The Minimalists: Less Is Now is a likable and undeniably well-timed introduction to the concept of minimalism, and how you might be able to live a happier, more fulfilled life if all the stuff holding you down just gets in the bin.
The word of the day is “stuff”. We all have too much of it. And how much stuff do we really need? This is the question posed in The Minimalists: Less Is Now by Joshua and Ryan, best friends from chubby schoolkids to Spartan-living successes, and it’s one with an obvious answer – nowhere near as much as we think.
Netflix has an uncanny ability to read a room. Mere hours after saying farewell to the cursed year of 2020, the streaming giant has dropped what is essentially a “new year new me” starter pack: a guide to meditation, a home makeover show, and this, a vaguely finger-wagging reminder that you’re working to earn enough money to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t even like, and you’d probably be better off if you weren’t. But as preachy as that sounds, this hour-ish documentary film works in large part by laying out inarguable facts in clear terms, and nudging you to make pretty reasonable changes to be less burdened by all the junk that capitalism’s corrosive advertising has tricked you into believing you need.
I was relieved to see Joshua and Ryan practicing what they preach while still living relatively normal lives. Their homes are neat and organized, but not ridiculously New Age like those insufferable tiny houses or completely devoid of personality and life. There’s plenty in them, but only stuff that is functional or brings a sense of joy. There’s that word again. “Stuff” is a pretty nebulous descriptor, but it’s easy enough to figure out what qualifies. Anything with utility questionable enough for the label to apply you could probably live without.
All of the talking heads who have followed this advice seem better off for having binned the clutter. Ryan and Joshua in particular are surprisingly likable, and The Minimalists: Less Is Now makes an effort to rationalize their mindset with an exploration of their personal histories, both defined by neglect and an unfulfilling understanding of success. Interestingly enough, the kind of trauma and disillusionment that leads people to hoard and covet is what persuaded these two to head in the complete opposite direction, casting off the meaningless accumulation of products to instead live simpler, happier lives.
If there’s a drawback here, it’s that The Minimalists: Less Is Now makes this process seem perhaps too easy. Like other forms of addiction or self-destructive cycles, compulsively accumulating branded bric-a-brac is a way to fill an achingly empty internal space; emptying that void isn’t always easy, and leaving it bare long-term is a hard thing to do for many. If you have to pack it with something it might as well be contentment, but if that were easy to achieve then shows like this wouldn’t exist in the first place.
But idealism notwithstanding, this introduction to minimalism not as a woo-woo fad but as a smart, sensible way to live a richer life is charmingly practical. It makes a solid case against wanton consumerism and in favor of being more fulfilled by making reasonable changes. It might not be compellingly-argued enough to really sway anyone at any other time of year, but with a new epoch upon us, now might be the time to start taking inventory.