The aesthetics of minimalism

I was complaining on Twitter how difficult it was to find people I could follow and interact on Twitter who were interested in minimalism and zero waste. It appears those movements are primarily active on Instagram – a platform that by design is incredibly visual. Every photo is accompanied by a text post and a slew of hashtags.

And while I am on Instagram, because taking photos of pretty things appeal to me, I don’t feel right using that platform for activism purposes.

Don’t get me wrong. To successfully spread a message of any kind you need to use a platform where people are interested in the message you have. But I’m afraid that by using Instagram we are taking the environmental concerns we have with the two movements and we’re turning it into a performance art that’s one step removed from the actual concerns that are driving us.

I mean looking at the feed for the #minimalism it’s all-white walls, single items. Wood, metal and what I would classify as organization porn (very much like food porn, only with a majority of plastic containers). 

Same with the zero waste hashtag. All white and pretty and minimalistic. Completely missing the point of zero waste and taking a wild turn to into the fantasy, completely avoiding the reality of how dirty and work-intensive zero waste actually is.

The more I’m looking at those hashtags the more I’m thinking people on Instagram care more about the aesthetics than they do about the cause.

I took a look at my own feed on Instagram and in comparison, it’s messy and unglamorous. It feels real to me, though, it’s most likely why I don’t have that many followers there (I’m not very active there either).

It’s not white enough. It’s not arranged enough. It’s not minimalist enough. It shows my journey, not my fantasy.

Do the aesthetic photos on Instagram appeal to me? Hell yeah! Of course, they do. And judging by all the likes and comments, they appeal to a lot of people.

My main fear is though that the people like the aesthetic and not the cause. And we’re running a dangerous game where the barrier for entry in minimalism is being made not by the reality but by the fantasy we build on Instagram.

What if instead of just decluttering things that are no longer useful, people start decluttering things based on how they photograph? Is pursuit of an ideal okay if the motives for that pursuit are flawed?

There’s also one additional issue with turning a cause into a performance piece online: we run a risk into commercializing the idea and when it comes to minimalism, it kinda misses the point. When it becomes about getting stuff that looks good, when we turn minimalism into a brand, we completely destroy the ideal.

And we risk going back to square one.

So that’s the problem as I see it.

Another problem? I don’t really know how to fix it.

We need online platforms to spread the message. And if something works in getting the word out, more and more people are going to copy that method. I don’t know how to motivate people to pursue a more real and less arranged ideal of minimalism.

I might just make up a hashtag and see how that works.

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