Movie Review: The Minimalists

Best friends, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, were steadily climbing the corporate ladder of success. Building their income earning capacity, accumulating more material wealth and expanding their personal empires, they had bought into the American Dream. Originally, the so-called American Dream was to do with opportunity. The idea that just about anyone could make something of themselves by dedicating their efforts in the right direction on American soil became a staple of the winsome spirit and bravado that characterises Americans and their tremendous sense of self-belief. A nation of self-professed winners who are encouraged to be all they can be and dream the impossible dream from a young age, winning at all costs can have serious repercussions.

When did the noble aspirations of the American Dream get so twisted? Perhaps rampant and unchecked consumerism can account for some of the fall out. While America’s the poster country for the pitfalls of capitalism, their brand of cultural imperialism has influenced many other countries including South Africa. Getting the latest and the greatest, manufacturing the perfect illusion of happiness and spending beyond one’s means are so ingrained, these excesses seem normal. We fill our wardrobes with fast fashion, buy homes with more space than we need, stockpile things we hardly ever use and develop a mountain of credit card debt in keeping up appearances.

The message behind The Minimalists documentary is a welcome self-check and one that people are more open to in this post-recession pandemic age. Economic collapse, property market bubbles and strained financial situations are forcing consumers to hold back. Living at home during lockdown has given people a fresh appreciation of what’s important in life and separated desire from need. Finally getting a chance to enjoy some of the things we’ve clustered around us, breaking the cycle of routine and extracting us from the hamster wheel of self-distraction has been eye-opening. Not having the expendable income to splash out with some quick fix retail therapy has also made people more receptive and possibly even more mindful.

Joshua reached that culmination point when his mom passed away from stage 4 lung cancer, getting him to re-examine his life and priorities. For Ryan, the point of no return happened when he found himself trying to explain to marketers how to sell cellphones to 5-year-olds. Both cresting in their professional lives, they were forced into engaging in self-reflection to figure out why they weren’t feeling rich in spite of making more money than they ever had. Something had to change. Teaming up to create a website in 2010, the two have written several books and continue with a podcast dealing with the concept of minimalism.

The Minimalists

“Thinking outside the box is hard.”

The documentary plays like a road movie, moving at a good pace and building from the concept and their inspiration to their 10 month tour of the United States. “Love people and use things… because the opposite never works” is one of the closing comments, which sums up their quest. Now also a book title, the duo have developed a massive following on the back of their decade-long efforts and now documentary feature. The Minimalists documentary interviews likeminded people who have also made the decision to live more simply. Their reductive mission isn’t just about getting rid of stuff, it’s about making space for more life. A clear space is a much happier place and while there’s a drive to reduce, upcycle and reuse – it’s actually about dedicating our lives to things that truly add value.

Tiny houses, redesigned space-saving ideas, decluttering, unsubscribing from the desire mentality, adopting meditation and living more with less is where The Minimalists find themselves. While the less is more mantra may make it seem like a semi-religious movement, the practical wisdom is an inspiration to us all. It’s okay to collect things but it’s about getting to a place where you can find a healthy balance. Discussing various topics with authors who have also dedicated their lives to adopting these practices, we get an inside look at what life can be like. Offering heaps of inspiration and value in redressing things we take as a given, The Minimalists is actually a brilliant advert for the film’s subjects.

While this sounds a bit preachy, it’s done in an earnest fashion with the self-professed huggers spreading the word. Less a warning about excess and more a message of hope, The Minimalists provides an entertaining, informative, sincere and honest account of two guys committing to positive change. Knowing we can afford something but don’t need it or living in a space where we’re able to lend anything we own to a friend, helps loosen our grip on the stuff around us. If Elon Musk can be the richest man on the planet one day and then not a few hours later, being “rich enough” will always be like chasing the wind. The Minimalists encounters the problem with fresh insights, covering a comprehensive range of related topics with commentary from people walking the walk without becoming too stuffy or preachy.

The bottom line: Inspirational