Minimalism has become one of the biggest buzzwords over the last few years.
A minimalist lifestyle is defined as owning and consuming only what brings value to your life. In our fast-paced, capitalistic, consumerism-driven world, the idea of having less on purpose can seem a little far-fetched… and maybe even impossible. Our high standards of living are encouraging us to shop at unprecedented rates and we have never been so obsessed by the act of consuming.
The 2015 documentary-style film Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things tackles this problem by presenting a different way to approach our consumerism: encouraging us to prioritise our relationships over our need for “stuff” or material things.
The film follows authors Joshua Nidodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn on their book tour around the United States of America. Their book, Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists, covers their journey from Wall Street corporate moguls to avid minimalists. They argue that a minimalistic lifestyle is not about pursuing perfection but about focusing on living an “intentional life”. With explorations into families living with less, ‘tiny home’ owners and capsule wardrobe creators, the film fights to present an alternative to the “norm”, striving to show its audience that we don’t have to fit the mould that society and big companies want us to conform to.
Most importantly, this film shows us that happiness is ultimately found in moments, not in things. Minimalism looks at this through a number of different lenses, including corporate moguls turned minimalists, parents, psychologists and experts in advertising. The people they interview and follow in the film have adopted rather extreme versions of the minimalist lifestyle – owning a limited number of things, traveling for ten months with only a small carry bag, or living in a tiny home. Although this will seem unrealistic to most of us, the value of their point is not lost. If anything, it becomes even clearer that with less, there is more time to live… and that you don’t need as much as you think you do.
It is through the stories and anecdotes of people adopting this lifestyle that the benefits of minimalism begin to shine through. The advantages of living a minimalist lifestyle were summed up perfectly in just three words: “affordability, simplicity, sustainability”.
Being a minimalist is affordable; having less and owning less means paying less. For example, the tiny home advocates do not have the financial burdens of paying off a mortgage or purchasing a large block of land. Everything they need fits in a small, compact space that, in some circumstances, comes with wheels and can be taken anywhere.
The process of owning and consuming less also brought a simplicity back into their lives. This had massive benefits for their physical and mental health, including lowering stress, introducing them to the wonders of meditation and gratitude, and increasing their time for passion projects and being with family.
Finally, the whole minimalist movement lends itself perfectly to an environmentally friendly way of life. Consuming less, living intentionally, being mindful and getting involved in our communities – these are all ways we can help make a positive impact on the world and the people around us.
As well as focusing on the benefits of minimalism, the film forces us to confront our own habits when it comes to consumerism. We have become reliant on instant gratification – on being able to order food, clothes, furniture, books (and to some extent relationships) with just a tap (or swipe) on our phones. Minimalism focuses on the impact of this dependency and how it has become a source of unhappiness within the general population. Many people use material goods to fill a void, primarily because companies are making it more compelling for us to do so.
The strategy behind advertising culture is one of the more eye-opening revelations in the film. In order to sell things, companies prey on our vulnerabilities and insecurities, especially in the fashion, fitness and cosmetic industries. By the same token, companies purposely want to make their consumers feel ‘out of trend’. They use tactics to make us feel as if we need these items when, in reality, the actual thing itself is not that important. What is important is what the item represents and the image it helps us to portray to the wider world. In anthropological terms, material items become a sort of cultural currency – a symbol of our status. In some situations, our status can decline or become elevated because of these things.
So, what can we take away from this film? Maybe some people will be inspired to go the full nine yards but for most of us, it’s more realistic that we integrate some of the habits of minimalism rather than the entire lifestyle – especially as young people who are still building and figuring out our lives. I think there are three main things we can all take away from Minimalism to incorporate into our own lives.
Writing down three things each day that you are grateful for is a fantastic way to start cultivating an attitude of abundance and finding value in moments rather than things. I recently had the opportunity to speak on the topic of gratitude on the Dear Future Boss Podcast. In the episode, we deep-dive into how to make gratitude an important and accessible part of our lives through the use of boundaries, gratitude lists and finding joy in the smaller moments.
2. Intentional Consuming
We can all take a moment to reflect upon our own consuming habits. What are we spending our money on? What are our reasons for buying that fashion item or viral gadget? Why do we watch this creator’s videos every week? Being intentional and conscious about what we are consuming, and why we are choosing to do it, will really help us stay on track with our own value system and make sure we aren’t being manipulated by advertisements and big companies who want us to feel inferior without their products.
3. “Love people and use things.”
The central message of the film is summed up in the last few moments. Author Joshua Fields Millburn professes, “love people and use things because the other way around never works.” As young creatives navigating new industries and the world of social media, as well as being on the job hunt, our lives can become a lot about how we present ourselves. At times, we can lose sight of our ideals and our values, but if we remember this message and take up the mindset of prioritising people and moments over things, then we will be on our way to building much more meaningful lives.
It’s important to remember that minimalism is going to look different for everyone because we all find value in different things. For some of us, it could include a large collection of books but less gadgets. For others, it could be having the latest phone but only owning one suit. A tiny home might be perfect for some people, but feel claustrophobic for others. There is no wrong way to approach a lifestyle change of this magnitude. I think the main message of conscious living is the important part. I’ve come to believe through my own experience that finding joy in moments is far more valuable than seeking out materialistic validation. Through making small changes first and finding what adds value to my life and my mental health, great change and growth has greeted me. When we allow ourselves to strip it all back and focus on what brings value and light into our lives, then there are endless opportunities for happiness to be let in.