On Tuesday evening (several years ago), my wife and I date-nighted it out to our local movie theater to watch a screening of the minimalist documentary Minimalism Film, a “documentary about the important things”. The film was well-produced and cleverly executed, even spurring conversation between my wife and me on the ride home.
The Minimalism Film is a project from “The Minimalists”, a pair of ex-corporate jockeys named Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, who gained popularity recently by talking about the virtues of downsizing your life and understanding the true meaning of “enough”.
The theater was over half full, a decent turnout. I was thrilled to see people of all ages and all walks of life in the audience, from 20-year-olds to, well, grandparents.
Minimalist documentary: Minimalism Film – About the important things
The Minimalism Film documentary was partly Joshua and Ryan’s story and partly an indictment on consumerism in the United States, portraying clips of aggressive shoppers on Black Friday pouring into stores, trampling each other, punching, fighting, yelling and arrests.
In the first five minutes of the film, it set the problem in dramatic style: We are nuts!
We mindlessly shop for crap we don’t need, work jobs we don’t want, do things that we don’t like to do, all for the sake of a paycheck so we can do it all over again. And why?
Because we feel like we need those things. Marketers tell us we do. Artificial fashion trends dictate the clothes we bought last week are, well, so last week.
If you’re already in the minimalism community, you probably won’t learn anything new from this film. Though the film exhibited incredible production quality, it was largely a rehash of the same concepts, over and over.
PhDs and scientists talked about studies. Authors discussed their research.
It was good information, but largely repetitive. Where this film really shines is in its inspiring story-telling, and that was by far my favorite element of the documentary.
There was a lot to like, though
The things I liked: One of the qualities I love about minimalism documentaries is observing how other people have modified their lives to prioritize happiness. Included within the film were a range of popular bloggers and authors that you’ve probably heard of and are familiar with, and it was nice to watch them describe what they do rather than read a similar description in a blog post.
The film included Courtney Carver who popularized a concept called “Project 333”, an idea that challenges folks to only wear 33 items of clothing for three months. Ms. Carver tried it at work and, according to her, nobody even noticed that she was wearing the same things – for nearly a year.
Other personalities, like Leo Babauta from ZenHabits.com, Colin Wright from ExileLifestyle.com and Joshua Becker from BecomingMinimalist.com talked about their stories.
I wanted more stories
I love their stories. I love how they realized how deeply brainwashed many of us have become into the world of consumerism, large paychecks and nice job titles. Their stories are wonderful and inspiring. I saw myself in many ways in a lot of these stories. I related so well to the realization that the accumulation of stuff provides so little in the way of true happiness.
These stories were truly inspiring. They were heartfelt and genuinely amazing in their quality. People are ditching lots of stuff, big houses and corner offices in favor of a lifestyle downsize, replacing space with meaning, things with nothingless.
And there is something about nothingness that represents incredible freedom and simplicity. That is what this film is all about.
I also love how the film examined a study that I wrote about last year about how little of our big homes we tend to use. I heard a couple of gasp-like reactions from the audience when they saw a map that depicted a family’s activity within a large house.
Areas like the porch, dining room and sitting areas went largely unused, but yet, that space needs to be maintained and paid for. It’s a powerful study and equally powerful representation of waste.
My biggest complaint: I wish the film went more grassroots, telling stories from folks out there who may not have popular blogs (or blogs at all!), or may not be NY Times bestselling authors, or may not have an interview rap sheet longer than a Shakespeare novel.
To me, that is what minimalism is all about.
It’s not about popularity. It’s not about sensationalized media hype. Minimalism is about everyday people making hard-core changes in their life, changes that put happiness first. There were only a couple names that I wasn’t already pretty familiar with.
I understand that these people need to be comfortable in front of a camera – almost a “been there, done that” kind of personality, but this film is largely speaking to the choir.
Aside from the PhDs, I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see much in the way of new faces or ideas. I was listening to folks talk about what I’ve already read on their blogs or in their books. I like that the film included these personalities, but I wish it had portrayed others, too – giving those who are already familiar with the minimalist community (a large percentage of the film’s audience) something new to consider.
Maybe a family with kids who live in an RV and travel the country (and how this unique lifestyle effects those kids), or a young bachelor who quit a high-paying job and lives overseas.
I wish the film spent more time on people’s stories rather than repetitively talking about consumption. The first 10 minutes of the film is primed for establishing the problem, which the film did very well. The remainder of the film need not re-establish the problem.
I understand that a documentary necessarily needs a strong scientific element to prove the existence of a problem, but that problem may have been “over-proven” in this film. How about fresh stories, new ideas, unique perspectives – from normal, everyday folks?
Overall: I give this film four out of five stars.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, and as a guy who wants to produce his own documentary in the future, this film is a gold mine for ideas on filming, structure and story-telling.
This film was Hollywood quality, top-notch HD recording. I felt like I was watching a Universal Studios film sitting in the theater Tuesday night. This film does an incredible amount of good for our community.
Though not early retirement based, early retirees share many common goals with minimalists, and if you care about where your money is going and how to improve your life, you owe it to yourself to see this film.
Wait! Before you leave, check out my wife’s review of the Minimalism Film over on her blog. 🙂
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.