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Living With LESS: A Film On How Gen Z Is Redefining Minimalism

By Maya Penn

“I think the decision that this generation needs to make is how can we integrate technology into our daily lives without it becoming a problem.” So says 20-year old Devin Gilmartin, one of the two subjects of focus of LESS, the film.

The film was created by 16-year old filmmaker and co-founder of Gingerline Productions Isabelle Levent. Her documentary LESS tackles a myriad of subjects orbiting the theme of minimalism, including fear of missing out, attachment to material items, living with less, social media and tech toxicity, consumerism and more.

The story is told through Devin, who’s the co-founder of sustainable fashion brand Querencia Studio, and 23-year old Emma Ferrer, a model, artist, poet, and the granddaughter of Audrey Hepburn. Both are members of Generation Z, a generation that’s been dubbed the iGeneration, Gen Tech, Digital Natives, and so on. But when taking a look beyond the labels, you may start to notice a unique trend among the young people who comprise this group.

According to a study by US marketing firm Hill Holliday of Generation Z — half of those surveyed stated they had quit or were considering quitting at least one social media platform. This is one of many studies done on the subject of teen social media detox, and the results often find that today’s generation of youth are making an effort to swim upstream in a way, with the aim of breaking free of the tidal wave of information that floods through the lives of the majority of humankind.

But social media is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle. How can we live minimally in a world that tells us to always want more? The truth is, an overabundance of clutter – be it physical, mental and technological – could be holding us back from what it truly means to thrive.

I got an opportunity to interview both Devin and Emma on the themes of Isabelle’s film and how they’re living with less.

Living With LESS
How would you sum up your experience of living with less in 3 words?

Devin: I would define the experience as living ‘without more’ rather than ‘with less.’ In 3 words, that lack of excess is summarized by efficiency, purpose and clarity.”

Emma: “Constantly needs re-evaluation.”

It seems like with every new generation there’s an emphasis on “more”, but to me the reality is that this competitive consumerist narrative is sparking a growing shift to “less” lead by generations like Gen Z. Do you agree?

Devin: I think we are seeing both narratives emerging at the same time. They are reactions to a growing awareness of the issues we face. The emphasis on “more” is in favor of the status quo. Companies are adopting new approaches in marketing in order to blend into and capitalize on social movements. This should not be mistaken for genuine care for the issues. The evolving shift to “less” will inevitably and naturally conquer these as true intentions emerge and those who are sincerely determined to problem solve invent innovative solutions that change industries permanently.

Emma: I do agree. I think that whenever there’s a movement among the masses that proves to have a series of consequences on the collective and individual psyches of people, there will almost always be a backlash, or counter-reaction of some sort. I think that especially when we’re speaking of mechanisms that tend to dull the more classically ‘human’ instincts, ie sociability skills, intimacy, individuality, and privacy, as we are seeing with social media and even with news culture, certain individuals feel and react to the friction and emotional dysbiosis that this causes within our minds and spirits.

Living With LESS

A largely discussed topic is “unplugging” from social media. Why do you think this is becoming more common with Gen Z?

Devin: Keeping up with the happenings of one’s own life, and then leaving adequate time to process those events and feelings, is vital. We are consistently overstimulated, and breaks from this, or “unplugging,” can be the solution. We have come to rely on devices for storing our information, correspondence, and memories. We’ve essentially outsourced many important pieces to developing purpose in life to little robots in our pocket. By “unplugging,” we return to our natural state, albeit temporarily.

Emma: I think this has to do with what I laid out in my last answer, in terms of spiritual imbalances that can manifest as depression, lack of fulfillment, restlessness, physical, mental, and emotional illness, as well as feelings of emptiness within people. People are starting to notice that sometimes they’re not all that present, and that this could have something to do with social media. But I also think that people are waking up in a huge and powerful way to the negative effects social media has on focus, concentration, discipline, productivity, and the capacity for self-acceptance and self-love. For me one of, if not the most toxic aspect of social media is the constant comparison that takes place and the lowered feelings of self esteem that occur as a result.

What would you describe as the symptoms of needing less? What would be the hints for young adults that they may need to look into a more minimalist lifestyle?

Devin: I felt clouded in many ways before building a personal framework for knowing when I’ve used too much technology and for understanding how to deal with that issue of screen time. Everyone uses technology differently. I felt I needed to make a change and that feeling is the greatest indicator. When daily goals are hindered and delayed because of a reliance on technology, perhaps it is time to self assess.

