Adopting a minimalist lifestyle

Omneya Yousry, Tuesday 4 Jan 2022

Minimalist lifestyles are becoming increasingly popular on Egyptian social media platforms thanks to the minimalist hub group and its creators

Design by Hafez
Design by Hafez

In the middle of the crowd where every other social media group is calling out to people to buy more things and making a big loud shout of “you don’t have enough stuff,” Egypt’s minimalist hub Facebook group is inviting people to give up their spending habits.

Because a new year always brings brand-new beginnings, the minimalist hub has encouraged its members to take part in an exciting challenge: to cut out all the useless items in their homes even before 2022 properly begins.

Aalaa Hafez, a 33-year-old minimalist architect and interior designer, and Abdel-Rahman Ata, a 42-year-old minimalist coach and direct-to-the-consumer director, are the parents of six-year-old twin girls, and they have built the minimalist hub community together. 

“Our purpose is to disrupt the current social pattern of consumption that has no regard for actual needs and make it a less-driven social pattern with a big focus on sustainability and spending on what matters to each individual and not on what society is imposing on us,” Hafez said. 

“This purpose is translated into a minimalist lifestyle, something which is relatively new to our culture that has always confused spending more with happiness, owning fancy objects with being rich and being simple with not being socially attractive. As minimalists, we are trying to reduce waste in many ways, encouraging the sharing of resources from carpooling to book-sharing to second-hand product-sharing. We created the Facebook group in 2020 during the pandemic to help people simplify their lives so they could enjoy their time in their own spaces, but we started to adopt the lifestyle in 2017.” 

“It was challenging when we started to apply this lifestyle pattern to our family, and almost everyone who knows us was asking why we were doing it. Some considered us to be a little weird, and a few thought we were doing it to save money. This is part of the package of being a minimalist, but it is not the aim. We decided to shout out the idea on social media and started to invite our friends and connections to the platform, making live videos to spread awareness of the idea and how it can reflect on your lifestyle and bring happiness and peace,” Ata said. 

 “After losing my mum in 2013 after a long battle with cancer, I went through a very hard time. My room was always upside down, so you couldn’t open the door because of the things on the floor. Even my bed was full of clothes,” Hafez said.

 “I decided to read up on how to help myself out, and I found the minimalist lifestyle was pretty attractive to me and felt it could bring me peace of mind. But I continued reading more about it without taking any actual action. Then I got married and gave birth to my twin girls. That was the ignition phase. I started to practise what I had read about to help myself cope with my anxiety and achieve my role as a mum with the absence of my own mother or mother-in-law’s support.”

“Abdel-Rahman wasn’t yet into the idea and didn’t know about it at that stage, and because he’s more influenced by reading and documentaries, I asked him to watch a documentary about the minimalist movement. Then it clicked in his mind. I started to apply some decluttering ideas to my wardrobe, and he was so surprised by the result that he decided to declutter his shoe storage too. He’s a footwear fan, but he managed to reduce his footwear from 25 pairs to eight. That was step one for him,” she said. 

“Reading and videos led me to think about it from a career point of view as well, and as an architect and interior designer I started to use minimalism in my work and study how to make houses simpler. Minimalism isn’t a new topic in architecture, but I didn’t think of it as a lifestyle until I started my own interior design business – Alaa Hafez Designs.” 

“Minimalist interior design means working to reduce the number of objects and increase free space, also adding natural elements and light to give a positive feeling of relaxation and totally avoid clutter,” she said.

But it is not always easy to change people’s spending mindset. Even so, Hafez and Ata explained that “minimalism is a blanket that can carry different types of people in our society and serve sustainability. It is there for environmentally-aware people, for people who want to reduce the feeling of stress and anxiety generated by the need to own stuff without the necessity for it, for people who want to manage their financial situation in a better manner, and for people who want to share with others and feel the happiness of giving and many others.”

“Everybody can find a benefit in being a minimalist,” they add.

“Misinterpreting minimalism as being stingy, or not being up to date with trends, or being boring and not fun, or wanting to stay single, be vegan, or not want to have nice things – all these were challenges,” Hafez added. “There can also be quite a strong resistance from older family members, who sometimes think doing this and sharing our approach on social media is inappropriate or shameful. Kids can’t be included in a minimal lifestyle, they said.”

But for Hafez and Ata, “it helps your child be more focused and creative rather than just looking for stuff. It helps them understand the importance of resources like water and electricity, and to act accordingly. Our own children are now concerned about the impact of plastics on the world’s seas and oceans, so they ask us before buying something if that will hurt the fish or not. If it will, they won’t buy it or they will ask for an alternative.”

Minimalism isn’t about stopping buying; it’s about feeling the joy of buying less and not overconsuming to feel the temporary feeling of happiness then generates more waste and adds debts to credit cards. 

However, it can be difficult to find a sponsor, as almost all commercial sponsors promote the consumer mentality of many other Facebook groups and are not interested in a group that encourages people not to spend. “I’m sure we can find a sponsor that is aligned with our purpose, one who cares about happiness in society, who cares about sustainability and waste reduction, who cares about having peaceful homes not full homes, who cares about creating zero-waste retail stores or second-hand shops that care about recycling,” Hafez said. 

 “When we started, we decided to set ourselves two challenges, one at the end of the year as a preparation phase for a new uncluttered year and another at mid-year to keep our community aligned with the minimal lifestyle pattern. The impact we observed on members’ engagement and mood was amazing, and the group started to grow fast despite our being very selective about new members to ensure the community is a positive and judgement-free environment,” Ata commented.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

“People can learn to let go of the thing that no longer work for them and to share this stuff with people that are actually in need of it. To encourage our members to declutter, we started a garage sale event online to help transfer unneeded stuff from one member to another. It was a very good event that we are planning to repeat online and physically soon.”

Adopting a minimalist lifestyle isn’t as difficult as some might imagine. Decluttering doesn’t target any particular social class, but it can be more relevant to those who consume and spend more. 

“Today, we are focused on our Facebook group. We’re planning more content on different platforms to drive momentum and change in society. We are supported by three volunteers who are interested in minimalism and keen to learn more. We knew two of them from our Facebook group, and one is an old friend interested in the minimalism journey,” Ata said. 

“We are glad that the idea is bringing noteworthy change to society. However, there’s still a long way to go in spreading it and seeing it become a real pattern, though this will come with the appropriate support,” Hafez concluded.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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