Review: “Minimalism – A Documentary About The Important Things”

In the clip I’m watching, it’s Black Friday. People pour into a store, physically falling over one another in the rush to reach the items on display. There’s fighting, boxes being ripped from people’s arms, random things being grabbed, shouting and screaming. It’s chaos. I’m watching Minimalism, the documentary by Matt D’Avella about, well yes, minimalism. The documentary follows two guys who left the rat race to discover happiness through the medium of minimalism.

The Black Friday scene I described is essentially the opposite of minimalism and is used a couple of times to really juxtapose the calm, serene, simplified spaces curated by a number of people featured in the film who live out this minimalist lifestyle. As someone who has had a keen interest in minimalist values for around 10 years, I adored the clean, curated spaces in the film and was inspired that living with less really did equal a calmer, contented life.

A friend tells me she remembers the day I became a minimalist, she came over and I had half the possessions I had had before and an enormous pile of boxes and bags in the corner of my room ready to take to the charity shop. I consumed blog posts on minimalism like crazy and felt more free by simply owning less stuff. I was challenged to consider my environment and possessions carefully, and I started a journey that I’m still on today. I wanted to consider my personal impact on people and the planet, so minimalism became more than simply owning less. It was about the root causes; advertising, career development, the environment and the speed of our collective consumption.

I was glad the documentary featured a lot of these issues. Minimalism allows you to consider different aspects of minimalism that might suit you. Whether that’s through a curated wardrobe, through a tiny house or a modular, flexible home or through compromising with a non-minimalist housemate or partner – we’re all able to pursue aspects of minimalism in our own lives.

The film really seemed to address the concept of the ‘American Dream’ or ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and follows two guys, Joshua and Ryan who are touring America and speaking about their journey in response to this (hint: it looks like a sparse apartment with one chair and one jacket). It’s interspersed with others who have found their own way in response to the American dream and gives quite a full picture of how minimalism plays out in society. I really enjoyed the balanced perspective of the film; during a Q&A at one of their speaking engagements, the Minimalists get asked if to truly escape from societal expectations and consumption – should we all enter into a monastic lifestyle, cut off from society. They say they hope they’re somewhere in the middle. I think that’s right, it can be good to engage with concepts like minimalism but we also have to find a balance between values and relationships. My experience tells me that sometimes these clash. For example, if I discard all of my mugs so I just have one for myself, I am then unable to be hospitable. So it’s important to consider how all of our values line up to achieve balance.

The most striking moment in the film features Joshua Fields Millburn, one of the Minimalists, reading an excerpt from their book. He describes the break down of his marriage, noting that amidst all this chaos he still had time to go to IKEA. He describes all the new things he needed to buy, from room to room until he reaches the point of satisfaction. Except he doesn’t feel satisfied, he’s left questioning what on earth all this stuff is for and how on earth it reflects who he is. I think we’re all like this to some degree, and it made me look around at my belongings with fresh eyes. 

One key area I wanted to talk about is found towards the end of the documentary. The minimalists state that the people in your life should always share your values and add value to your life, but I’m not sure Jesus calls us to do this. In 1 Corinthians chapter 9, Paul calls us to be like those under the law to win those under the law, to be weak to win the weak. In fact, he even goes as far as to say he has become all things to all people in order to win as many as possible for the gospel. So even if the people around us don’t share our values, we should be seeking to at least understand theirs. Our priority as Christians should always be to share the good news of Jesus whether that’s through the way we spend our time, through our lifestyle choices or through the people we choose to build relationships with. The minimalists describe their lifestyle as an intentional life, and while I agree with this to some extent – it seems to me that their version of intentional is focused around themselves, what makes them happy, what adds value to their life. As a Christian, I want my life to be focused on my relationship with God, what makes others happy, what adds value to their lives.

So should you watch Minimalism? Yes, it’s certainly not a waste of an hour and a half and will challenge you to think more deeply about our consumptive culture.  

Will it make you want to reassess everything you own? Yes, you will probably discard at least 5 things in the hour after you watch it.

Is minimalism the source of true happiness? I think no. As Christians, we’re called to find peace, joy and contentment in Jesus Christ alone – and I truly believe we won’t find it any other way.

Minimalism can be streamed via Netflix (with a subscription) or found on Vimeo (for a fee). 

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