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The Longing for Less: Living with Minimalism

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  518 ratings  ·  85 reviews
"More than just a story of an abiding cultural preoccupation, The Longing For Less peels back the commodified husk of minimalism to reveal something surprising and thoroughly alive." -Jenny Odell, author of How to Do Nothing

"Thoughtful and absorbing . . . A superb outing from a gifted young critic that will spark joy in many readers." - Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Hardcover, 272 pages
Published January 21st 2020 by Bloomsbury Publishing
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D.  St. Germain
Mar 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Longing for Less: Living with Minimalism by Kyle Chaka explores the various meanings the word “minimalism” takes and has taken over time. As he notes, “When a word or style is everywhere, it tends to lose its original meaning. There are more than thirteen million posts tagged with #minimalism on Instagram and around ten new images appear every minute…..Shots of the blue sky pockmarked with clouds are categorized as minimalist, as are line-drawing tattoos, wrinkled bedsheets, folded clothing, ...more
Mar 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing

I’m always somewhat bemused when something from my adopted homeland here in Japan breaks through in America. There was the ramen craze a few years ago (is this still happening?), and now we have Marie Kondo and her relentless tidiness in the name of minimalism.
I do not begrudge Kondo her business empire which sells copious amounts of “things” to people she tells to not collect “things”. Perhaps her “things” spark joy more than our “things”. These things in truth are beyond my cluttered brain
Emily Carlin
Mar 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Not bad, just not what I wanted it to be. I wanted an in-depth critique of the ways in which “minimalism” as a concept has been commodified. It started off strong, but then turned into 90% art criticism, which all fell kind of flat for me — prob my failing, not the book’s.

One thing that bugged me: How condescending the author is towards contemporary minimalism, the kind popularized by podcasts and subreddits, and which may be adopted by people who may have never heard of Donald Judd (...the hor
Feb 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Longing for Less is a fascinating exploration of the concept of minimalism - its current appeal, its impact on society, and its historic roots in the visual arts, music, literature, and design. The book feels like a thoughtful conversation with a friend over coffee, colloquial and natural. It takes the reader around the globe and through different eras to explore the unexpected development of minimalism as a force to be considered. It takes every notion we might have gleaned about minimalism ...more
Victoria Chen
tl;dr - I could've googled for historical ascetes rather than read this compilation.

Several chapters in, it was still unclear to me what point the author was trying to make. At times he seemed moralistically condescending toward modern minimalism, yet I wasn't sure whether he was trying to argue that previous minimalism movements were more substantial, or whether they were all insubstantial??? I didn't dislike the short anecdotes on various historical figures who were proponents of some form of
Annie Wilson
Feb 10, 2020 rated it liked it
This book started off super strong, and I was interested in it as what I thought would be an interesting historical/sociological analysis of minimalism, but halfway through it unravels into a collection of (ironically) curated profiles of artists and figures that appear selected because they each support the author’s somewhat esoteric message - indeed, the book seems to deliberately ignore many key figures in the history of minimalism (both in and outside of art) that would contradict the author ...more
May 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Initial half took as much as a cursory glance at commodified minimalism. The rest was a poorly connected tracing of the movement’s history and preceding aesthetic/music/architecture schools. The author ends up making a shoddy argument for minimalism at the end of the isolationism sort. Not very critical in its scrutiny of minimalism and reads more like a history book, albeit poorly assembled.
Chunyang Ding
Jul 06, 2020 rated it liked it
For a book about minimalism, Chayka could have done with a few dozen fewer pages. Although he presents a very solid argument - that this current zeitgeist of trendy minimalism is rooted in many thoughtful, preexisting traditions - the way that he presents his case is often insufferable.

To start, there is no attempt to hide the author from the pages. Much of the explanation of minimalist artwork is from his particular perspective, which he also proceeds to dissect for you, the reader. In several
Jul 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title makes it sound like a self-help book, but this is more of an exploration of minimalism and the culture surrounding it through different lenses: the commodification of minimalism and the Marie Kondo craze; minimalism in art; minimalism in music; Japanese culture and minimalism.

It was cool to learn about Donald Judd, Marfa, Julius Eastman, Iki and some other stuff I wrote down. Supposedly the physical book has some interesting design aspects to it, but I'll have to wait until after the p
Nov 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: amazon-reviewed
The Longing for Less by Kyle Chayka is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in mid-November.

The concept of resisting a tendency to become overly ornate and hang on to unimportant things, and, instead, to really mull over what you need in your life. Chayka profiles people within the Minimalist lifestyle movement about modernist design, refuge spaces from noise, as well as meditative activities and tasks to make this seem more like a journalism series compiled together, but not quite making the prop
Feb 05, 2020 rated it did not like it
Overall I think this book is somewhat muddled. I don't think Chayka does a good job tying together the current personal enrichment form of minimalism with various strands of art trends that have been labeled minimalism. This might be more appealing if you're interested in art criticism, but I found Chayka's criticism mostly uninteresting. ...more
Sep 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Wanted to like this one a lot more than I did.

I've followed Chayka since reading his prophetic article 'Welcome to Airspace' back in 2016. It, alongside others such as 'Reign, Supreme' and 'How Tech is Remaking Fashion in its Image' has shown him to be one of the sharpest millennial cultural critics out there, potentially on the level of essayist Jia Tolentino (in a very 2020 crossover episode, she reviews The Longing for Less for The New Yorker). Naturally, I was excited to see what he'd writte
Jun 01, 2020 marked it as tried-and-failed
He knows a lot about art. He wants you to know he knows a lot about art. He wants to discuss it in the most joyless way possible. Life is too short.
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
A different look at minimalism - looking at examples through the years up until now. More of own story and of others. Not a step by step of decluttering.
Mar 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: culture
Chayka's Minimalism: the appreciation of things for and in themselves, and the removal of barriers between the self and the world (46)

This book is not really about how to help *you* long for less, but rather, it's a (quite esoteric) meditation/analysis of how *other* minimalists in art, architecture, music, philosophy, and literature have approached the mindset. I did many internet deep dives on the (numerous) topics I was unfamiliar with.

