Why is minimalism so damn bright white?

This is an image of one of my favorite minimalist Instagram accounts that I follow, @maraserene. I love it. But SO WHITE! (Photo by Mother Mag)
This is an image of one of my favorite minimalist Instagram accounts that I follow, @maraserene. I love it. But SO WHITE! (Photo by Mother Mag)

We got this question from one of our readers…

I'm very excited to be embarking on a journey towards simplicity. A lot of my goals are around decluttering my home, preparing to move in with my partner, downsizing my possessions, simplifying and de-busying my life, and being more deliberate with my finances.

I've been reading a lot more blogs about simplicity and minimalism when it comes to fashion, wardrobes and homes. And a commonality that I keep seeing is white, black and neutrals.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good black and white, especially in fashion. It's classy and clean. But I am a vibrant and colorful person, and I need that in my home!

Why is every single blog about minimalism and decluttering seem to think people want a pristine white decor?

Where are my minimalists that love color and creativity? Clean surfaces and fewer items, a streamlined closet, everything in its place; but with vivid design, textures and maybe a vintage feel? Looking for bloggers, instagrams, podcasts, anything!

Anyone help a girl out? –Ruth

Man, I love this question. I've had the same thought too. And I'm also SUPER guilty of being the color-freak who turned to a neutral color palate when I went minimalist. Check this out…

Yup, that's my before and after. I used to mix subdued greens and whites with dark blues and pops of bright orange. And now… Is there a beige on white on brown color scheme? I'll take it, plus maybe add some light grey.

The primary purpose for white color pallets when you're first de-cluttering is that clutter stands out against the white, thereby alerting you to it. It's taught me to be a lot cleaner in my daily life. But now that I've made it a habit, I too am ready to bring in more colors. Something like these from @thesharkclub_ on Instagram…

Colourful Minimalism

A post shared by The Shark Club (@thesharkclub_) on

Colourful Minimalism

A post shared by The Shark Club (@thesharkclub_) on

Green and Pink

A post shared by The Shark Club (@thesharkclub_) on

The Design Files Open House 2012 @thedesignfiles

A post shared by The Shark Club (@thesharkclub_) on

HEY, HOMIES: What do you recommend as far as bloggers, Instagram accounts, Pinterest boards, etc., for colorful minimalism?

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  1. It's noticeable that minimalist kitchens are more likely to be brightly coloured than other rooms – you can combine almost any two colours for surfaces and cupboards as long as least one of them is super shiny, as far as the minimalist aesthetic seems to go! I think maybe the shininess performs the same function as white in other rooms – it makes clutter stand out. So if you want bold colour in other rooms, look for something shiny.

    1 agrees
  2. I love all-white, but I can't be trusted with white textiles. Or clothes. I'm a mess. I think minimalists default to neutrals in their wardrobe because they're more versatile so you can own fewer things without it being obvious that you wear the same pink shirt every week, or without worrying about whether or not everything will match everything else, etc. But in homes? No idea.

    8 agree
  3. I love this question and I love the examples of colorful minimalism brought up as inspiration!
    I'm glad to see a separation of the minimalist lifestyle (which I love!) from the minimalist aesthetic (not for me). A few weeks ago I binge read a bunch of minimalist lifestyle blogs when I found the "minimalist" reddit. The whole reddit was a celebration of monochrome landscape photography and lofts with designer furniture – really into the all white aesthetic. There was a thread asking "Do you have to be rich to be minimalist?" and the responses said yes – that poor people HAD to hoard clutter and buy cheap disposable clothes. One person said "Minimalism isn't glamorous when you're poor." The mindset of that community was just WAY off base to me. Seriously?? It's not supposed to be glamorous, it's supposed to be practical and good for you. Anyone can benefit from it imho. Minimalism in practice will look like different things for different people depending on taste and lifestyle. These colorful looks prove it 🙂

    12 agree
    • I do think there is an argument that minimalism is harder to access if you're poor. Being able to afford high quality and long lasting pieces of furniture (or clothes, or books, or toys, or food) requires an income level that gives you scope to save up for them, which a lot of people simply don't have. If you're living paycheck to paycheck when someone breaks or wears out you replace it with the most affordable option, which then wears out as well – you end up spending more money on cheap items than you would on a single expensive purchase. You're trapped in a cycle where you can never afford to save up for the expensive item because the cheap ones keep wearing out.

      Equally, you are more likely to hang on to worn items to get full use out of them, so instead of having, say, one nice winter coat you wear all the time, you've got a decent winter coat you only wear for special occasions so it doesn't get tatty, a winter coat with ripped lining you use for occasions where you can get away without taking it off, a winter coat without buttons you layer over a jacket for really cold days, a winter coat with stains you use for gardening… Each old coat has been replaced when a special occasion arose and it became apparent the old one wouldn't do, and has been kept in order to preserve the new coat, but because all of the coats are cheap none of them last a full winter so you just end up stockpiling them.

