My Review Of The Documentary “Minimalism”

The Minimalists are living the life they preach about. I think that lends them great credibility. As one who makes a point to live simple, this review of the documentary, Minimalism, reflects my honest thoughts and opinions.

Review of Minimalism: Photo of The Minimalists Minimalism film.
Photo from minimalismfilm.com

Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn have been running their website, The Minimalists, for almost a decade. About a year ago, they released the film, MinimalismYesterday, it came out on Netflix. Today, I review the film. 

Because I’m a minimalist myself, I waited for the documentary to come to Netflix instead of buying it earlier. (I have Netflix for my 11-year-old daughter.) Watching the film made up most of my two hours of TV viewing for the week. 

The documentary, Minimalism, should be a must-watch, not only for anyone who wants to live a simpler life, but for everyone. There’s only one way out from the problems we’ve created in our modern consumption-based society. The answer is simple: Live with less. It will help us both personally and as a society. 

A Good Review Points Out The Good And The Bad

A great review looks at the whole of something and discusses both the good and the bad. I’m not a movie critic by profession, but I’ll be following that rule. I mostly have good things to say about the documentary, Minimalism, but I also have a couple of pieces of constructive criticism.

Overall, I loved the message of this film. We buy too much. We spend too much time using media. And we live too big. We allow our kids to have too much. The documentary was fast too point out all of these things and more.

The film included guests appearances from an all-star cast of minimalists including, Joshua Becker, Leo Babauta, Courtney Carver, and Graham Hill. I won’t hold it against The Minimalists that they left me out. 

5 Things I Liked About The Film, “Minimalism”

  1. Freedom: The documentary promotes an idea of finding freedom by living with less. Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn both made conscious decisions to leave corporate professions and live with less, They discovered that living with less leads to more freedom and better relationships.
  2. Environment: I thought the film could have a stronger message about how much consumerism is harming the environment. There was some mention to this problem, but perhaps more review in this area could make the film more impactful for a generation being raised green.
  3. Small spaces: I love looking at tiny homes and I enjoyed seeing those parts within the film. However, personally, I’d recommend making use of existing spaces rather than creating new tiny spaces. If one of the goals of minimalism is to stop consuming, then using existing spaces with limited remodel makes more sense than creating new spaces.
  4. Consumerism: The movie didn’t ignore the idea that we still have needs. It’s okay to buy stuff. The problem is simply that many people buy too much stuff. They try to fill a void with material things. That void is actually better filled by getting rid of unneeded stuff and living a more meaningful life. Only buy what adds value.
  5. Personal touch: This was my favorite thing about the film. Joshua and Ryan both offered personal stories about hardships they’ve faced both as kids and adults. This gives the film a warm personal feel. I liked that. 

My Final Review Analysis

I thought the film was done well. The filmography and the music were tasteful. The interviews were meaningful. Overall, the film had a great message and a fine quality about it.

I would have liked to have seen more minimalist geography and filmography used in the making of the film. I would have liked the music to have been more minimalist in style. The film also could have moved a little slower. In other words, I’d have liked to have seen more artistic license used to express the message of the film.

Part of the dilemma of spreading the message of minimalism is this: In order to spread the message, we must become part of the medium that we are sometimes critical of.

So the film was produced in a documentary style that can be viewed on Netflix? I can’t find fault in The Minimalists for using this popular medium, even if it does seem ironic. I also use a variety of media to promote minimalism. It’s impossible to avoid if we want to create true change in the world. 

In the end, I would give Minimalism 4.5 of 5.0 stars. Thank you Joshua and Ryan for creating this film. 

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26 Comments

  1. Thanks for this review, Dan. I wasn’t sure how “preachy” the film might be, since in my opinion Ryan and Joshua are sometimes a little “holier-than-thou” in their tone. I will definitely take a look at their video, thanks to your very balanced review.

    1. I agree that they can come off as preachy. I didn’t sense that in the film. They seemed to let a large group of minimalists speak to the subject and didn’t draw as much attention to themselves as I might have expected.

      1. I don’t like that they now ask for donations after freely throwing away a six figure income. When i donate it is to people in REAL need.

  2. I happened upon Minimalism on Netflix and was immediately drawn into this wonderful way of life. I have been practicing it in my own way for years, but this gave me a more concrete way and confidence to fully live a minimalist lifestyle. I bought their book Everything That Remains and I am now listening to their podcasts. I don’t find them preachy at all, but I did find it funny that they are both “coffee snobs”…and I say that tongue in cheek as it doesn’t bother me at all. I guess I’m a barbarian for loving just about any coffee as long as it has some wonderful cream and sugar in it…ha! LOVE PEOPLE, USE THINGS….thank you Joshua and Ryan !!!

  3. I started my path to a minimalist lifestyle in February 2014. I enjoyed this film immensely. The more we focus on this lifestyle, the better this world will be. The film helped to re-energize my minimalist path. The “Minimalists” talk the talk, and walk the walk. Thank You!

    1. I agree that keeping our mind on the path of minimalism will make the world and our lives a better place. Thanks for your comment.

  4. why they sell online courses for $600 that can be found on coursera or Edx for free?
    That doesn’t seem to me very “minimalistic”. Additionally, it looks to me very similar to the Marie Kondo method, which for sure they know, but was never mentioned…..

      1. Oh man, you nailed it on the head Dan. I couldn’t get past 1/3 of the documentary, despite agreeing with minimalism in general. The marketing of the two guys was bleeding through the tainted ideology throughout the documentary. An opportunity to reach out to wider audiences lost to a surprisingly non-compelling execution. I wouldn’t be surprised if this just gets as far as the echo chamber of those already practicing minimalism.

