“Less is more”: Everywhere we hear the mantra. Marie Kondo and other decluttering gurus promise that shedding our stuff will solve our problems. We commit to cleanse diets and strive for inbox zero. Amid the frantic pace and distraction of everyday life, we covet silence-and airy, Instagrammable spaces in which to enjoy it. The popular term for this brand of upscale austerity, “minimalism,” has mostly come to stand for things to buy and consume. But minimalism has richer, deeper, and altogether more valuable gifts to offer.
Kyle Chayka is one of our sharpest cultural observers. After spending years covering minimalist trends for leading publications, he now delves beneath this lifestyle's glossy surface, seeking better ways to claim the time and space we crave. He shows that our longing for less goes back further than we realize. His search leads him to the philosophical and spiritual origins of minimalism, and to the stories of artists such as Agnes Martin and Donald Judd; composers such as John Cage and Julius Eastman; architects and designers; visionaries and misfits. As Chayka looks anew at their extraordinary lives and explores the places where they worked—from Manhattan lofts to the Texas high desert and the back alleys of Kyoto—he reminds us that what we most require is presence, not absence. The result is an elegant new synthesis of our minimalist desires and our profound emotional needs.
“Delving into art, architecture, music and philosophy, [Chayka] wants to learn why the idea of 'less is more' keeps resurfacing . . . For Chayka, Kondo's method clearly doesn't spark joy. More generative for him are the examples of artists who became known as Minimalists even as they disavowed the term. Experiencing their work sharpens his senses; in place of the dull hum of overstimulation, Chayka gains a heightened existential awareness . . . The minimalism that Chayka seeks encourages not an escape from the world but a deeper engagement with it.”—The New York Times
"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)