Earlier this week the Minimalism Film was released in select cities nationwide. We had signed up for tickets for our local Tucson showing months ago, and when the showing tipped a couple of weeks ago I was pretty excited. I am a self proclaimed minimalist and I assert that Steve is as well, although he doesn’t like the label. Documentaries like this are interesting in that they are produced to spread a message, an idea, or a story to a larger population. They are meant to spark conversation among those who may have never thought about the issue at hand. What’s funny is that the people who go to the openings of these things are the already converted. As Steve put it, “they’re preaching to the choir”. But for those of us in the choir I think it is always productive to sit with like minded individuals and see other people make similar life choices to your own. It brings a sense of community and kinship even if there is no actual one on one conversation. Anyway after watching the movie, I thought I would give my take on it.
The purpose of the Minimalism Film is to tell the story of Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who run a website called “The Minimalists”, as they travel the country spreading their message of Minimalism during the release of their book, and in the meanwhile spread that same message to those watching the documentary. While the movie focuses about half the time on this pair, it also skips around to other noted Minimalists to hear little bits of their story or their philosophy. Noted guests include Leo Babauta of zenhabits, Tammy Strobel of rowdykittens, Joshua Becker of becomingminimalist, and Courtney Carver of project333. I think the addition of these voices and the others throughout the film was very well done. It made the message seem more communal and showed people that all sorts can benefit from the minimalist message. They also had a number of scientists and researchers in related fields which added credence to some of the more factual and societal benefits of minimalism. As humans, we enjoy peaking into other people’s lives. We like hearing their stories, even if we have a hard time relating to them. While this manifests mostly in reality television and gossip mags, documentaries like this allow us, for a few moments, to see into someone else’s life. We can see what other choices are out there for ourselves. In my opinion the film could have benefited from even more personal stories of how people live the minimalist message.
The purpose of the minimalism movement is to minimize/curate/edit your life to the minimum/core/essential tangible and intangible things in order to maximize the time/energy/money that you have to spend on them. The first step in becoming more minimal almost always deal with physical stuff. This is where the donate one thing a day, get rid of 90% of what you own, wear 33 things for 3 months in Project 333, downsize, stop buying things you don’t need, missions come into play. This is also the total extent of what many people think of as minimalism. This movie did try to delve into minimalism past the stuff, but in my opinion it still focused too heavily on the consumerism side of the minimalist movement. Lots and LOTS of B reel with people shopping, signs and advertisements in New York City, and store fronts, filled the entire film. The one question they decided to air from their book tour involved sticking it to the “wolves of wall street”. Even when telling Joshua and Ryan’s stories of how they came to be The Minimalists they focused mostly on the material goods they gave away. Yes the movie delves into happiness, how simplifying can make you happier, and meditation but in my humble opinion, not enough.
I see minimalism as self curation and a lot of the people interviewed in the documentary say as much. I did like that when the movie focused on Courtney Carver and her life, they did delve a bit into the curation side of things. Courtney Carver was diagnosed with MS and instead of slowing down, decided to prove she could fight through it. This did not go well. When she finally had to slow down to heal and survive she started simplifying her life in order to help with her stress levels. This is where Project 333 was born. While the project itself has to do with physical things, the story behind it shows the meaning of living a minimalist life. The documentary also included a tiny house builder who said something along the lines of “if people truly woke up and understood this is it, this is the only life I’m getting, I can be happy now or I can keep striving for that happiness I can never quite reach, a lot of people would change their daily lives”. I couldn’t agree more. Steve and I certainly have. We decided climbing the corporate ladder for the bigger home, nicer cars, more exotic vacations wasn’t for us. By minimizing not only our things (by living in a 200 sq ft Airstream) but also our commitments, we have a lot more time now (even while still working) to do the things that make us happy. We are mostly content. That is what minimalism can bring to the table. It’s not just someone owning 51 things (though that works for some people).
I think the movie did an excellent job in showing that minimalism is an idea, and a movement that can help anyone, in any walk of life. It helped provide a view of minimalism not as sacrifice but as life editing. Overall I quite enjoyed the film and would highly recommend it to anyone who would like to live a more content, meaningful life.
Steve has written his much more technical and less emotional review over on our sister site. Check it out!
Here are some of the official clips from the movie. Enjoy!