I recently read this editorial by Jacob Carey in The Concordian. As a proponent of ‘do less, better’ the piece struck a chord. Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things is a film following two men, who have titled themselves “The Minimalists,” on a 10-month tour across America promoting their book Everything that Remains.
Released in 2016, this documentary directed by Matt D’Avella captures the lives of Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Friends for over 20 years, they considered themselves, and were considered by others to be successful. Despite having both endured rough childhoods scattered with drug abuse, physical abuse and alcoholism, the two found themselves with good jobs, great salaries, food on the table and a full closet. Despite all this, they questioned why they were unhappy with how their lives turned out.
After hearing about minimalism, Millburn and Nicodemus dropped everything and adopted the principles of minimalism.
“Imagine a life with less. Less stuff, less clutter, less stress, and debt, and discontent. A life with fewer distractions,” said Millburn. “Now, imagine a life with more. More time, more meaningful relationships, more growth and contribution and contentment.”
The concept of minimalism is simple: every possession serves a purpose. As human beings in a society obsessed with consumerism, our options for nearly everything in life are limited. Yet, these nearly infinite options force us to make more decisions, thus causing more stress. Minimalism is about minimizing one’s life so that everything in it has value.
“Every choice that I make, every relationship, every item, every dollar I spend,” said Nicodemus. “I’m not perfect, but I do constantly ask the question: is this adding value?”
A key dimension of minimalism, while not actively discussed in the documentary, is purchasing power, and ultimately accessibility. Those who can hardly afford a bus pass or the next meal for their families likely won’t be concerned with hybrid vehicles or buying organic food because it isn’t within their purchasing power to do so. Minimalism and to what degree people are able to minimize their consumption, if at all, will invariably differ from family to family based on what means they do, or don’t, have access to.
The pair noticed how minimalism drastically improved their way of life and allowed them to be more genuine. Having previously worked in the sales industry, they thought every interaction should get something out of someone. After quitting their jobs, they were able to have genuine conversations with people and no longer see them as a means to make money.
Stories of individuals across the country who have adopted a minimalist lifestyle, and preach a better quality of life because of it, are portrayed in the documentary. One woman spoke about Project 333, a goal to live three months with only 33 articles of clothing and accessories to her name. Others live in minimalist homes about the size of a typical bedroom. All these interviews occur while clips of America’s mass-consumption lifestyle are juxtaposed in the background. Videos of Black Friday frenzies and physical violence for retail goods open the audience’s eyes to our society’s obsession with material things.
The Minimalists conclude their story by leaving viewers with one message of hope:
“Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.”
Thanks to Jacob for the insight.
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