How The 2020 Pandemic Will Inspire a New Wave of Minimalism

If you’re into languages, you probably know that Mandarin often combines characters and words to create expressions. One particularly interesting expression is “weiji”, the Chinese equivalent for “crisis”. It contains two characters: “danger” (wei) and “opportunity” (ji). Ergo, a crisis signifies both danger and opportunity in Mandarin.

Considering that many people nowadays live to the age of 90 or even 100, it’s baffling to see how many large-scale crises happened in the last century. 

In just over 100 years, we’ve survived two World Wars, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, the Cold War, the nuclear arms race, innumerable natural disasters, 9/11, and the Financial Crisis of 2008.  

And yet, the average person on this planet is richer, more educated, healthier, and safer than ever before. 

However, every major crisis changed our planet in some ways. 

The two World Wars heralded the birth of the United Nations, a somewhat functioning system. 

The Spanish Flu was one of the first accelerators for public health policies. And 9/11 has changed airport security forever. 

When it comes to modern minimalism, many people situate the genesis of the movement somewhere around 2010. 

This post-crisis period saw the rise of well-known blogs, documentaries, fashion brands, and Youtubers. 

As such, the economic difficulties of the early 2010s made people reflect on their needs, priorities, and values. Many turned to minimalism and the movement cemented itself.

What is the parallel to today?

The current Covid-19 pandemic has been ongoing for a few months now. Countries slowly reopen, but the long-term impact remains unknown.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to predict the future of remote work, travel, or public health here. 

I am, nevertheless, convinced that the 2020 Pandemic will inspire a new wave of minimalism. 

As the Chinese expression states, we are facing lots of dangers but we also have new opportunities. 

How the 2020 Pandemic will inspire a new wave of minimalism

These unprecedented times will create economic hardship, but they will also enable us to reflect on our priorities and to re-evaluate our consumerist mindset. 

On this basis, here are 5 ways in which the current crisis will inspire a new wave of minimalism.

How The 2020 Pandemic Will Inspire a New Wave of Minimalism - featured - Shanghai skyline
Picture by Wei Zhu / Pixabay

Economic hardship 

Even the most optimistic forecasts predict a global recession in the coming months. 

In the US, unemployment numbers are at record heights and hundreds of thousands of businesses are fighting for survival. 

The long-term severity remains unpredictable but many more people will lose their jobs. 

Everyone will be affected in one way or another. 

Consequently, these times will force lots of people to live on a tighter budget. They will also lead to more deliberate spending habits

Frugality and minimalism are not the same, but they often go hand in hand. 

I believe that the current crisis will amplify both. 

People will start to live more frugally as a result of less disposable income. 

They will, on the other hand, also rethink their buying habits and adopt intentional consumption as a new mantra.

Minimalism is all about defining values and these are often the result of a reflective process. 

This is where a new wave of minimalism will emerge during people’s quarantine. 

Picture by Ameen Fahmy / Unsplash

For many people, the quarantine will be a time of reflection

Before the world ground to a halt, I had been on the road more or less constantly. 

From Singapore to Thailand, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay, Austria, and Bulgaria, 2019 had been a continuous globetrotting romp. 

Starting in March 2020, I was suddenly forced to remain in one place for months at a time. 

Not that I didn’t relish the pause – it was a refreshing break from non-stop travel, but it was mostly an opportunity to slow down and to reflect. 

As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one. During the quarantine, many people started to rethink their values and goals. 

Is this corporate ladder worth the climb? Shouldn’t I spend more time with my loved ones? How important is travel and adventure in my life? 

Reflection became an essential part of daily life and most people went on some kind of character journey. 

This is where minimalism will experience a new dawn. 

Minimalists question their values constantly – with or without a lockdown. 

This is why many of us have been coping better with isolation than most of society. We are used to embarking on personal development journeys. The 2020 Pandemic merely intensified our mindful living habits.

Now, a much larger part of society will hop on the personal growth train. People who previously had no interest in mindset development were forced to participate. 

People who lived in a work-bills-entertainment bubble now understand the meaning of mindfulness

In this context, the minimalist mindset will certainly receive new adherents. 

This doesn’t mean that everybody will adopt the same values. Quite the opposite. 

If you follow this blog, you know that I constantly highlight the variety of minimalist lifestyles. 

I believe that a few common minimalist principles can generate highly diverse results – all based on the idea of prioritization. 

