Thoughts on “Minimalism”

Last Friday, the Walker Four watched Minimalism for the first time. We’ve heard a lot about this movie, and had been trying to find it on Netflix for several weeks. Our mistake: We kept searching “The Minimalists.”

Which actually would have been a better title.

I should qualify this all by saying that we’d heard a lot about the movie, but not what the movie was about. From our movie searches, it’s probably obvious that we thought the movie would focus on The Minimalists. So that whole part of the ordeal did not surprise us. What I was not expecting was to see so many other minimalists talking about their experiences. Hey, the more the merrier, right?

And I didn’t expect it to be about The Minimalists’ 10-month trip around the States spreadin’ the word. I thought it would be more of a how-to. We got some answers — why Josh and Ryan left lucrative careers, why they are minimalists, why other people believe in the message — but it glossed over the harder parts of choosing a minimalist lifestyle.

It’s hard having to go through your stuff and make big decisions. It’s tough being a minimalist when those around you aren’t — or think it’s somehow an affront to their lifestyle and then argue with you about it. It’s depressing when you look around and see that, even though you’ve worked so hard at decluttering, there’s still so much to do. It’s deflating to realize that you’ve changed your whole life but the first thing you think of when you look at an empty drawer is that you should go shopping to fill it up.

There’s a lot of mental stuff that goes along with minimalism that wasn’t touched on in the movie. It’s a lot of work and effort and self reflection, and it’s really ugly.

So I would have liked to have seen some of that play out. I really wish we could have heard more from others in the film — like Courtney Carver, who took several years to get to where she is now, or Joshua Becker, who has an interesting backstory on why he became a minimalist. I like hearing from those with families because that’s my experience, too.

I don’t want to downplay what Josh and Ryan have accomplished, because they’ve taken the message really far and that’s a great thing. But they’re on a completely different plane, being single and childless. To quote Amy Poehler: “Good for you. Not for me.”

But there were some interesting points: Why we buy stuff just to buy it, how we use things as rewards when we’re feeling emotions we just don’t know what to do with, how possessions are supposed to somehow be equivalent to self-worth. How, when you peel back the layers, you find what’s important.


I polled the fam on their thoughts about the movie, and they’re mostly positive. Johanna thought it was “fine.” Abby said she it was a good introduction to the concept, and that if you were wondering what minimalism is all about, that would be a decent place to start.

Eric’s thoughts were a little deeper:

“I thought it was fine. It got you thinking. I think they nailed a lot of it — you just buy stuff for no real serious purpose, it’s just the whim of the moment. And then you end up with all this crap in your house.

“We’ve always been minimalists in the fact that we’re cheap and don’t like to spend money.” (That made me laugh. Actually, that’s why he’s a minimalist — I get overwhelmed by clutter and, having spent so long getting rid of stuff, have no real desire to bring anything new into the house.) “In some regards, the movie showed we can do better, but it also showed that we also do a lot of things right.”

Then I asked him about minimalism and zero waste and how they relate to each other:

“I think if you’re doing one, you’re doing the other. Aren’t you? If you’re zero waste, your minimizing the amount of garbage, hopefully, that you create and in doing so you’re minimizing what you bring into your home.”

Well … I don’t think they’re automatically linked. Minimalism is what led me to zero waste, but I’ve read plenty of comments accusing minimalists of just blithely getting rid of stuff without any regard for the environment, and that zero wasters are hoarders who don’t like to get rid of anything because maybe they’ll need it someday … or maybe because if they hold on to it, it doesn’t count towards their landfill total.

Usually minimalism gets in the way of my zero waste efforts, but watching the movie, my zero waste was getting in the way of minimalism: I kept noticing all of the disposables in each scene, and that really bothered me. I suppose you could successfully argue that if you’re a minimalist, you’re not using many resources to begin with, but come on! Invest in a travel mug, Ryan, geez.

Maybe it’s hypocritical of me to even point that out. It took years before I made the connection between minimalism and zero waste. Sure, it’s an extension of my minimalism now, and I’m super happy to be both — or I wouldn’t be doing it — but the realization came slowly. How long have I been a minimalist, anyway? Four years, five? And I just started getting serious about zero waste 10 months ago?

Um, so maybe I should just shut up about that part is what I’m saying. We’re each on our own path.

(Seriously, Ryan. Travel mug.)

Next up: It’s going to be a fairly busy weekend, so my plan is to just toss stuff at the wall and see what sticks.

21 Responses to Thoughts on “Minimalism”

  1. About minimalism vs. zero waste: So, I think one of the tenets of minimalism is that you don’t need to own stuff to use and enjoy it. That’s often true and can lead to owning less stuff: instead of possessing art, go to a museum and enjoy it without possessing. If you can get it elsewhere, or use the services or objects provided by someone else, you don’t need to own them. Minimalism tends to view possession as often unnecessary, perhaps even in many cases a bad thing.

    BUT, I think zero waste requires a slightly different view of what ‘possession’ involves. Zero waste uses possession of certain items to curb consumption and limit waste – e.g., a travel mug, jars and cloths and all those reusable things we cart around. From a zero waste perspective, possession of those things is positive, because I am providing for my needs instead of using extra resources to meet them (e.g. packaging and disposables). But I am doing the opposite of a strict minimalist approach, because instead of relying on the goods and services provided by others, I am providing them myself through the owning of key things. So in this sense, I think zero waste practice, and even philosophy, is at odds with some of the extreme minimalists.

    In my view, zero waste and minimalism do mesh well in many aspects, such as avoiding consumerism and rethinking habits. And in the aspects were they conflict, I think they might actually be a good contrast, because zero waste principles force you to reconsider some of the extreme results of minimalism – like not having a travel mug. In this sense I think perhaps zero waste and minimalism form a beneficial balance. It’s good to own some jars and a travel mug; but you also don’t have to hoard every piece of trash to ‘keep it out of landfill’.

