The history and practice of minimalism

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Can a minimalistic lifestyle and aesthetic bring peace and calm? Photo by Shutterstock.

Minimalism is the hot trend these days. Whether it’s on Instagram or in changing lifestyles, the idea of simplifying your life, lessening possessions, tossing out old stuff, or even jettisoning a job or acquaintances that don’t bring us “joy,” more people are embracing less. 

The philosophy and practice of minimalism goes back centuries. The ancient Stoics spoke about focusing on the things that are in our control. Early Christian doctrine believed that austerity and simple life would bring them closer to God, and Zen Buddhism is based on the philosophy of letting go and emptiness. 

Jonathan Bastian speaks to New Yorker contributing writer Kyle Chayka, who traces the origins and history of minimalism in his book “The Longing for Less: Living with Minimalism.” Chayka talks about the growing dissatisfaction with materialism in our culture, but also points to the over-focus on a minimalist chic, which has come at the expense of making room for more contentment, time, and freedom. He explains that minimalism imposes a kind of discipline on a world in which there’s too much choice and chaos. 

“Minimalism, in a lifestyle sense, is a reaction to how many choices we have to make every day,” Chayka says. “Once you have one thing really minimal, it kind of spreads to every aspect of what you're doing.”

Book cover “The Longing for Less: Living with Minimalism." Kyle Cheyka, photo by Gregory Gentert.



  • Kyle Chayka - staff writer for The New Yorker and author of the book “Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture” - @chaykak


Andrea Brody