On a recent episode of The Minimalists’ podcast, a listener pointed out that a majority of minimalists seem to be women. There was one token man in the minimalist meetup group, and most of the members of minimalism online communities seem to be women as well, the listener noted. The Minimalists, Josh and Ryan, feigned ignorance of the gender disparity, claiming the audiences at their live events seem evenly distributed between the sexes. I don’t know if I buy it—the online minimalism groups I belong to are comprised almost entirely of women, and the other minimalist bloggers I’m familiar with are overwhelmingly women. I had to ask myself why.
Women are socialized from childhood that they should be in charge of the home, and they should do the shopping. During the recent visit to my parents’ house, my mom had me go through a container of old dolls and other toys and had me choose a few to give to my niece. I noticed that, among the accessories that came with the dolls was a broom, a vacuum and a miniature bottle of 409 cleaner—yes, it’s never too early to establish gender roles and brand loyalty!
This socialization does not just affect women—men also view managing the household as a woman’s job. Once they are old enough that their mother no longer takes care of it, they will have girlfriends and wives to take care of their home. This is why my husband sometimes “doesn’t realize” the toilet needs cleaning, though he’s the one that lifts the seat and sees the filth most often. It’s also why he doesn’t seem to notice when the counters need wiping down and doesn’t seem to want to bother to learn where certain items go in our cabinets. A woman will be judged for not keeping a clean house–a young bachelor with a dirty or poorly decorated apartment is just in need of “a woman’s touch,” while a young woman with an unclean or undecorated living space is just a slob or lazy.
Not only this, but a majority of advertising is aimed at women. This makes sense, since managing the household also involves managing the household finances—women control 70% of global consumer spending. Most of these advertisements focus on making women feel less than. Buy Febreze or your guests will judge you and think your house stinks. In fact, even if you don’t think your house smells, trust us–your guests will. You’re just “nose blind.” Notice how the man sits and reads the newspaper as the woman cleans the kitchen. Whatever odor is in the house is her responsibility and she should be judged by it. Her guest/friend (another woman) enters and nods approval.
A Mr. Clean commercial features a woman fantasizing about the cartoon spokesman cleaning up. The woman’s daydream ends, revealing an average looking man in his place, presumably her husband, and as she passionately kisses him, the tagline appears: “You gotta love a man who cleans.” This promotes the idea that cleaning is not a male responsibility; It is a female responsibility and men who clean should be rewarded and appreciated. They are going above and beyond their responsibilities.
It makes sense that women would see more value in eschewing a materialist, capitalist lifestyle. They feel more relief at giving themselves permission to live with less. Ignoring these toxic messages is empowering for women in a way it is not for men.
Now that women are in the workplace, they still find themselves responsible for a majority of the household tasks and child-rearing tasks as well, due to old-fashioned attitudes about the division of labor. They find themselves the manager and the main employee of the home. The problem with that, as this smart cartoon illustrates, is that managing is a job in itself. Very few other jobs require the person overseeing the project to also be the person executing it.
This is referred to as the “mental workload” of the household. My husband does not spend much mental energy remembering the last time the kitchen floor was mopped, how the apartment is overdue to be vacuumed, that we’re running low on bleach, or when the sheets on the bed were last changed. I, on the other hand, am constantly looking around to see if surfaces need to be dusted, if the floors need cleaning, keeping track of how much toilet cleaner is left, etc.
The answer seemed obvious to me as my husband once again left my teacups on the kitchen table after they’d been washed and dried, claiming to be unsure where they go: women are viewed as the managers of the household. This includes the organizing, purchasing, and maintenance of the household and its many items. My husband (and the husbands of many of the minimalist women in the groups) do not see the importance of minimalism, because, quite simply, they are not the ones moving all the knick-knacks to dust the shelves or vacuuming under all the furniture. In short, their lives are not any easier for clearing the clutter, so they do not perceive the value in the exercise.