      There are definitely ways to approach minimalism on a budget (second hand is king!) but I think there's a reason it's treated as an aspirational lifestyle rather than a practical one, despite its benefits.

      TL:DR – I have too many winter coats to be minimalist, because I can't afford an expensive one.

      23 agree
      • I totally get that! Getting by with the fewest number of things is certainly a luxury, no argument from me. But I don't read that as the only definition of minimalist.

        My interpretation is that it's not the number of things you have (like no more than one winter coat) that makes you minimalist, but whether you have "no more than what you need". Corollary: it doesn't make sense to have less than what you need either.

        For example, if you have eight winter coats and only wear two and the other six are torn, mildewy and unwearable, you have too many coats. If you have eight winter coats and they all have different purposes and you use them all, that's not too many. That's how many you need for your lifestyle. These conversations always come up around capsule wardrobes – people with a corporate dress code who live in 4 season climates and like hiking as much as they like attending the opera will NEED a larger wardrobe than freelance, work-from-home web designers in LA. Anyone who owns things can benefit from reflecting on whether or not they use and need them. Sometimes that answer is "yes" for a lot of things, and that doesn't mean you haven't been thoughtfully curating what you own.

        That's my hippie-dippie, "everyone is welcome!" approach to it, anyhow.

        21 agree
    • Yikes, that reddit sounds way off base with the 'spirit' of minimalism as I understand it. Though as someone below posted, there is a privilege to pursuing minimalism.

      1 agrees
  4. Following the comment discussion! I'm newly into minimalism but I need color in my life so I'm interested to see if anyone has any additional blogs/Instagrams/etc. to suggest 🙂

    2 agree
  5. Interesting question. White has this so-called timelessness about it. You could be a minimalist and paint your home bright red, it will look dated at some point. I assume white might seem dated itself some years down the road ("oh darling, white, really? that's so 2010s minimalist-chic!") but right now, it embodies something out of time and trends, which fits perfectly with the minimalist essence: buying things that will last.
    One commenter brought class issues and it's very relevant. Just as in the old days, only rich people could afford white clothes because either they didn't stain them by working out in the dirt or didn't care to pay to clean them, a white home also has an opulent feeling. Perfectly insane if you have kids or dogs, but it still exudes LUXURY, which a lot of people are striving to.

    8 agree
    • Good point about the luxury. White also embodies a sense of CLEAN. If you live in an old s**tty apartment like me, and someone did a crappy job redoing the tub, it's about as far from white as you can get.

      7 agree
    • Isn't there a contradiction between seeking something timeless that will last and seeking something that's high maintenance and easily stained? …says someone who's not that into white. But it does look luxurious AF.

      Additional random thought: Rented places usually have white walls that you're not allowed to paint. I'd bet there's a high correlation between renters and minimalists (young, single, moving a lot). One way to make white walls seem intentional rather than restrictive is to decorate all in white.

      7 agree
      • I think you're right. I've heard some minimalists talk about how embracing the (previously hated) white walls of a rental as part of the design as a way of making good in a space that is less then perfect for you.

        But man, I have cats. White is no good. Lol

        4 agree
  6. Minimalism can be whatever you want it to be, since the basic concept is to live simpler and freer (or at least that's what I've taken from it). I think the white aesthetic crops up often since it can make small spaces feel bigger and cleaner, since Minimalists tend to try to live in smaller homes. I know for us, going with a mostly white palette for our small kitchen made a HUGE difference. The small dark room suddenly feel so much bigger, since the light bounces off the white cabinets, and went from a room I did not enjoy and never felt clean, to my favorite room in the house. I'm just getting into minimalism now, though being sentimental, I call it minimalism-ish since I'll never be able to get rid of everything lol.

    4 agree
  7. I wouldn't classify it as "minimalism" but I'm definitely trying to keep our new home free of clutter. I'm facing an uphill battle because my ILs love to give gifts that are useless, or duplicates, or meant for display purposes. Example, we have been given no less than five sets of coasters by my ILs. FIVE! I didn't come from a coaster using household so they are literally never used for their intended purpose but instead just sit around taking up space because I think my husband feels compelled to keep/display them since they were a gift. But I digress…
    However, I despise white. I will never have white furniture, white carpets, white clothing, or especially white walls. The house that we just bought in October has all white walls and I'm steadily working on bringing some life and color into them. I find white to be very boring, sterile and cold. I want my space to be interesting, inviting, and cozy. If white is your aesthetic that's awesome and I really admire and envy your ability to keep it looking good (I'm too much of a klutz for that), but I agree that too often minimalism = white and that's just not for everyone.

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