Minimalism: Movie review

I originally wrote this for The Simple Year, where I’ve been writing about our family’s adventures in zero waste, but I think it’s fitting for here as well. — TW

Last Friday [now two months ago], the Walker Four watched Minimalism for the first time. We’ve heard a lot about this movie, and had been trying to find it on Netflix for several weeks. Our mistake: We kept searching “The Minimalists.”

Which actually would have been a better title.

I should qualify this all by saying that we’d heard a lot about the movie, but not what the movie was about. From our movie searches, it’s probably obvious that we thought the movie would focus on The Minimalists. So that whole part of the ordeal did not surprise us. What I was not expecting was to see so many other minimalists talking about their experiences. Hey, the more the merrier, right?

And I didn’t expect it to be about The Minimalists’ 10-month trip around the States spreadin’ the word. I thought it would be more of a how-to. We got some answers — why Josh and Ryan left lucrative careers, why they are minimalists, why other people believe in the message — but it glossed over the harder parts of choosing a minimalist lifestyle.

It’s hard having to go through your stuff and make big decisions. It’s tough being a minimalist when those around you aren’t — or think it’s somehow an affront to their lifestyle and then argue with you about it. It’s depressing when you look around and see that, even though you’ve worked so hard at decluttering, there’s still so much to do. It’s deflating to realize that you’ve changed your whole life but the first thing you think of when you look at an empty drawer is that you should go shopping to fill it up.

There’s a lot of mental stuff that goes along with minimalism that wasn’t touched on in the movie. It’s a lot of work and effort and self reflection, and it’s really ugly.

So I would have liked to have seen some of that play out. I really wish we could have heard more from others in the film — like Courtney Carver, who took several years to get to where she is now, or Joshua Becker, who has an interesting backstory on why he became a minimalist. I like hearing from those with families because that’s my experience, too.

I don’t want to downplay what Josh and Ryan have accomplished, because they’ve taken the message really far and that’s a great thing. But they’re on a completely different plane, being single and childless. To quote Amy Poehler: “Good for you. Not for me.”

But there were some interesting points: Why we buy stuff just to buy it, how we use things as rewards when we’re feeling emotions we just don’t know what to do with, how possessions are supposed to somehow be equivalent to self-worth. How, when you peel back the layers, you find what’s important.

I polled the fam on their thoughts about the movie, and they’re mostly positive. Johanna thought it was “fine.” Abby said she it was a good introduction to the concept, and that if you were wondering what minimalism is all about, that would be a decent place to start.

Eric’s thoughts were a little deeper:

“I thought it was fine. It got you thinking. I think they nailed a lot of it — you just buy stuff for no real serious purpose, it’s just the whim of the moment. And then you end up with all this crap in your house.

“We’ve always been minimalists in the fact that we’re cheap and don’t like to spend money.” (That made me laugh. Actually, that’s why he’s a minimalist — I get overwhelmed by clutter and, having spent so long getting rid of stuff, have no real desire to bring anything new into the house.) “In some regards, the movie showed we can do better, but it also showed that we also do a lot of things right.”

Then I asked him about minimalism and zero waste and how they relate to each other:

“I think if you’re doing one, you’re doing the other. Aren’t you? If you’re zero waste, your minimizing the amount of garbage, hopefully, that you create and in doing so you’re minimizing what you bring into your home.”

Well … I don’t think they’re automatically linked. Minimalism is what led me to zero waste, but I’ve read plenty of comments accusing minimalists of just blithely getting rid of stuff without any regard for the environment, and that zero wasters are hoarders who don’t like to get rid of anything because maybe they’ll need it someday … or maybe because if they hold on to it, it doesn’t count towards their landfill total.

Usually minimalism gets in the way of my zero waste efforts, but watching the movie, my zero waste was getting in the way of minimalism: I kept noticing all of the disposables in each scene, and that really bothered me. I suppose you could successfully argue that if you’re a minimalist, you’re not using many resources to begin with, but come on! Invest in a travel mug, Ryan, geez.

Maybe it’s hypocritical of me to even point that out. It took years before I made the connection between minimalism and zero waste. Sure, it’s an extension of my minimalism now, and I’m super happy to be both — or I wouldn’t be doing it — but the realization came slowly. How long have I been a minimalist, anyway? Four years, five? And I just started getting serious about zero waste 10 months ago?

Um, so maybe I should just shut up about that part is what I’m saying. We’re each on our own path.

(Seriously, Ryan. Travel mug.)

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