Review: ‘Minimalism’ convinces audiences to focus on happiness

by Ryan Zhang | 4/30/19 2:10am

At the beginning of this term, I noticed just how much stuff I had accumulated after several years of dorm life in a boarding school. I have used all of my closets and other storage spaces to the fullest, yet, I still have many books, jackets, random electronic devices and documents on the floor. Sometimes, I struggle to dig out the t-shirt I want to wear because my closet is literally full of clothes; other times I am tripped by the Amazon boxes on the ground or I cannot find the right cable among millions of cables all of which have become so intertwined that they may never be separated from each other. This is what a pair of filmmakers called the “Minimalists” refer to as “clutter.”

The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, produced a documentary called “Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things,” back in 2016, when it was released in roughly 400 theaters in the United States and Canada. Recently, the documentary became available on Netflix, and I came across it at exactly the right time. To be frank, my cynicism kicked in right before I watched the film. “This is probably just another superficially inspirational documentary that somehow moves the viewers by saying a bunch of meaningless rubbish in a pretentiously serious way,” I thought. 

It turns out that I was wrong — “Minimalism” is, actually, a very well-made documentary that addresses contemporary issues of people and society from a unique yet practical angle. 

Although the public may perceive minimalism as a “chic” or rather “useless” aesthetic ideal, the documentary presents minimalism as a simple lifestyle that can be or should be lived by everyone. Millburn and Nicodemus do a good job explaining why that is. 

Millburn and Nicodemus, before adopting this lifestyle, were the kind of people society would deem “successful.” Millburn was a young manager on track to manage even more stores, while Nicodemus was a corporate executive. In the eyes of a commoner, their six-digit salaries and titles are more than desirable. However, beneath the surface of their successful lives, they both suffered.

In the case of Millburn, he lost his mother and his marriage in the same year. Not until then did he realize that because of his job and all the material desires he had, he had forever lost the time he could have spent with the ones he truly loves. 

Such a case is not unique to Millburn. Almost no one can escape this hideous pattern of wanting. We are constantly driven by the desire to do well, to have a good job — and, for what? To buy and own more things that we think we need to be happy? “Minimalism” reminds us that as we march forward tirelessly, we tend to neglect an essential question: Do we really need so much to be happy? 

Millburn’s own life attests to the fact that happiness is not a direct result of material wealth. The Minimalists reason that when we reduce our items down to the absolutely essential ones, life can become easier. When we are no longer troubled by the clutter around us, we can finally have the time to talk to the people we truly care about and love. 

As they point out, a minimalist lifestyle is not just a lifestyle, but could also potentially serve as a cure to the disease of modern society. 

Indeed, people feel the need to demonstrate to the Internet that their lives are successful or that they are wealthy without noticing that they were conditioned to do so. Our current society’s disease is materialism. The general economic atmosphere encourages everyone to buy more watches and fancy clothes by convincing us that owning more will makes us happy. But does it really? I doubt it. I’ve bought an excessive amount of unnecessary items and they all turn out to be much less satisfying than a good conversation with a dear friend. 

A minimalist lifestyle may help us see through the deception of capitalism and find what we truly need. I will not spoil any more of the documentary, but what I will say is that if you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by the things and voices around you, take an hour off and watch this documentary. It is surprisingly relaxing, and the featured stories of people finding what they want are more than relatable. In addition to their solid reasoning, the solution Millburn and Nicodemus provide in “Minimalism” is highly feasible —­ I’ve already thrown out two boxes of item since I finished the documentary.

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