‘Minimalism’: A Film Review

minimlismLast week, I went to see the new documentary by Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus (otherwise known as The Minimalists). I’ve wanted to write a review of it for the past few days, but I felt like I needed to let it settle in my brain first.

The documentary followed The Minimalists on a 2014 cross-country tour to promote their latest book. Scattered throughout the film were interviews with different individuals who have found ways to simplify certain areas of their lives, along with a few researchers and scholars.

One of the best parts of the film was its accessibility. If you’ve seen The Minimalists at all, whether on their website, on social media, or on one of their numerous television appearances, you know that these guys lead bare bones lives (by choice). Here’s JFM’s old dining room, for example:

dining room

That might work for some people, but many others might perceive it as sterile. However, the documentary wasn’t a diatribe on getting rid of your belongings. Instead, The Minimalists centered their argument around whittling your life down to what you need to live a meaningful live. They interviewed people who live in normal sized houses, but have just enough space and belongings to support the life they want. There was a woman who simplified her life and moved into a tiny house with her husband. Other clips included an ABC news anchor who learned to incorporate mindfulness meditation in to his life. The interviews were diverse enough that almost anyone could easily find something that spoke to them.

The part that stuck out to me the most was one of the clips with Patrick Rhone, a writer and essayist. He made the point that we need to determine what we want our lives to look like, then figure out what we need to achieve that vision. If we have too much (stuff, people, to-do lists), we won’t be able to achieve our vision. BUT, if we have too little, we won’t be able to achieve it either. We each need to find that happy medium for ourselves.

One of the other parts that resonated with me was a scene in which Ryan Nicodemus discusses a conversation he had with an attendee at one of their events. The attendee was working on minimizing, but didn’t want to get rid of his book collection because he loved re-reading the books, he loved the smell of the books, he loved sharing them with friends and family, etc. Ryan’s response: “keep them!” Again, the whole point is to keep the things in your life that serve a purpose (in this case, the book collection was a huge source of happiness, connection, and contentment), not to get rid of everything just for the sake of getting rid of it.

My only criticism of the film would be that I was left wanting more from some of the people they interviewed. I think it would have been interesting to show how some of the interview subjects actually incorporate minimalism into their daily lives, rather than just hearing them talk about it for a couple of minutes. I’m pretty sure that if you pre-order the digital version of the documentary, though, you get access to about 6 hours of interview footage that wasn’t included in the film.

All in all, I loved it, and I can’t wait to watch it again. If you’re interested, you can check out clips from the documentary here.


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