Just as a hipster would prefer to not be labeled as one, I tend to shy away from referring to myself as a millennial. But since I reached ‘adulthood’ sometime in the year 2000, I must accept my fate despite my argument that I am on ‘the cusp,’ falling somewhere in between Gen X and millennial on the spectrum. Why? Because I don’t like many of the connotations associated with being a millennial. The generation that ‘has it all’ is often accused of being lazy and overly-entitled, when in actuality, all they might be doing is course-correcting the mistakes of their baby boomer parents. Stay with me.
While many millennials in this country have a wealth of options to choose from, they might appear on the surface level as complacent. Charlotte Lieberman, a 24-year-old writer from Manhattan, described this perceived laziness as more of a simplified, streamlined approach to life. “I think there is a tendency among millennials to take advantage of what I think of as shortcuts—texting rather than calling friends; relying on e-commerce sites for basic sundry items rather than going to the nearby grocery store; using Tinder rather than actively seeking romantic connection in real life,” she said. Lieberman explained that these examples are actually underlying impulses toward making things more minimal.
“Sure, youth culture in general always seems to be associated with excess—of drinking, spending, sex,” she said. “But I do notice that people my age now are thinking about paring down in all facets of life, whether that be because of the shit-show of our economy, climate change, or the vestiges of waste we see in our parents’ generation.” Is it possible that millennials have realized that consumerism is not the path toward a happy, fulfilled life?
Too many choices and options can become overwhelming—Tinder, et al.—leading to analysis paralysis or indecision, creating a standstill. Choice adds value to our lives—but only to a certain extent. (Watch this TED talk by Psychologist Barry Schwartz on “The Paradox of Choice“). The burden of an abundance of choices can lead toward emptiness. For example: when your closet is brimming with clothes and you say to your chagrin, “I have nothing to wear.” Think about when you travel out of a small suitcase and you only have two pieces of clothing to choose from—how much does not having anything to wear actually matter then?
My younger sister—who is definitely a millennial—has always kept her apartments barren for as long as I can remember. She prides herself on being able to fit all of her possessions into her car and argues that having a home filled with too much clutter weighs her down and distracts her from creativity. As more people turn to Feng Shui to improve the flow of energy in their home, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we all had less stuff to begin with.
Eastern schools of thought would state that your outer world is a reflection of your inner world, and that a cluttered home equates to a cluttered mind and heart. Think of how much lighter you feel when you clean out your closet and give stuff away. Imagine how freeing it would be to just pick up and easily move—instead of spending weeks stressing over endless packing, and then unpacking and stressing again once you’ve reached the other side. As a New Yorker who admittedly has a fair amount of stuff despite my small apartment, I can relate to this stress. I hope I never have to move again.
It’s taken me a while to realize that experiences are what’s really more valuable than stuff. Many millennials caught on to this before I did—trading property ownership for an extended trip to Myanmar or Nepal, or foregoing spending beyond their means and not racking up credit card debt. Many of us dream of life-altering globetrotting experiences like these—but student loans, mortgages, or car payments weigh us down and prevent us from making these fantasies a reality. But at least we have a house filled with stuff, right…?
Imagine how freeing it would be to just pick up and easily move—instead of spending weeks stressing over endless packing, and then unpacking and stressing again once you’ve reached the other side.
Allison Dryja, a 32-year-old women’s life coach was coerced into a minimalist lifestyle by default when she moved into a tiny apartment in Brooklyn. She said that having less stuff gives her more clarity, and the freedom to let go of her space willingly and live like a gypsy if she wanted to. “When I’m surrounded by simplicity, I feel simple, I can think simple,” she said. “I’m less bogged down by worry— thinking about the past or future, and obsessing over stuff I can’t control.” Dryja continues to shed excess and downsize because she’s realized how easy it is to become overly attached to things. (In fact, she just cleaned out her shoe closet before responding to this article).
How many times have we heard that ‘success’ story about the big-time exec who climbed their way to the top of the ladder, only to look around and realize how alone and unhappy they were, despite all the money? If millennials are backlashing against anything, it’s the state of the economy today. Young people are wising up to cut back on their consumption before we exhaust the planet of its limited resources for good. The economic boom that began in the 1950s no longer works and yet, it’s how mass production continues to operate.
Minimalism goes beyond anti-expenditure, however. Less-is-more is a lifestyle. So if those two shirts in your suitcase cost a week’s worth of wages, for the millennial it could be better than owning 20 shirts for half the price. Quality of life trumps quantity, though that of course is relative. If someone were to place value on two shirts from a second hand store that cost two dollars each—then that ought to be considered as equal merit.
Mindful, minimalist millennials are paving the way for a future generation that hopefully won’t need to undo so many mistakes. They’ve found a greater sense of financial freedom by abandoning the things that were weighing them down, and investing in their experience and wellbeing. Money can’t buy happiness—we all know that—but it’s nice to see a large demographic of brave, beautiful souls actually put that philosophy into action and make it a way of life.
Andrea Rice is the Practice and Community Editor for Wanderlust Media. She is also a writer and yoga teacher. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, SONIMA, mindbodygreen, and a variety of online publications. Her teaching style is a blend of her love for music and intuitive movement, with emphasis on core strength. You can find her regular classes at shambhala yoga & dance center in Brooklyn, and often as a guest teacher for Deep House Yoga. Connect with Andrea on Instagram and Twitter.