This is where the quarantine will benefit minimalism as a culture. The culture will widen and more minimalist lifestyles will ensue. 

By and large, this will be a positive evolution for society. 

The junk in our homes becomes more visible

Let’s be honest. We’re all guilty of accumulating stuff without noticing. 

A new kitchen gadget here, a couple of video games there – and the junk rapidly piles up. 

This will probably change. Remote work has taken unprecedented proportions in 2020 and many people now spend more time than ever in their homes. 

This will lead to 2 realizations. 

First, people will start to recognize that they own too much. All those unnecessary clothes and memorabilia become much more visible as people spend more time in their homes. 

Sure, you can still fill a “junk room” with all the stuff you don’t need, but the more time you spend at home, the more you’ll become aware that your house is full of superfluous items. 

Secondly, we’ll need to clean more often and also want more organized homes. Because we spend most of our time indoors, we become more sensitive to the clutter in our living spaces. 

In this context, people will also come up with fresh ideas to spruce up their homes. More often than not, these ideas will incorporate minimalist elements and design features. 

This will lead to a new wave of minimalism in the areas of design and home organization.

How The 2020 Pandemic Will Inspire a New Wave of Minimalism - design and decluttering
Picture by Ian Dooley / Unsplash

Most people now understand the meaning of “prioritization”

It’s during times of crisis that the concept of “prioritization” comes to full fruition. 

When financial resources are scarce, we start to identify priorities and allocate our income accordingly. 

Financial prioritization is important, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle

The word “essential” is used frequently these days. We hear a lot about “essential services”, “essential workers”, and “essential goods”. 

Healthcare workers – who have been crying out for better conditions for many years – are finally considered “essential”. Supermarkets have become primordial lifelines for society, rather than mundane everyday structures. And finally, even Amazon had to prioritize. 

Consequently, every part of society now understands that priorities have to be set, both on an individual and a collective level. 

These priorities can change, but they always exist. 

The main takeaway here is the following: no matter what stage of life we’re in, we need priorities. 

For many people, minimalism will be the answer. 

Us minimalists have been preaching prioritization and essentialism – as in, focusing on essential activities and possessions in our lives – for decades. 

The rest of society now understands what we mean. 

How The 2020 Pandemic Will Inspire a New Wave of Minimalism - priorities
Picture by Stephen Leonardi / Unsplash

Excessive consumerism will take a hit

Economic hardship, intensified self-reflection, and new priorities will undoubtedly culminate in less consumerism. 

I am not saying that excessive consumerism will disappear in the 2020s. People will still buy useless junk and we will still be bombarded by generic ads. 

Many people will, however, come out of this crisis with a different mindset. 

Intentional consumption will become much more prevalent and buying habits will change. 

It’s impossible to predict which goods will become obsolete, but our consumption behavior will evolve, as it has done after every crisis. 

As an example, many so-called experts predicted the disappearance of big SUVs in the aftermath of the 2008 Crisis. 

This didn’t happen. As of today, the Ford F-150 is still the best-selling car in America. Small SUVs and crossovers like the VW Tiguan are among the most popular cars in Europe. 

And here lies the point. 

The 2008 Crisis didn’t kill off SUVs, but it changed their stature. 

Today’s Ford F-150 is still big and plucky, but more economical. 

10 years ago, there were very few small, priceworthy European SUVs. In 2020, every European carmaker sells at least one crossover model, from Peugeot to BMW, Seat, and Skoda. 

Many industries and businesses will reposition themselves over the coming years.

Will social media influencing continue in the same way? Will the travel industry change like it did after 9/11? Will fashionistas continue to spend ridiculous money on logos? 

All of these questions are impossible to answer right now. Consumer behavior might tilt into one or the other direction but one thing is for sure: there will be long-lasting change.

One aspect of this lasting change will be a new wave of minimalism. 

Final thoughts 

To end on a positive note, here’s an ode to change

Throughout our existence, humanity has thrived thanks to change. Every crisis led to spearheading innovation and many devastating downturns were followed by even bigger booms. 

The 2020 Pandemic is often compared to the Spanish Flu. 

Here’s an analogy for you: the Spanish Flu preceded the roaring 1920s. This was a time when the “parties were bigger”, the “buildings were higher”, the “morals were looser”, and the “liquor was cheaper”.  

What kind of story will be written by a modern-day F. S. Fitzgerald in the 2020s? 

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