WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
They've built a movement out of minimalism. Longtime friends Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus share how our lives can be better with less.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
New year, new me. That recycled mantra has once again risen out of hibernation at the start of 2021, but after the hellish landscape of 2020, there seems to be more urgency to it as we try to force the world back to normal after the ding of midnight.
While many around the world are still struggling with finances due to economic crashes, lay-offs, and lockdowns stalling business, one has to wonder if releasing a documentary about having less stuff isn’t a little tone-deaf right now. The Minimalists: Less is Now is a sort of catch-up from their earlier documentary in 2016 - Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things - that rather dives into the history of the faces of the clutter-free movement - from their perspective of course. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are two of the biggest proponents of the lifestyle, former big-shot corporates that turned their shift to ‘less stuff’ into an enterprise.
In the documentary, they both reflect on their past, growing up poor, and the unhappiness they felt when they were finally rich and had all the stuff. Instead of a straightforward documentary interview, they instead preach to the camera about their proverbial walk in the desert and how it too can change your life. It’s interspersed with more traditional interviews from finance, anti-consumerism, education experts and other minimalist influencers - including a pastor from one of the US’s many megachurches - as well as short Zoom interviews with every-day Americans that have embraced the minimalist lifestyle.
It’s reminiscent of those religious sermon videos from my high school days in the church, like one long hard sell for this decluttered doctrine that will ironically fill that void in your life. While I am all for a 'less is more' anti-consumerist lifestyle, this minimalist version that Millburn and Nicodemus peddle feels incredibly elitist, aesthetically crafted from a place of privilege that almost refuses to address the societal pressures placed on those with fewer resources. They talk about creating an ‘intentional life’ as if having less is a choice without addressing how having less is actually forced on others. Their target market is strictly American, upper-middle-class single people and comes across as very disingenuous to a South African audience.
It can be hard to remain objective in documentaries, but I am disappointed in Netflix for punting what’s essentially an advertisement for The Minimalists instead of an honest look at the movement, complete with testimonials of the efficacy of their 'product' and cringe
reenactments of their 'before' life. It also whitewashes the roots of the movement, which can definitely be traced back to Buddhism and other non-Western cultures and religions.
And for a documentary with the word 'now' in, it does not actually mention anything about the world of now, where people are being forced into the ‘less stuff lifestyle’. A respectable documentarian would have tried to do a few reshoots and try to pull in the world-altering events of 2020 into the topic, which would have elevated the message to considerable degrees.
If you really want to learn more about living a minimalist life, rather do your own research and consult various resources - including the ones criticizing it - rather than making The Minimalists: Less is Now your introduction to it. It’s more likely to put you off minimalism and go out to buy something just for spite.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: