Well Made

Ep. 110 Longing for Less with Kyle Chayka

February 26, 2020 · RSS · Apple Podcasts

While it feels like a new trend, minimalism takes a new form every couple decades. Writer Kyle Chayka has studied minimalism's many iterations over time and he argues that our modern interpretation — one that's rooted so deeply in aesthetics — is as far as we've ever been from true minimalism. 

In his first book, The Longing for Less, Kyle is on a quest to illuminate the origins of minimalism. He critiques various modern interpretations including the Marie Kondo methodology, the Wirecutter-top-pick purchases, and the sharing economy. These new philosophies and practices can all be part of a minimalist life, but Kyle believes that to be true and lasting, minimalism should be rooted in supply chain — in simplifying the steps between an item being made and an item being purchased. 

On this episode, Kyle and Stephan weave their way through minimalism through the lens of stoicism, Marxism, and Bauhaus. They discuss how these movements reinterpreted minimalism within constraints of the time, and how our time of "simplified" technology puts us as far from minimalism as we've ever been.

“It’s easy to feel like a minimalist when you can order food, summon a car, or rent a room using a single brick of steel and silicon. But it’s really the opposite. We’re taking advantage of a maximalist assemblage. Just because something looks simple doesn’t mean it is.”

Kyle and Stephan start at the beginning, exploring our current definition of minimalism. Then, Kyle talks about how he found his footing and navigated his way to his current perspectives on minimalism (4:37). Kyle reflects on minimalism through a Marxist lens (17:28), then brings it back to 2020 with a deep dive into the complexity of the sharing economy that's hidden beneath the surface of a "minimal" app (21:30).

They start tracking consumerism back through the supply chain, discussing how Bauhaus style was defined by the capabilities of mass production (35:20). Production limitations can easily be masked as minimalism. Kyle and Stephan discuss the temporary role of hero and halo products as the end-all-be-all thing — until the next thing (35:20). Kyle dives into his minimalism methodology: a desire to be closer to the root of things and a whittling down of the 300,000 items that every American has in their home. They wrap things up by reflecting on Rem Koolhaas's theories on generecism at the detriment of city cultures and hyperglobalization as the impetus for monocultures (42:51).


Also mentioned in this episode: 


You can find this and all future episodes on iTunes, Google Play, and here on the Lumi blog. This episode was edited by Evan Goodchild.

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