        1. Great point about the echo chamber. That’s one reason I like to write as much about simple living as “minimalism.” I want to reach a broader audience without the blatant self promotion. I see it every day lately, too, as they take their Minimalists tour. But they are still promoting the cause and I give then credit there.

  5. I know all I see now are two guys who spend all their time promoting themselves. In my opinion minimalism is just a tool for them to get into media and make that their career. I enjoyed their blog at first but lately it is just asking for money or advertising their tour – I guess advertisements only suck if they aren’t your own!

    1. I agree. And although they do introduce people to minimalism, I have to wonder how much it sticks. If they are only doing it to promote themselves, it’s more shallow. It becomes more fad-like and less lifestyle.

  6. Firstly Dan, thank you for the blog and your contribution to what you believe in and the time/energy/thought that put into your review. Much appreciated.
    I hope you don’t mind me leaving a longer than necessary comment/review of the film here. You can always delete it or scroll down/up…
    I heard about this film a few weeks ago from a dear friend of mine who said it summed up his life/lifestyle so i was curious to see it. I love documentaries but rarely make the time to see them
    So here’s a tale of two well off white guys who were self confessed shitty people greeding over money in the corporate world who have decided to give it all up [seemingly] to live a more altruistic life but in the meantime have hijacked the word minimalism to use it as a vehicle to write their book and elevate their social profile. It might have been more fitting to describe themselves as anti-consumerists. I really wished they had then I could say, oh, i know what that is, I have been doing that for 30years, not sure I need a 30year old telling me how to do it, but thanks all the same.
    Back to the film, the music was off-putting from the very start, I got up and left the room after 2 minutes, grabbed a glass of water, uttered to myself to give it a chance and returned to the room but nothing had changed. It was grimm and intentionally downbeat, why film makers choose to try to force the emotions of the viewer in a film is beyond me. Please don’t try to drive my emotions, I thought that’s what the narrative and visuals were supposed to do, by the time the film had reached its end or climax the two heroes of the film had burnt up so much fossil fuels and left behind a pretty sizable carbon footprint by driving their petrol car all around the country that I had to shake my head when the music turned to full Tony Robbins ecstatic mode, I could barely remain in my seat I felt compelled to rise to my feet and fist pump the sky….then the endorphins leveled and i wondered why they didn’t catch trains or ride busses across the nation. Or why neither of them would consider giving up their social media presence or their laptops or iPhones or other electronics gadgets, or why they wore clothes that were made in third world countries by children that should be in school or why they actually chose to publish a physical book instead of digital only version…the other points may be debatable and not fair game in the world of the so-called minimalists but how many tones of trash are they creating just by printing a book in 2017, not too mention the carbon footprint [yes, again] of having is shipped all around the world or usa at least….think about it.
    So…back to our heroes and their revolutionary plight, their story was boring [much like this review] and uncompelling, the story was all the over the place, no consistent narrative, no consistent plot, no nod to the people that had gone before them [Marie Kondo for one!] and actually added to the *ahem* movement…what was the actual point to what the protactonists do, what is it that they do, what is it that they suggest people do in order to be more like them? Be greedy un-self aware money grubbing people save your money buy a place then quit your job, co-opt other peoples work and ethos [albiet half baked], re-invent or try to re-invent the meaning of a word/movement that has been around for nearly 70 odd years, package it a flimsy book and an even flimsier film, feed their ego, fill up their sense of self worth.
    Tell me something about these guys, do they have hobbies, interests, passion for anything other then pairing down their possessions then monatising the promotion of a so called movement…
    oh my i’m even boring myself. if you’re gotten this far please forgive me, minimalism strikes a deep chord with me and i’m pro-minimalism and anti-consumerism to my very core but theses guys just turn my stomach, i wouldn’t recommend this film to anyone. I appreciate the fact that they actually made a film but….if you approach film watching as a minimalist i.e. “reducing a subject to its necessary elements” i’d say you could safely skip it.
    thank you for reading my maximalist review/opinion of minimalism – the film.

    Anon

    note: i reserve the right to post grammatically incorrect posts online with typographical errors, sometimes i don’t know any better and other times i do.

  7. That is one great article, says brilliantly what I’ve been thinking for years. The version of marketed minimilism that smacks of the rich choosing to pare down reminds me of the ‘cottage orné’ movement among the rich in the late 18th / early 19th century, basically a way of playing at being poor while feeling morally superior. Very similar to those people who do a good deed but then feel the need to post it online so everyone can tell them how great they are, i.e. if it is all about feeding your ego you’re missing the point! I used to follow a number of ‘minimalists’ but dropped all of them as soon as I sensed a ‘how great am I’ vibe, much prefer the living more simply and with intention idea. I enjoy this blog though.

    1. I agree. In fact, I’m becoming so frustrated with the movement that I’m thinking about slowly phasing out this blog and starting something new.

  8. Having lived a frugal, minimalist lifestyle for over 40 years, I found it ironic that this message is just now grabbing hold of young and old minds. Alas, the “movement” often seems to be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Often, I get a sense of “holier than thou”…or “I’m more minimalist than you” or “Heavens! You actually purchased something that wasn’t fair trade …even second hand?” Hey, we are doing the best we can here… Many minimalist ideas, like living debt free, can’t help but improve individual lives. Being a good steward in all areas of our lives is beneficial to all…whether we are poor or economically well off. But, when socialist philosophy and propaganda sneak in, the message is skewed. Sigh, too bad we aren’t all “perfect” in our walk…The film may be the starting point for many people…let’s just hope it isn’t the end. Let truth come forth once the hoards of stuff, ideologies, and prejudices are minimized.

    1. I agree completely, Lizzie. I’m frustrated with the minimalist movement in several ways and might be moving toward a slightly different topic on a new blog in the future. But I’ll be here for awhile.

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