Minimalism (2015)

*. An interesting and I think important subject only superficially glanced at.
*. Here it’s called minimalism, but it’s been elsewhere marketed, and I think that really is the word, as decluttering, anti-materialism/anti-consumerism, self-editing, and mindfulness. It’s an idea that goes back to ancient times (the rejection of worldly goods by Stoics and early Christianity) but which has only grown in relevance in a mass consumer society: the world is too much with us so get rid of all the stuff that’s complicating your life and that the advertising industry has tricked you into thinking you need. Simplify! Simplify!
*. The documentary Minimalism basically follows a couple of buddies — Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn, a duo who call themselves “the Minimalists” — on a book tour promoting their book about, you guessed it, the minimalist lifestyle. You will immediately recognize a sharp dissonance. The Minimalists present themselves as determinedly against advertising, yet the entire movie (which they produced) is essentially an infomercial for their book. There’s even one clip at the end from their appearance on The Today Show where they include the plug the hosts give for the book. My jaw dropped slightly open at this. Was this irony? I don’t think so. The movie is a pitch, just as the name “the Minimalists” is a brand they are flogging.
*. To be sure, lots of documentaries have companion books to go along with them. Just among ones I’ve looked at recently there are Inside Job and Requiem for the American Dream. But Minimalism takes this a whole lot further. It’s a straight-up ad.
*. That’s painful, but there are other aspects of the movie that are just as troubling. Chief among these is the way minimalism is presented as a lifestyle choice indulged in by — and I hate to use this language — privileged, upper-class, white people. At one point Nicodemus refers to the listeners of National Public Radio as their “peeps” and target “demographic.” Meaning older, wealthy, and white. People who have everything and may decide that, since they’re not totally happy, they should get rid of some of it.
*. As I say, there is nothing new in any of this. When Millburn reads a passage from his book I honestly thought he was just quoting from Edward Norton’s monologue at the beginning of Fight Club. I spent most of the movie wondering where all the kids were, and though a couple are introduced at the end nothing much is said about how minimalist families work. Nor, despite the subtitle — A Documentary About the Important Things — is there any clear sense of what these important things are. Self-enrichment (in the non-material sense). Personal growth. An authentic self. It sounds mushy to me, especially as I think it likely that “the important things” will be different for every individual.
*. It’s a shame the movie is such a dud because this is an important subject. As one of the talking heads, a designer of tiny homes, puts it, “we’re not very going to be able to achieve the environmental gains that we’re seeking while still expecting our lives to be the same. We’re going to have to give up a lot. The secret is that a lot of that we’re not actually going to miss.” I think this is right. Our present mass production-mass consumption civilization is unsustainable. We will have to lead simpler lives, making do with less, either by choice or (more likely) by necessity. Such a life can, however, be both healthier and happier than what we have now. I believe in all of this, and my own life is, at least in relative terms, quite minimal. I like the message here. I’m just not stuck on the messengers, or the slickness of the packaging.

36 thoughts on “Minimalism (2015)

  1. fragglerocking

    I am not a fan of lifestyle gurus at all and these two sound like chancers. Minimalism is a style of photography I really enjoy, but I don’t think I can be accused of living that lifestyle. I’m OK with that, I like my stuff!

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      But you have a little car, and little Lego people! That’s minimal!
      I like the stuff I have, but I don’t have that much except for books. I do have a lot of books. Otherwise I take the approach that says you can’t take it with you so I don’t buy a lot and like to use and wear everything I’ve got until it’s ready for the bin.

      Reply
      1. fragglerocking

        Yes to lots and lots of books, and CD’s, and records, and cameras and and and! But I’m good at not buying new clothes. I mend them too rather than throw them out.

  2. film-authority.com

    Here is an inventory of what Alex has
    1) 50 terrabyte hard drive of screenshotted women on toilets
    2) Library Card
    3) Complete works of John Cassettes/Shakespeare/Leprechauns
    4) Knee length beard
    5) 500 stolen library books about minimalism.

    is that it?

    Reply
      1. film-authority.com

        Nothing minimalist about your blamange-like caboose. You could see it from the top of the Seattle Space Needle.

        Takes decades of hard farm work to get buttocks like mine, taut as a Welsh miner.

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Blancmage? I feel like I need a translator some days. Don’t know about these Welsh miners. Though I doubt they have the sculpted-bronze look that I sport.
        Bins!

      3. film-authority.com

        We would say ‘Fanny about’ which is to waste time unconstructively. Or get your freak on, like the song. But get your Fanny on is new to me. I think Alex should get HIS Fanny on and we should know the results in the next news cycle.

      4. fragglerocking

        It wasn’t getting MY fanny on, it was having A fanny on which is the same as your fanny about. I suppose I should have written ‘I had a fanny about in the shed’ but I’m trying to be minimalistic with my syllables.

      5. film-authority.com

        So if I said ‘are you having a Fanny on?’ That would feel inaccurate, but ‘having a Fanny about’ would feel right. This is no time for minimalism, use the correct words please. Otherwise next time I’m over the border, I’ll expect everyone to be getting their ‘Fanny on’ which will be problematic for all concerned. So Alex is fannying about in his bins, but not getting his Fanny on?

      6. fragglerocking

        Not quite but nearly. ‘Are you having a fanny on?’ Is OK, though ‘What are you fannying on about?’ is preferable and far superior to ‘having a fanny about’, which doesn’t sound right as fannying is an adjective whereas ‘a fanny’ is a noun. You can’t really put a fanny on, but you can fanny. Hope that clears things up.

      7. film-authority.com

        I can be a fanny, or I can fanny about, and I could fanny on about something. It’s a noun, yes, but alos an adjective. I fanny, you fanny, he fannies, they fanny. Fanny by Gaslight. Gwen Stefani by gaslight.

  3. Bookstooge

    With the shoddy workmanship of most crap nowadays, minimalism is even harder, as you have to keep re-buying things like toasters, etc. Back in my day a toaster lasted your whole bleeping life!

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      And you could still have one of those solid-state refrigerators from the ’50s in your garage! Those things could take a bullet (or two) and keep humming.

      Reply
      1. Alex Good Post author

        I’m pretty sure those fridges were tested against global thermonuclear war. They had to be at the time. And they came out shining.

  4. Over-The-Shoulder

    Like you, I’m definitely not a hoarder, but I do like my stuff. I mean, nowadays, most of my stuff – music, films, all my work, etc – is all stored on my computer. I do have a framed Soviet Union flag on my wall which wasn’t there one day and was the next. I don’t dare touch it. The “privileged, upper-class, white people” line made me shiver, so I think I’ll be sticking to Fight Club.

    But, for a minimalist, Alex, you sure have to put the bins out a lot… 🤨

    Reply
  5. Rachel Hayashi Aki

    Great post, Alex! I try to live as a minimalist but I own many books. I guess it’s about living with intention. Don’t just go with the flow. It is an important subject, I hope there’s more people talking about it in their own creative ways.

    Reply

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