Is min­i­mal­ism killing lo­cal heir­loom cul­ture?

The loss of heir­loom cul­ture in the min­i­mal­ist mil­len­nial


In my fa­ther’s child­hood home, an old ba­hay na bato in Batan­gas, there sits an old, wooden bed frame with in­tri­cate carv­ings and an en­dur­ing life­span. It’s beau­ti­ful, durable, un­touched. It rests un­der a hang­ing al­tar, watched over by a Maria Mag­dalena idol dressed in elab­o­rately em­broi­dered cloth­ing and with a gi­ant rosary around her neck.

Four hours away in Que­zon City, 22-yearold me is busy fan­ta­siz­ing about my dream loft. I’m talk­ing about a sen­si­ble 200 sq.m. unit with min­i­mal­ist in­te­ri­ors, an open floor plan, and metal­lic ac­cents. In that kind of space, there sim­ply isn’t room for an os­ten­ta­tious queen-sized bed.

And here lies the prob­lem.

There seems to be the im­pres­sion that it’s hard for us mil­len­ni­als to make room. That it’s al­most be­yond us to ex­ert ef­fort and make room for the rem­nants of those who had lived be­fore us in the lives we’re build­ing today. The baby boomer gen­er­a­tion is at­tribut­ing this hard­ship to three things: the in­ter­net (what’s new), min­i­mal­ism, and in­formed con­sumerism.

It’s an old script, re­ally. The think­ing goes a lit­tle some­thing like this: Mil­len­ni­als are too busy be­ing dig­i­tal nomads, be­ing too de­pen­dent on their dig­i­tal col­lec­tions (their self­ies and their so­cial me­dia per­sonas and con­nec­tions) that they no longer care about the phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions of sen­ti­ment from their par­ents. That’s why min­i­mal­ism is cur­rently glo­ri­fied. That’s why young homemak­ers and young pro­fes­sion­als liv­ing on their own ex­er­cise cold, cal­cu­lat­ing, and in­formed con­sumerism when pur­chas­ing their house­hold pieces.

We aren’t as re­liant on phys­i­cal things like china sets, or big wooden din­ing ta­bles, or col­lec­tions of framed pic­tures to leave our mark in the world. We don’t hold onto these things as so­cial sta­tus sym­bols as much as our par­ents did. But I hardly think that my gen­er­a­tion is as cold and as self­in­volved as this quote im­plies—at least, not in the Philip­pines.

In the prov­ince, for ex­am­ple, where most old houses re­side, keep­ing heir­loom pieces or in­her­it­ing them can be fu­eled by prac­ti­cal­ity as much as sen­ti­men­tal­ity. The ones who do

sell items to an­tique shops or auc­tion­eers of­ten come from the ex­treme ends of the fi­nan­cial totem pole. A fam­ily is ei­ther af­flu­ent enough to be in pos­ses­sion of sev­eral his­tor­i­cally valu­able pieces that they have some to spare, or they’re the kind of fam­ily who could make fi­nan­cial use of an an­tique piece by sell­ing it to the high­est bid­der. But for the ma­jor­ity of those “blessed” to be in the mid­dle class, 19th cen­tury arm chairs and the like are of­ten kept be­cause they still serve their ev­ery­day pur­pose of be­ing fur­ni­ture items.

In over­crowded Metro Manila, down­siz­ing, min­i­mal­ism, and IKEA’s Scan­di­na­vian fur­ni­ture are trend­ing. How­ever, that doesn’t in­di­cate our in­dif­fer­ence to sen­ti­ment and fa­mil­ial piety.

Per­haps, this is best ex­plained in the words of Tif­fany Mathay of Casa de Me­mo­ria. “I think peo­ple are get­ting smaller items and fur­ni­ture be­cause this gen­er­a­tion lives more in smaller spa­ces. But [min­i­mal­ism], style-wise, it’s not re­flected as much. There are fewer things [bought], def­i­nitely, but peo­ple today like to live in color. I think be­cause our world is so vis­ual now, peo­ple like to see that there are el­e­ments they can con­nect to.”

So it’s not so much that the younger gen­er­a­tion has de­vel­oped thicker skin or has grown numb to the sen­ti­ments and val­ues of the past. It isn’t that we aren’t mak­ing room, or that we can’t be both­ered. It’s just that we’ve learned to ap­pre­ci­ate ex­pe­ri­ences and bal­ance them with the prac­ti­cal.

“I think peo­ple are get­ting smaller items and fur­ni­ture be­cause this gen­er­a­tion lives more in smaller spa­ces.”

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