The Pursuit of Health, Wealth, and Well-being Through Minimalist Consumption

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2020

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Abstract

Material consumption has increased exponentially in recent decades, establishing most American consumers today as the most materially wealthy humans in history. But what is all of our stuff really buying us? Despite our material wealth, Americans suffer from many poverties and illnesses that seem to be exacerbated rather than alleviated by our culture of consumerism. Even more clear is the threat that our consumption behavior poses to the environment. In seeking solutions to overconsumption, interest in minimalism as a lifestyle has rapidly expanded over the past decade. Given a lack of academic research on this topic, the current work relies on four datasets using quantitative surveys (total N = 1,117) and in-depth qualitative interviews (N = 30 minimalists) to explore the following questions: what does it mean to practice minimalism, what motivates people to adopt minimalism, and what impacts do people report experiencing as a result of practicing minimalism? I find that minimalism is a practice of centering one's values and intentionally allocating and cultivating one's resources across a variety of domains. By investing one’s time, money, attention, energy, and space into that which is most valued and divesting from that which is not, minimalists seek to maximize value and minimize costs. As a result, I suggest that minimalism is a consumption orientation and practice that is value-driven and resource-building. I find that minimalist consumers often adopt minimalism during periods of significant change and transition and are primarily motivated by a desire to reduce stress and increase their psychological well-being. Minimalists report a high number of benefits from practicing minimalism, including increased financial security, improved psychological well-being, less stress, more free time, fewer distractions, and a greater sense of control. In conceptualizing minimalism more broadly, I adapt and extend Antonovsky’s theory of salutogenesis (1979, 1987) to argue that minimalism can be viewed as a case of a salutogenic (vs. pathogenic) consumption orientation – that is, consumption that is focused on building well-being through the active cultivation of valued resources (as compared to consumption that threatens well-being and depletes valued resources). I conclude that minimalism is a promising pathway to greater individual well-being with positive second-order environmental effects.

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Chabot, Aimee (2020). The Pursuit of Health, Wealth, and Well-being Through Minimalist Consumption. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/22136.

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