From ‘Rise and Grind’ to ‘Cottagecore’

(or How Dreamy Cottages are Carving out a Space for Young People to Embrace Slow Living.)

by Morgan Noll

Sam, best known by her Twitter handle “garden goblin“, runs the Twitter account @cottage_core. Since March, the account has amassed 24,000 followers and counting. “I honestly didn’t expect much out of it’ Sam explained, ‘but within a month of creating the account, my posts must have circulated around quite a bit…It basically happened overnight, which is not something I expected at all”. A quick scroll through their feed shows you the key ingredients to the accounts’ success; rolling pastures, ripe sunlit berries, and rouged bricked cottages buried amongst gentle fields of aster and sarsaparilla. These images seem to be the crux of an aesthetic known as Cottagecore that’s been building momentum online since 2018. 

“Cottagecore is an aesthetic centred around basically everything you’d find in a quaint cottage out in the countryside,” Sam muses, “but everyone has their own interpretation to an extent”. Indeed, a quick Google of Cottagecore shows you a variety of other flavours users have added into the rustic soup pot of this aesthetic; such as Fairycore, Goblincore and my personal favourite, Dark Cottagecore which seems to swap out the gingham prints of regular cottage core for witchy vibes. The Venn Diagram between all of these however seems to be a love of rusticness, championing the homemade, and romanticising the beauty in quietness. 

The aesthetic has exploded in popularity over the past few months with TikTok and Tumblr leading the charge. Some news outlets covering the culture seem to be attributing its recent boom with the pandemic, suggesting the obsession with these meadowed moodboards is symptomatic for a population who has been cooped up in cramped, crowded, and sweltering cities where exposure to COVID-19 looms. While Sam agrees that that definitely contributes, they also feel like the love-affair is tied to our ways of life itself: 

“I think the idea of living somewhere without a stressful job or negative outside interactions is a fantasy for many people”. 

It’s Cottagecore’s romanticization of aspects of everyday living: cooking, cleaning, gardening, baking, reading, etc, that make me wonder if it’s popularity amongst young people is a direct result of years spent watching the mental health of millenials, who grew up with the rhetoric of the ‘rise and grind’ culture, deteriorate under the constant pressure. When I was 17, Linked-In profiles determined worth, wealth was to be amassed at all costs, and entrepreneurial inspiration porn ran rampant on Instagram. The idea of ‘hustling’ was common amongst my college peers who felt immense pressure to climb to the top. The rise and grind culture led many young people to feverishly monetize their hobbies, romanticize working to exhaustion, and convinced us that any down time should be used on ceaseless self improvement. The result of this culture was the great ‘millennial burnout’ where countless individuals and news outlets cataloged widespread depression, anxiety, paranoia, and fatigue amongst millennials who had pushed themselves to their brinks. In the rubble of this entrepreneurial thinking, I wonder then if Cottagecore is generation z’s way of letting go of those harmful illusions of grandeur pushed on us by ‘girl bosses’ and ‘lifestyle gurus’ alike? While rise and grind culture prioritized the individual and seemed to sweep its implications of exploitation, abuse, and dehumanization under the rug, Cottagecore is a refreshing turn back to celebrating sustainability, craftsmanship, and ethical consumption. Tutorials on farming, sewing, jam making, and carving suggest a growing consciousness of one’s environmental impact and labour exploitation in areas such as fast fashion. 

Moreover, while rise and grand made the city the pinnacle of the youth experience, Cottagecore is now rebranding the small town as a second option. City life was seen as a mandatory requirement to ‘make it’ and ‘hustle hard’ but the caveat was it often put young people in extremely precarious situations of financial instability. However, for many, there was no other choice. Cities for younger people, especially young queer people, have historically been havens to find queer community and support that small towns could not offer or actively suppressed. Cottagecore now being mostly circulated by younger queer teens, lets us dream up an exciting alternative. Sam remarks that Cottagecore is fueled by a kind of nostalgia for these childhood homes and spaces: 

“I think many people who are into Cottagecore read books like Frog and Toad, Peter Rabbit, and even Heidi as children and have always longed for the simplicity of living out in a small home surrounded by nature. Plenty of childhood films have also been inspirational, like the ivy-covered home in Kiki’s Delivery Service and Miss Honey’s floral cottage in Matilda. I think many of us took a liking to homes in these kinds of stories and films and have been dreaming of them ever since.” 

There is a certain warmth in the thought of Cottagecore as a movement that aims to recapture elements of childhood that for many had to be lost in order to live authentically in urban environments. Instead of seeing rural living as a return to repressed ways of life, this time around it is being reimagined as a life choice that can come with a thriving community of support. Perhaps its popularity may help to facilitate a migration from cities back to cozy haunts that do not drip with painful memories of bigotry, prejudice, and loneliness? 

And that is what Sam most wants others to take away from this aesthetic, that sense of community and healing. 

“It puts an emphasis on caring for the environment, as well as taking care of others. Cottagecore is simple, calming, and unproblematic. It’s a comforting distraction from everything else going on, and I think it’s really helping people feel better”. 

When rise and grind pushed us to our limits, put us at the throats of everyone around us, and prioritised our worth in terms of productivity, many people felt like they literally did not know how to ‘do nothing’ anymore. They could not slow down because relaxing felt like failure. Cottagecore, with its dreamy scenes and deliberate slowness seems to be offering all of us lost in the hustle a grass stained hand that led us from a frayed sense of self to a back garden chair with a gentle forgiveness. There is a profound sense of healing in this aesthetic coming from young people who are growing to realise more with each day that they are not just their CVs and that their bodies, time, and labour are precious and priceless. 

You can follow Sam’s Twitter account here: @cottage_core.

Sam also runs a beautiful 60s vintage fashion and lifestyle Instagram account: @vinyljunkie