Illustration by Francesca Mahaney of a cottage in an article about cottagecore
Gen Z is finding solace in visions of a stress-free world. (Illustration by Francesca Mahaney, Pratt Institute)

Cottagecore Is Gen Z’s Way of Coping With a Hectic, Modern World

Instead of yearning for big city life, young people are finding an escape by imagining a more pastoral, idyllic lifestyle.

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Illustration by Francesca Mahaney of a cottage in an article about cottagecore

Instead of yearning for big city life, young people are finding an escape by imagining a more pastoral, idyllic lifestyle.

Imagine a lazy summer day. You’re lying on your back in a sunlit meadow dotted with daisies and poppies. Every now and then, a warm breeze weaves its way through the grass to kiss your face. The distant chirping of birds almost lulls you to sleep, but you can’t waste all day here. You have cookies to make and flowers to press at home.

It almost seems like a dream, or the backdrop to a fairytale. A world where you’re void of all responsibilities? Where you live in one of the most peaceful place imaginable? Where the most stressful decision you’ll make that day is whether you should knit or bake?

Cottagecore is an aesthetic on the rise for Gen Z, basically asking the age-old question, “Okay, but what if I just ran away into the woods?” and expanding upon it. First making a name for itself on Tumblr around 2018, it’s a yearning for simple rural life and a romanticizing of nature and everyday tasks. “It’s like Animal Crossing but in real life,” Emily Kellum, an 18-year-old from Mississippi wrote in an email to The New York Times.

Search it up on any app, and you’ll find photos of pressed lilacs, frilly dresses, moss covered trees and thatch-roof cottages in some of the greenest woods you’ll ever see. The hashtag is especially popular on TikTok, having over 212 million views and filled to the brim with bread baking tutorials and people in their teens and early 20s showing off the 500 different plants they own. It comes as no surprise that an interest in the nature-filled dreamworld has risen during quarantine. Cottagecore content has seen a 541% spike in likes on Tumblr.

If you’re not online a lot, or older than the age of 25, cottagecore might seem utterly bizarre. For years, big, bustling cities have been the things glamorized by young people. Leaving your small, boring town and moving into a shoebox apartment in a place that never sleeps was the ultimate goal.

Cottagecore is the exact opposite of that, the antithesis to city life. The aesthetic indulges in the fantasy of being soft and domestic, of picking flowers and cooking and cleaning and daintily decorating every room in the house. Why would a group of young people flock to that?

The answer is kind of complicated: Cottagecore is placed somewhere between an escapist fantasy and self-care. Most of the people who are into it don’t actually want to live the cottage life, but it’s a nice scenario to think about. “I’m a city girl at heart,” explained Redditor InfamousBees. “The ideal cottagecore life isn’t something realistic for me or many people.”

Cottagecore is a modern way of mindfulness, a way to take a break from our fast-paced world teeming with instant gratification, flashing lights and stress around every corner. It gives people the opportunity to take things slow for once and really cherish what we take for granted.

It’s not really a community where you can make many mistakes, as a lot of the activities — like going for a walk in the forest or growing herbs — are easy tasks, which is a huge reason as to why it attracts people from all walks of life.

It’s easy to dismiss the sunny disposition of cottagecore internet personalities as fake, but they are genuinely enjoying themselves. “I think that the community and appreciation for the little things in life is what really appeals to me,” said @pixiepaints, a popular cottagecore TikToker. “People just caring about flowers, trees and baking pies, and the simplicity of the lifestyle. It’s really calming compared to how chaotic life can be.”

There is a certain intimacy and control that cottagecore brings. We’re living in a time right now where everything is up in the air. This is leaving people anxious, afraid and with bleak outlooks.

While allowing you to truly get in touch with the outdoors, it also lets you have control over your existence. You get to choose which aspects of the aesthetic to include in your space, which in turn, feels like some degree of control over your life.

@jesca.herWish I could share this loaf with you 🧸 Incase you haven’t heard, I love and appreciate you 🌙 ##cottagecore ##aesthetic ##cottage ##fyp ##xyzbca♬ My Neighbor Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro) – Aun J-Classic Orchestra

There’s also something incredibly rebellious about the aesthetic, something that gives way to a taboo idea that the community has only ever had the opportunity to speculate about: being disconnected. Gen Z make up the majority of the participants in the cottagecore movement. They’re a generation that grew up never knowing what it was like to not have the internet. They’re true digital natives. Cottage life raises unthinkable questions: What if you went off the grid? Dared to be unavailable? Took a step back from technology?

While cottagecore is a world heavily filtered by perfection and beauty, it’s not completely unattainable. It’s true that living the full fantasy isn’t exactly an option for most, even if you are ready to throw everything away to live a serene life in the middle of nowhere. Realistically, you’d have be free of both finances and responsibility.

Fortunately, you can still be a part of the community from anywhere in the world. You can bake bread, care for flowers and embroider in the comfort of your own home. One of the things that’s charming about cottagecore is that you don’t have to abandon your current situation or who you are to be a validated fan. There are so many affordable activities and interests to choose from. You don’t need to own a huge farm or a cute little home in the woods to find your slice of serenity.

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