Minimalism Film: About the important things

Published May 26, 2016   Posted in Middle Feature Reviews

On Tuesday evening, my wife and I date-nighted it out to our local movie theater to watch a screening of the new Minimalism Film, a “documentary about the important things”. The film was well-produced and cleverly executed, even spurring conversation between my wife and I 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.

Pinterest: Minimalism FilmThe 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.

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, Colin Wright from and Joshua Becker from talked about their 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.  🙂

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30 responses to “Minimalism Film: About the important things”

  1. Thank you for this review! I have drooled over Joshua’s minimalist apartment pics (I look back at them every time I need inspiration) but I had no idea he was doing a documentary with Ryan until I saw this post. I will have to check it out!

  2. Good review and thanks for making me aware of this documentary. I plan on checking this out with my wife soon!

  3. Thanks for sharing Steve. I have not heard of the film. I’ll need to check it out.

  4. Ernie says:

    There were a ton of gasps in our theater, too, when they showed that map of a family’s activity in a large home. I think my favorite part was the statistics on how many billions of dollars are spent on marketing to our kids. Wasn’t it like $17 billion or something? That gave me fresh perspective on that battle companies are engaging in for my boy’s attention, loyalty and, ultimately, dollars.

    • Steve says:

      Interest! Looks like that graphic is definitely resonating with people. Good to see! And yeah, it was an incredible amount of money that’s spent on marketing to our kids. Spending money on kids is big business and companies know it. The more kids want, the more MOST parents buy. Ugh!

  5. Apathy Ends says:

    I am not very familiar with this movement (your blog is the source for me so far)

    I will have to check this out, sounds interesting for a newbie

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Apathy – I bet that you’ll like what you find. There is a lot of overlap between minimalism and what we’re doing here. 🙂

  6. Nice…. enjoyed the post 🙂
    It will be fun to compare your observations with your wife’s 🙂

  7. Kate says:

    Thanks for the review. This is a movie that I’ve wanted to see and it was nice to get your honest opinion about it. I’m going to check out your wife’s review as well.

    I listen to the Minimalists podcast and have read Everything Remains. Even in these formats, they tend to be a little repetitive but I keep following them because their message is a good one and it keeps me motivated.

    I’ll still see the movie but I’m glad to know what to expect.

  8. Ive been waiting for this Documentary to come out, thank you for bringing it to my attention and I enjoyed your review. We have lived minimalist lives for millions of years, did that ever really need to change?

    I am sure this will make it’s way into a Screen in London UK soon where I hope i can check it out.


  9. I have been looking forward to this film coming out! I’m glad that they made it very high quality because it will give it a little extra appeal to a lot of people. As you said, it would be nice to include people who aren’t well known minimalists and their take on the lifestyle but I’m guessing that by going with some of these bigger names, the mass appeal for the message is larger? Thanks for the review and I look forward to watching it when it comes around here!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the comment, Thias. Yup, I would guess it was the mass appeal factor as well – and nothing wrong with featuring those bigger names, of course. Just…for those of us who are already in the community, we were probably already familiar with their stories. No worries – was still a great film.

  10. Matt Spillar says:

    Considering that the top Google result for “minimalism sucks” is your blog, I wasn’t sure how your review would be 😉 haha, glad you liked the film though! Hoping to check this out at some point.

    • Steve says:

      Ha! Yeah – it’s more the term “minimalism” that I object to, not necessarily the concepts of the movement. All good in the neighborhood! 😉

  11. If you put together a documentary on alternative living, perhaps via RVs or tiny houses, consider us in! 🙂

  12. Mackenzie says:

    My husband and I watched the documentary last week and we really enjoyed it! My favorite part was when Joshua was in the desert and he was reading from their book containing the part about all the things he thought he needed from Ikea. The juxtaposition of that was awesome 🙂

  13. Hmm.. Will you offer your produced documentary to personal finance bloggers for free? 😉

  14. They are absolutely right! People are working way to much and on top of that, most of them don’t even like their jobs… but they are just so used to everything (their job and spending money circle) that they never change anything. It just does not feel right to wake up at 70 and realize that you spent your life doing things you don’t love… it’s just sad :(.

  15. […] Plus, there are some rad ideas involved!    Here is a review of it  REVIEW- Minimalism […]

  16. I had a similar reaction to this film. I wanted less about the two authors (and their very huggy–so much hugging–signing events) and more about other people who are living a minimalist lifestyle. Fewer “experts,” more real people.

  17. Seems like a great movie for me to watch. Thanks a lot for sharing : )

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