Can we reduce to have more ? Is this really possible ? Such is the challenge proposed by the American group The Minimalists. Eliminate, detach, declutter, let go to make room for more time, more passion, more creativity, experience and freedom. A reminiscence of the old Situationist dream that called for an “everyday revolution”.
Critique de la vie quotidienne II, Fondements d’une sociologie de la quotidienneté, Le sens de la marche, L’Arche éditeur, 1961.
Le texte en anglais figure à cette page https://www.theminimalists.com/about/ :
About The Minimalists
At first glance, people might think the point of minimalism is only to get rid of material possessions: Eliminating. Jettisoning. Extracting. Detaching. Decluttering. Paring down. Letting go. But that’s a mistake.
True, removing the excess is an important part of the recipe—but it’s just one ingredient. If we’re concerned solely with the stuff, though, we’re missing the larger point.
Minimalists don’t focus on having less, less, less. We focus on making room for more: more time, more passion, more creativity, more experiences, more contribution, more contentment, more freedom. Clearing the clutter from life’s path helps make that room. »
Writer, theoretician, filmmaker, poet and revolutionary Guy Debord drew inspiration from a French philosopher who deserves more readership today, Henri Lefebvre, whose Critique de la vie quotidienne II, Fondements d’une sociologie de la quotidienneté1 (Critique of Everyday Life, volume II) defined the concept of “everyday revolution”, which almost instantaneously became a landmark aspect of the Situationist International. Lefebvre’s idea was to observe everything that could be changed in society not by addressing the macro, but by rethinking daily life, which anybody is capable of doing, and at little expense. The question is still pertinent: Why does the everyday have so little appeal? Why is it mainly boredom and numbness? Can that be changed?
The Minimalists, an American movement founded in 2010 by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, offers a very contemporary response to this question: to create a more passionate everyday life, one that’s creative, personal and more satisfying on every level, you have to subtract. Get rid of the junk and fill up on real quality, reconnect with something fundamental. In sum, the Minimalists work to clarify their daily lives. They throw or give a lot away, avoid taking on useless responsibilities, limit their consumption.
It’s nothing new if you think back, for example, to their theoretical correlate, French thinker Henri Zisly and the naturists from nearly a century ago, around 1900.
Let’s examine what Millburn and Nicodemus have to say about the Minimalists: “At first glance,” they write, “people might think the point of minimalism is only to get rid of material possessions: Eliminating. Jettisoning. Extracting. Detaching. Decluttering. Paring down. Letting go. But that’s a mistake. True, removing the excess is an important part of the recipe—but it’s just one ingredient. If we’re concerned solely with the stuff, though, we’re missing the larger point.
Minimalists don’t focus on having less, less, less. We focus on making room for more: more time, more passion, more creativity, more experiences, more contribution, more contentment, more freedom. Clearing the clutter from life’s path helps make that room. 2”
The Minimalists address topics like retirement, career, fake friends, debt, property, or romance.
They take a methodical approach that can be criticized for often being too down-to-earth but also rejects the notion of system. So it is important here to understand that Minimalists aren’t about establishing yet another repetitive system, based for instance on an anthropology of daily life, rather they immediately act upon everything that clutters life, point by point, detail by detail, without frowning at any trivial reality. The two cohorts have so thoroughly integrated this attitude that they can even be seen for several podcasted minutes on their website discussing their choice of socks and underwear.
Because, they tell us, “this is also something important.”
The hypothesis is a bit risqué, but it is also relevant.
Deep down, aren’t the Minimalists, from the standpoint of the minutiae, putting into action the very ambitious aforementioned Situationist project of an “everyday revolution”?
Let’s hear from Henri Lefebvre:
“In this everyday life, which confronts the social and the individual through challenges and problems and contradictions that find more or less resolution, the ‘human being’ becomes a ‘person’. What to say? For us, it is a cloud of possibility slowly condensed by choices—by acts—until it is exhausted and depleted: until death sets in. It is a drama, one of personalization in society, of individualization, and not some calm script to follow toward a predetermined outcome. […] The critical study of daily life reveals this conflict: maximum alienation and relative disalienation.”
Choosing underwear, dropping a fake friend, packing light—of course, from the point of view of Big Art, this may all seem rudimentary. But weren’t the geometric forms of American minimalism by artists like Robert Morris or Dan Flavin also atrociously rudimentary when they were first shown in New York? And what about the extremely pared down happenings by American artist Allan Kaprow, whose works consisted of crossing a street or brushing his teeth?
Let’s conclude this chronicle with the following comment: In 2019, doesn’t the practice of art need a change of scale? Shouldn’t it relinquish even more emphasis, its separation from society, to “create the space” that Minimalists speak of? And also opt for less? An illusion?
THIS WAS: Packing light in life as subtraction.
Translation by Maya Dalinsky
Cover: © Anaïs Enjalbert