Emma: I think that the first and most obvious sign would be clutter. Like Devin pointed out in the documentary, I think that once people realize the effects that physical clutter has on mental clarity and organization of our thoughts and ideas, and how one is even a consequence of the other, people might start working towards living with less.
Other signs of a need for less could be objects or clothes that are never used, but held on to ‘just in case’. In my own personal experience this has had the potential to show me that I’m holding on to unrealistic ideas about how my life ‘could’ or ‘should’ be, but is not.

Then there’s how we feel about the spaces that we inhabit. How many actual physical spaces in our home, workspace, our outdoor space do we have where we can, and actually want to, spend quality time? Where we can sprawl out, sit down, crouch down, lie down, or spread our elbows out, and feel free and unencumbered? Are we constantly maneuvering things and remnants?

Do you think this way of life will become the norm?

Devin: Certainly for those who are looking to cope with the chaos of modern life in a highly productive way but then again, there is a point at which too much withdrawal could be harmful. The reality of our society is that technology and automation will play larger and larger roles in our daily lives. We must strike a balance in how we manage this transition.
The answer cannot be to drop everything and never engage with these tools. In many ways, they are useful. It is a matter of self moderation.

Emma: I think there will always be people who over-identify with material objects and items. I actually have no idea what the future of minimalism looks like, and guess I try not to get too caught up with future-oriented thinking like that; thinking that depends upon other people’s adoption of minimalist ideas. For me, it has served me greatly and carved out much-needed emotional, mental, creative, and physical space, but I am also completely open to the notion that this way of living could not be the same for everyone else. I think everyone’s got to find their own path when it comes to lifestyle.

Living With LESS

For those reading that want to get on a more conscious, and minimalist path in their lives, what are some ways they can get started?

Devin: Observe the world. It’s a fascinating place. There is always another person to meet, language to understand, neighborhood to walk through. Engaging with subjects that can build curiosity and further exploration is so important. To be conscious is to be aware of what is in front of us, to appreciate it for what it is, and to make use of it. We’re on a pale blue dot and we have limited time. We have to look at the bigger picture, not just the tiny rectangle on our screens, in order to find meaning and purpose.

Emma: One huge benefit of living with less that I would invite people to consider is the joy of always knowing where everything is. I would encourage those who are curious or intrigued to ask themselves whether or not they can enjoy that earned privilege.
For starters, not having repeat objects is key. For example, in our home, we have a drawer where we keep pens, and not an unlimited supply. We have a drawer where we know the screwdriver lives. Our clothes always go into the same hamper, and we organize our clothes into drawers by category. Shoes stay on the landing outside of the main living area, and we rarely ever bring them into the house. Chargers live by the charging dock. So on, and so forth.

When my boyfriend and I moved in together, each of us got rid of a series of objects that we found were repeats between the two of us. Laying out every article of clothing that I own and ruthlessly separating into ‘need/keep’ and ‘don’t need/donate or sell piles’ is something I do almost on a monthly basis. My wardrobe is a living, breathing, and constantly evolving organism.
Another thing that is so, so paramount to my ‘less’ mentality, is rigorously getting rid of paper items that aren’t absolutely essential to keep hard copies of. With online banking, I almost never keep a paper receipt unless it’s something I need reimbursed by an employer (even then, sometimes e-statements suffice). Handouts, bills, tags, warranties, contracts, etc all fall into this category, among others. That’s definitely a starting point. After that, always checking in and re- evaluating is how maintenance and betterment is achieved.

Living With LESS

What 3 things would make our society better?

Devin: On a political level, I would advocate for more understanding. So much of what opposing political parties have come to think of the other is based on a lack of dialogue. On a social level, I would say openness to new ideas and meeting new people. Never has it been easier to communicate and yet we build barriers and roadblocks for doing so effectively. On a personal level, I hope individuals find methods of honest self assessment amidst the constant stream of nonsense thrown at us each and every day. Much of it is a distraction.

Emma: 1. Public and free health care 2. better education for the lower class 3. prison reform centered around rehabilitation and education opportunities for inmates 4. (bonus) – girls not feeling shitty about themselves and/or their bodies.

What do you hope people will come away with after watching LESS and hearing your personal journeys?

Devin: My hope is that its biggest impact is in showing people, especially young people like us, that they are not alone in trying to figure this out. The world is transforming before our eyes and in order to accommodate these changes, we have to realize the answer won’t always be to speed up with it. Slowing down, sifting through the elements of our lives and determining what is most essential, that is where we must focus our efforts. I have said before that this is no guide on how to deal with this new world. We are in uncharted territory. What an exciting time this is, though, and I remain absolutely optimistic that as our ability to create and change the world accelerates, so will our understanding of ourselves.

Emma: That living with less isn’t only about how we live our material lives. It’s about how our material and physical lives reflect and can bolster our spiritual and mental lives.

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