I wanted a bit more contextualizing on why and how minim
Apr 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very informative undertaking that highlights Minimalism as a movement, theory, way of seeing and way of seeking the world and meaning therein. This was not necessarily the book I set out to read on the modern form of minimalist living in relation to our possessions, but rather the superstructure underneath that which questions the very nature of the modern presentation of minimalism.

I learned a lot and I'm very glad I read. I'm also grateful to Chayka for tackling a series of difficult and ab
Yannick Schutz
Feb 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
A few good portraits.
I came for the minimalism, stayed for the stories.
I laughed and enjoyed the historical touches.

I don’t think I like the almost condescending tone it can come around for current minimalists but I definitively liked the lesson on the sources of this movement.
Andrew Sampson
May 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
i've got a blank space baby, and i'll write your name ...more
Nikhil Sethi
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Chayka took me on vacation around the world, explaining wonderful pieces of art, the underlying philosophy, and his personal experience understanding it.

I loved it all and just wish I could read a fully personal work by Chayka. A truly gifted writer.
Dec 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-books
Really fascinating little book. It started with why minimalism is such a big trend and how it's actually the perfect trend for capitalism - you can go to any coffee shop or hotel and they'll all be more or less the same... And it then explored minimalism in art and music more specifically. Some chapters felt a bit long and slightly repetitive, but it reads like a long, long Guardian essay (which I think is a good thing). Very enjoyable and informative. ...more
Danie DesJardins
Dec 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
While a bit harsh at times, even if deserved, this book draws correlations between art movements, lesser known classical musicians and architects who changed the face of a city in the hunt for 'what is minimilism'. Giving some food for thought on intention, as well as impact for anyone thinking of considering a minimalistic life- and urges you to go beyond the trendy, white washed, sharp edged "minimalism" that might spring to mind. ...more
Aug 06, 2020 rated it liked it
I'm new to this genre and looking forward to reading more about the intersection of aesthetic and philosophy. The ideas in this book were well presented and I now have several books I would like to read. However, there were some sections of this book that felt uncomfortably sentimental in such a florid navel-gazing way that I was surprised that an editor hadn't removed it -- can't tell if it was just whiplash moving from section to section or if I was just expecting more detachment in a book abo ...more
Oct 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
I've been interested in minimalism for a long time, and I thought this was interesting. It's essentially a journalist's view of the history and trends associated with it. He also includes literature, architecture, and much more. The author is smart and observant and intelligent. Don't get this if you're looking for how-tos. If you're seeking perspective, history, and trends, and ways to think about the topic, this is a good resource.

I really appreciate the NetGalley advanced copy for review!!
Aug 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Emily Fu
Dec 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: visual-art
I liked this book. It's good cultural criticism.

Chayka starts by describing his ambivalence towards modern-day, commercial minimalism (embodied by Marie Kondo, Instagram memes and self-help books etc.). Chayka hits the nail on the head when he reads people's urge to reduce consumption as a way for them to feel more stable in precarious times. Chayka writes, "Minimalism is thus a kind of last resort. When we can’t control our material security or life path, the only possibility left is to lower
Dec 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
“What the Stoics, Francis, and Thoreau have in common is a strategy of avoidance, especially in moments when society feels chaotic or catastrophic. It’s a coping mechanism for those who want to fix or improve the status quo instead of overturning it. Its orientation is toward survival. The minimalist is committed to the protective cultivation of the self in difficult situations […] yet the withdrawal is paradoxical. The minimalist is ultimately a pragmatist who has to reconcile the desire for a ...more
Dec 31, 2020 rated it liked it
An exploration of minimalism that is not a how-to book nor a thorough dive into the recent history of the movement. The title sets up the expectation for either of those takes on the topic, but what we get is at first a brief cynical take on the recent minimalism movement in all of its commodified manifestations, and then a lengthy and dry exploration of minimalism's intellectual history that feels like it is missing out on the other aspects of the movement's history.

The author is cynical about
Luke Stacks
Apr 11, 2020 rated it liked it
A nicely designed book with smooth writing and a clear thesis about minimalism that I'm mainly on board with. Chayka argues against minimalism's current manifestation as luxury style, in favor of a minimalism whose purpose is not to make life simpler or less cluttered but provoke a sometimes-thorny engagement with everyday life. This form of minimalism is expressed mainly through artists such as Agnes Martin, Donald Judd, and John Cage.

Chayka does a good job making room for critique of the arti
Charlotta Liukas
Four essays on minimalism, from what the author calls “the bland facade of popular minimalism today” to music, art and architecture, and philosophy. A strong New England and male bend, though the author does visit Marfa, Texas, Kyoto and Tokyo too during his travels, and highlights a few more diverse historical figures, especially in the segments on Japan. It feels like the author had a clever idea, how the term minimalism today differs from its previous uses, and run with it in many directions. ...more
Antonio Delgado
Oct 16, 2020 rated it liked it
A good introduction to minimalism without the intention to include it all. After a rocky first part, in which many tendencies for what define minimalism and its paradoxes are explore, the second part arrives as the strongest, maybe because visual arts and architecture provide with a better understanding since we often long for material goods. The third part, on silence, delves into the obvious composer. Even though it does not add anything new to what we know about John Cage, it makes is fresh t ...more
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