and promise, however insincerely, to become better people, many are seeing new potential in the big trend of 2019. Minimalism – the art of having less and being happier.

As a reaction against a world whose voracious consumerism is already leading to our planet crashing and burning around us, it does seem to make sense. No fast fashion, no unnecessary purchases, only 17 million Instagram posts of #minimalism; all white walls and pale young things in monochrome outfits. Good for the planet, good for your wallet, good for your soul.

Does living with less really lead to a more 'authentic' life?

Everyone and their cat now knows the Marie Kondo phrase, “Does it spark joy?” and if you haven’t procrastin-watched many videos of youtubers attempting to “extreme konmari” their living spaces you are a far better person than I. But does living with less really lead, as so many have promised, to some sort of more ‘authentic’ life?

Minimalism does have its limits. I may want to pack light, but can I afford to leave behind things that are only semi-essential and certainly do not spark joy? The bare minimum might be freeing, but it gets rather more complicated when the button comes off your favourite shirt, the cupboard door has unscrewed itself and your washing machine has shrunk all your clothes – and all you brought to solve it was a daybag of slate grey.

Engaging in fast fashion and constant consumerism clearly isn’t the ideal lifestyle for most people. But neither is the aesthetic absolute minimalism that you so often see on #minimalism, where bloggers only own one really good pen. I may admire it, but I am not so blessed in time or money (or functional memory) not to need at least twenty pens in my room at all times.

I have thus never consciously attempted a minimalist lifestyle, but I have now moved to Paris. My entire living space, bed, bathroom and kitchen, occupies an area of 16m2, and I am one of the lucky ones – even if my ceiling is only at waist height in half that area. Certainly, my cupboard space would encourage a breakup with fast fashion, if I had ever had the kind of bank balance to have a functioning relationship with it in the first place.

My difficulty lies more in the thousand-and-one pieces of memorabilia, nicknacks and pictures which I have accumulated over the course of my studies. I am a proud Russian student, and this means that the idea of living somewhere without my poster of Master and Margarita is a horrifying thought, even if it is slightly taller than my walls. And yet I would never want to leave it behind, even in the name of being reasonable, because yes, okay, it does spark joy.

This is the problem with university living, and with renting in general; it is hard to make a room feel homey when the only thing in it you own is the toothbrush and even the bedsheets have to be given back. So you are encouraged to fill your life up with objects to show your “true” personality. And yet capitalism continues to ruin everything (yes, Russian student, I warned you). One of the rising cultural icons of the past decade has been Frida Kahlo, a Mexican artist of the early 20th century, although I am sure you all know at least something along those lines by now – “Fridamania” has also been on the rise. Indeed one might hope to believe it peaked when Sass & Belle released, apparently unironically, a set of Frida-themed tweezers just in time for Christmas last year.

Even ignoring the many problematic aspects of this new-found cultural mania for Kahlo herself, this commodification of an artist initially celebrated for her individuality highlights the difficulty of building a space around you, comfortable for your own needs and idiosyncrasies. Do you want to be a minimalist? Wonderful. There are thousands of guides to buy and millions of images to look at on Instagram and Pinterest which will tell you exactly how to do it properly.


Mountain View

Make minimalism work for you

And if you don’t? Well, we also have guides on how to be an individual, and all the necessary paraphernalia. In such a world, what more can you do than binge watch Marie Kondo at 2am, hoping finally to realise one’s aesthetic goals alongside the rest of society