The Meaning of Minimalism

Going beyond its glossy lifestyle image to the existentialism at its heart

The interior of Philip Johnson's Glass House (Flickr/world3)
The interior of Philip Johnson's Glass House (Flickr/world3)

Everywhere, all the time, it seems like we’re being sold on the idea that getting rid of things will solve our problems—from the life-changing magic of Marie Kondo to the streamlining of all those DVDs into digital subscriptions—and it’s all being sold under the label of minimalism. In his new book, The Longing for Less, Kyle Chayka criticizes this trend as a kind of upscale austerity designed to get you to buy and consume things. Maybe fewer things, but things nonetheless. Have we lost the true meaning of minimalism? Chayka takes readers through a history of art, design, and philosophy that goes much further back than the 1960s work of Agnes Martin, Donald Judd, and John Cage, to show that maybe the most meaningful part of “minimalism” is the search for meaning. Chayka has written for The New York Times Magazine, n+1, and The Paris Review, and he joins us in the studio to offer up a brand of minimalism that won’t bankrupt you, emotionally or financially.

Go beyond the episode:

Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.

SubscribeiTunes • Feedburner • Stitcher • Google Play • Acast

Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


Please enter a valid email address
That address is already in use
The security code entered was incorrect
Thanks for signing up