    Phew. About the documentary, I did feel that it lacked some depth, and focused a lot on being a non-consumer, without really making clear what minimalism was. I mean, you could have a big house and a lot of stuff, but be content with what you have and not purchasing new stuff, and thus be opting out of consumerism – but I don’t think this is what it means to be a minimalist. The declaration that ‘stuff doesn’t buy happiness’ is not, to me, particularly revolutionary or deep; I think many people already know this.

  2. I agree that they made some interesting points but their stories just don’t resonate with me at all. As a mother to 2 teenagers living on a farm, that’s completely understandable. I was really excited when they came out with their podcast but after listening to a few, I gave up on it. Everyone has to find their own inspiration and they just weren’t that for me 🙂

    • Yeah, it’s just a different life they’re living. It’s hard to identify with that when you have kids. (Ooooh, farm! Love it!)

  3. Thanks for the review. I’m looking forward to watching it with my family. I understand that they soft-sold the hard stuff, since it’s an introductory movie to many people and the makers wouldn’t want to scare them off. When I see a movie about something I’m passionate about, I often feel disappointed that the film didn’t go deeper. Still, I’m looking forward to it!

    • It’s worth watching, I think — a good overview / introduction if nothing else. Let us know what you think when you watch it!

  4. I’m also glad you mentioned how hard minimalism was, sometimes, in the beginning. A lot of times I read accounts of how people became minimalist, and it seems like it was so easy. “I sold all my junk and traveled the world,” seems to be the story, but I’m struggling to get rid of my excess. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who had to work at it.

  5. It thought it was a great introductory film. It’s a great dip you toe in the water for people who wouldn’t read a book or a blog about minimalism. One thing about The Minmalists is that they are more why to people than how to people and I think that came across in the film. I did hear them talk about waste and being more environmentally conscious in a podcast episode so maybe they’re heading in that direction.

    • Their focus is definitely minimalism, not zero waste, so maybe it’s unfair of me to complain about the throw away coffee cups. And yes, agree — decent introduction, even without getting into the hows.

  6. I agree it lacked depth. I would have rather seen more by Courtney Carver or Joshua Becker or Lou Babauta (the guy has 6 kids! how do they do it???), than what seemed like way too much film of driving and scenery and hugging. We didn’t even hear the talk they were driving all over giving.

    However, my husband got a lot out of it, and we had a good talk afterward about refocusing on living the way we want to, and getting out of the rat-race rut we’ve found ourselves slipping back into.

    I made my kids watch, and hope I planted a seed SOMEwhere that other people besides weird ol’ mom think living with less is a good thing. My son is apparently working toward a Jr Hoarder badge, though.

    If there are other documentaries on minimalism out there, please share them!

    • He can work on his Jr. Hoarder Badge with Johanna. 😉

      We had a nice discussion about it afterwards too. And I agree, more Courtney, Joshua and Leo! Or yeah, at least let us hear the spiel that was driving those 10 months of traveling. Good point!

  7. I was so frustrated with their film. I feel like it missed the point, I far would have liked to hear more about the psychology of it all, how to do certain things, more about other people addressing different aspects of the film. I found their perspective to just be self-serving. Thumbs down.

    • Well … that’s actually kind of why I quit following their blog. There’s definitely more to this than “just do it, it’s great!”

  8. Totally with you on the travel mug etc – there’s a dating show airing here and it’s call ‘Undressed’ which is immaterial to my story, but anyhow. One of the questions they are asked in their 30 mins dating is ‘what issues are you passionate about’ – and my answer would be waste reduction – not minimalism! I don’t like the senseless amount of trash and waste. Particularly the cheap/broken furniture on roadsides, and plastic in water ways. And then, I bougth sweet potato chips cause I felt like them, in a normal plastic bag. So I try, and I fail!

    • Minimalism and zero waste do have their differences. I would also say waste reduction, now that I think about it … that’s what led me to minimalism, too, but going zero waste has more of a daily impact. Interesting question!

  9. I love the concept behind this blog. It is great that it has been passed along to those who have a new passion to bring to keeping the spirit of minimalism flowing. This particular post moves me because it talks about the ugliness that comes along with the journey. I’m in that stage now as I start my journey while in school and remodeling my house. I really hope to learn from the process and use it to inspire others to start or continue their journeys.

    Jackie Thompson

    • Kerry was a genius for coming up with this concept — not that I’m biased, obviously 😉 . Hang in there; it will get better!

  10. I dont think decluttering and minimalism has to be hard work, I thoroughly enjoyed the rather long drawn out process. It was liberating and left me free to think about what I really wanted from my life. Nice when it was finished and I could think “no more car boot sales, hurray!” but it wasn’t hard and I didn’t really reflect much on it either. I just did it because I wanted to and I could dimly see that by shedding the excess I could open up my life. I find it odd that some young people I have seen on Youtube clips find it so hard to shed stuff at such a young age – I figure they should be looking forward to the rest of their life. It is sad they have acquired so much, so soon. I had nothing much in my 20’s and it was great. If I lost it all I would not have shed a tear. I would just have found it a nuisance to have to replace.

    • I agree with you, to a point — getting rid of stuff does make you feel free, and living simply without a bunch of clutter is wonderful. But the deeper you get into it, the more you unearth — and some of those items do have emotional connections, so it can be hard to get over that. It’s also a lot of work. I envy my kids, who have all this minimalist experience already and will be better consumers when they’re on their own.

      All of the stuff I listed as examples of how hard it can be are my own experiences. The biggest challenge for me, even now, is to not bring new stuff in. I solve that by just not going shopping — but the impulse is still there.

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