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More turning to the bare essentials of life

By Pan Mengqi | China Daily | Updated: 2019-03-15 08:44

Status symbols

Zhu Rui, a consumer market researcher in Beijing, said, "Amid constant stimulation from society, many consumers now feel that things may have gone beyond their control."

Zhu said most well-off Chinese, who have gone through a time of "material scarcity", are now using possessions as status symbols to show they are living a good life, adding, "After getting rich, people like to purchase a lot of expensive things.

"However, when they become aware that what they possess is actually a kind of burden, or does not represent their taste at all, some may think differently about their lifestyles," and turn to minimalism to regain control.

According to Becker, minimalism, which first emerged in some developed countries, is growing as a lifestyle movement because of "an overwhelming worry of global financial turmoil". He launched the blog becomingminimalist.com, which promotes a minimalist lifestyle and has garnered more than 1.3 million followers.

He offered an explanation of why people across the US and the developed world are abandoning consumerism to live more simply: "Rising unemployment, stagnant wages and falling stock prices have forced families and individuals to re-evaluate their purchases. People have begun living on tighter budgets. As a result, many consumers are choosing to identify the difference between essential and nonessential purchases."

Sociologist Joel Stillerman said there is a connection between minimalism and a quest for well-being among certain educated, upper-middle-class areas of society in the US and other Western countries. In his book The Sociology of Consumption: A Global Approach he states that minimalism is also meant to "project taste, refinement and aesthetic knowledge".

"These people are making the statement: 'I can afford to have less. I appreciate books and travel and good meals'," he said.

Zeb Smith, 30, from the US, became a minimalist in 2014 after losing his job. He discovered that by reducing the number of items he owned, he had a better quality of life.

Smith said he grew up in a typical US consumerist family. "We had so many toys, clothes, videotapes, books and other things that you could not see the floor in our house. The messy home caused serious stress in my parents' marriage. They eventually got divorced."

After losing his job, Smith and his wife moved to Colorado from Idaho, a distance of 1,450 kilometers.

"We could not afford a big trailer for the move, so we had to get rid of a lot of things. After we got to Colorado, we bought more things again, and marriage was hard. I worked all day and came home to a messy house."

Smith and his wife noticed that their cluttered home was causing them stress. While his wife, Lauren, searched on the internet for ways to solve the problem, Smith wrote a book titled Minimalism in Real Life: 4 1/2 Practical Steps Towards a Meaningful Life, which was published under the name Jefferson Gow.

Learning from his experience, he said he hoped to help people systematically create peace in their homes by practicing minimalism.

"Things are so affordable now that they no longer work as symbols of social status. Cleanliness and tidiness are becoming the new marks of wealth," he said.

In the US, millennials - the 18 to 34 age group that comprises more than 25 percent of the population and the majority of the workforce - are the main driving force seeking a minimalist lifestyle.

Robin Lewis, a US retail expert said: "Millennials have a unique set of values around how they choose to spend their money. They grew up during the recession, entered a struggling job market and must now pay off record amounts of debt."

He said the millennial generation is bigger than that of the baby boomers in terms of numbers, but has less money. "This is a big threat to the economy. They're not into a lot of shopping," Lewis added.

But this may not be the case in China. A report by market research company Euromonitor in London found young Chinese consumers spend less on possessions, but tend to spend more on, for example, short holidays and visits to the movies, with ticket sales rising by 13.5 percent last year.

Alison Angus, head of lifestyles at Euromonitor, said this, in part, is driven by the rise of a Chinese counter-culture dubbed wenqing, or "cultured youth", but perhaps is better expressed by the word "hipster".

"They are rejecting materialism, which sort of goes against the grain in China," Angus said. "They are looking for a life that is all about culture. They spend their leisure time reading poetry, going to art galleries, looking after pets and drinking little alcohol."

However, some brands are still trying to tap the new generation of Chinese who have consciously decided to consume less.

These approaches can take different forms. They range from the functional basics of Japanese retail company Muji and the production of simple quality clothing by Uniqlo, to subscription services, which are replacing ownership of music, books, movies and software. Electronic books and devices such as Kindle are among the top items bought by Chinese born in the 1990s and 2000s, according to data from Iresearch.

Other industry trends in China, such as the booming sharing economy, in which, for example, consumers choose to use new services available through Didi and Mobike rather than buy cars, are also evidence of this trend, the report said.

Prakash Ghai, an Indian minimalist, tried to introduce the concept to his country through photography. "People first learn to acquire before learning to give up," he said, adding that although the minimalism movement has been evident for some years in the Western world, it is still a relatively new concept in India because "many Indians are still learning to acquire".

But statistics from Google Trends show that minimalism is spreading from the Middle East to Western Europe. The top five countries and regions searching for information on "minimalism" in 2017 were Hong Kong, Iran, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the Philippines.

In Asia, the most prominent minimalist is Japanese expert Marie Kondo, whose book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has sold millions of copies worldwide and inspired countless numbers of people to reorganize their homes and lives. Although Kondo focuses on tidiness, the psychological benefits of this overlap with the minimalists' goals. The book struck a chord with many middle-class readers and fueled their enthusiasm for minimalist lifestyles.

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