Cross Country Checkup

Buying minimalism: marketers and gurus seize the popular philosophy to sell you more

Myriad minimalist home products promise to soothe your soul. Does that go against the idea of having less?

Myriad minimalist home products promise to soothe your soul

Tana Tugendhat minimized the belongings in her apartment for her peace of mind. (Submitted by Tana Tugendhat)

It was a moment of reckoning for Tana Tugendhat: whether or not to dispose of her Breville Juice Fountain.

As much as she loved sipping a beet and apple brew from her juicer, she couldn't stand scrubbing the appliance afterward or the stink of all the compost. The juicer had been collecting dust in her cupboard for over a year.

This week, she decided it was time to give away the costly gadget.

"I finally realized I get less joy out of making the juice and cleaning up after it, than drinking it," Tugendhat said.

"So, I let it go."

Tana Tugendhat shares her experiences of embracing a minimalist lifestyle on YouTube. (Submitted by Tana Tugendhat)

While retailers may cringe at the rise of the minimalist movement, which preaches sustainability by encouraging people to downsize wardrobes and give away possessions, others wonder if the decluttering trend has created an incongruous push for consumers to buy more stuff.

Tugendhat has been joyfully decluttering her home for five years now, especially since reading a book by the modern-day guru of minimalism, Marie Kondo.

She has since taken Kondo's minimalist creed to heart — that tidying can magically change your life — and she's also gotten more careful about how she shops.

"It keeps me very mindful of what role objects and belongings mean to me. How they impact on my life. So, I'm very conscientious of what I contribute to, with my money I've earned."

More products for less stuff

Plenty of companies are happy to help those ready to buy in to a minimalist lifestyle, so long as they can dip into your wallet.

You can bring home one of Marie Kondo's four books on organizing, which have sold millions of copies worldwide. You can go a step further by hiring a Certified KonMari Consultant to assist you with organizing your living space — at an hourly rate.

Marvin Ryder is a business professor at McMaster University in Hamilton. (McMaster University)

Or, you can purchase a myriad of minimalist home products, from wall shelves to coat racks, which promise to soothe your soul and help you do more with less.

More companies are marketing services and products to fit minimalist lifestyles, says Marvin Ryder, a business professor at McMaster University, but it's a type of branding that comes with a catch.

"If you're minimalizing, why are you buying products to help you minimalize? Just throw all those products out," said Ryder, who argues companies that promise to assist consumers on a path to minimalism face an inherent contradiction.

"If you're selling yourself as the solution to decluttering, then aren't you cluttering it to cause the decluttering?"

Ryder believes the current trend of minimalizing is an "urban fixation," driven by city dwellers who lack space. He says many adherents to minimalism yearn for a simpler time, without gizmos and gadgets ruling their lives.

"This is how some people react whenever the world seems to be getting more complicated, more confusing,'" said Ryder.

Self-care is the new black.- Tana Tugendhat

Retailers are tapping into those feelings of powerlessness, he says, by advertising their products as a means for a consumer to savour a brief, luxurious pause in their busy lives.

"It's not permanent decluttering, it's temporary minimalism: 'We'll help you in that quest for that moment of sanity, among the moments of insanity.'"

Focus on quality — and mindfulness

Canada's first certified KonMarie consultant, Marina Ramalho, advises her clients to focus on quality rather than creating a minimalist aesthetic when it comes to new purchases.

"I try to ideally get something the best that I could afford. Because, hopefully, it will extend its life as much as possible," she said.

Ramalho, who recently started her own independent business as an organizing consultant because she felt the KonMarie methods were "too rigid," says having a "beautiful, empty apartment isn't for everyone."

"It is, in a way, coming from a place of privilege," said Ramalho. "To be able to decide, 'Oh, I don't want any kitchen items,' because you can afford to go out and eat every day."

Marina Ramalho is a former KonMarie consultant and helped clients declutter their lives. Pictured here, an example of her own workspace. (Submitted by Marina Ramalho)

As for Tugendhat and her once-loved juicer, she dropped it off in the lobby of her Toronto condo, leaving a note that it was 100 per cent in working condition. An enthusiastic neighbour scooped it up immediately, leaving Tugendhat feeling pleased and excited.

"You feel so proud of yourself to be able to let go of something that isn't useful to you."

She doesn't feel minimalism is a new form of consumerism, as much as a focus on mindfulness.

"Self-care is the new black," said Tugendhat, for whom decluttering brings peace of mind.

"If the market is jumping in on that in a way that's making people be more mindful, conscientious, environmentally-minded and, in fact, probably buy less and maybe more quality items, that benefits everybody."

Sunday, Dec. 2, on Cross Country Checkup, we're taking your calls on minimalism. Does the philosophy appeal to you?


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.