It was pouring with rain on Saturday afternoon. Natalie had some work she needed to do. And I didn’t much feel like doing anything except hang out with the dogs. So I propped myself up on the bed, a Labrador lying along each leg, laptop balanced on my knees, and watched a movie I’d downloaded a few days ago. It’s called ‘Minimalism: A documentary about the important things’. And it’s incredible. In fact, it’s probably changed my life.
When I think about minimalism, I think about rather boring, austere, rich people with no furniture, drinking kale juice out of a little brown bowl and staring mindfully into the middle distance. This is obviously not what minimalism is about. Because, as the movie makes clear, minimalism is about more than just possessions. It’s about how we engage with the modern world. It’s about how we relate to the people and things around us. It’s a way of thinking. Of being.
The movie is a story excellently told. It follows the exploits of ‘The Minimalists’ – Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus – as they tour the United States, promoting their book, Everything That Remains, a memoir of Millburn’s journey into the minimalist lifestyle.
The film is much more than a simple road movie, though. It includes intelligent and engaging contributions from other minimalist thinkers and authors, as well as from those seeking to live a more minimalist lifestyle.
And it’s all woven deftly together by director Matt D’Avella, who also has his own rather excellent minimalism-focused Youtube channel.
The essence Millburn and Nicodemus’s message is that, in today’s consumerist world, it’s all to easy to confuse ‘having lots of stuff’ and ‘being happy’. And while I’d be the first to argue that if you have literally nothing you’re probably going to be pretty miserable, there comes a stage when buying more stuff doesn’t make you any happier. And the more stuff you buy, the harder you need to work to pay for it all, which is also unlikely to contribute to your increased overall happiness.
The answer, say The Minimalists, is to rethink our relationship with our stuff. We need to stop seeing material possessions as an end in themselves. We need to stop seeing them as a sign of our success. And we need to stop seeing them as a substitute for the things that matter. Like relationships and personal growth. Happiness and fulfilment. “Love people and use things,” they say, “because the opposite never works.”
If you want to find out more about minimalism and what a minimalist lifestyle looks like, you’ll have to watch the movie. (Spoiler alert: It looks very much like a regular lifestyle, except the people are happier.) But here’s The Minimalists’ ‘elevator pitch’, which pretty much sums it up:
Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.
But I think it’s more than that, really. In the movie, a member of the audience at one of Millburn and Nicodemus’s book talks hits the nail on the head, in my view, when he describes their rejection of consumerism as a genuinely subversive way of living. After all, if we reject the premises of capitalism and refuse to allow it to dictate how we live our lives, it ceases to control us. And we become free of its bonds.
It’s this liberating nature of minimalism that has had the biggest impact on me. It has made me think about the things I buy and the value that I place on my stuff. It has made me think, too, about the things I do and how I invest my time, energy and enthusiasm. And it has made me think about the way I want to live my live and the person I want to be. Which came as a bit of a shock, to be honest, on a Saturday afternoon when I didn’t much feel like doing anything except hang out with the dogs.