»Less Is Now« is the title of the second movie from The Minimalists, Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Milburn. It was released on January 1, 2021. The perfect timing to start over, to declutter, to get into minimalism. However, the movie might not be a helpful introduction to minimalism at all…
In general, I do not consume a lot of »minimalism content«. That is just because, most of the time, I find it redundant, repetitive and too simple to be interesting. Minimalism is a simple topic. I’d go as far as saying that everyone could become a minimalist and create a YouTube channel about minimalism and even be successful with it, just because it is such a common sense subject. Everyone who wants to can say something about it.
Therefore, when it comes to videos or even movies about minimalism, I have certain expectations towards their uniqueness. I like quirky and edgy approaches over those polished ones that just try to please everyone. Which is one of the three reasons, I did not like this movie (and I am not the only one).
A minimalist’s review of »Less is now«, a movie about minimalism
1. »Less is now« tries to speak to everyone and totally loses it’s edge over it (if there ever was one)
In many ways, this movie is very polished, very viewer-friendly. It does not show anything novel, drastic or even remotely provocative. Sure, »The Minimalists« speak about some hardships they’ve overcome. But apart from a few pathetic sentences, nothing is really happening. Also, if you listen to their (by the way, really well-made) podcast, you will probably have heard a lot of sentences from the movie many many times before.
For me, this was kind of disappointing, because I just expected more of a unique perspective from two people who have devoted their lives’ work to that topic. And, when I think about it, I could name so many YouTubers that say and do so much more about minimalism and taught me so much more about it, even though I’ve been living this lifestyle for almost two decades. And of course I did not expect that movie to bring me something completely new, knowledge-wise. But I expected a unique take on minimalism, and it just wasn’t there.
2. »Less is now« is not a documentary about minimalism at all
The film starts out as a kind of documentary-style movie, by showing a few different people adding their thoughts on minimalism in general, its potential environmental impact, how it could help with financial issues and so forth. Underlined by a lot of inconsitently designed graphs and charts, the intro basically explains why minimalism is good for the planet and the people on it.
Sustainability is simply not an issue.
Big critique point on this part of the film: I am under the impression that a lot of minimalists are not at all environmentally responsible, especially when it comes to switching out old stuff for new fancy designer interior. A lot of minimalists do not show an interest in sustainability at all. But for me, sustainability and minimalism go hand in hand. So, in a documentary about minimalism, I kind of expect a little more in-depth discussion on this very important connection. Because it is there, and it is becoming more present. So why even mention environmental benefits, if you then do not even mention how taking on this responsibility could look like in everyday reallife? Why not show aspects of sustainable minimalism such as low/less waste or zero waste living?
This is not a documentary.
Anyway, the documentary-ish part is rather short and quickly develops into this »personal journey part« of the film, where both protagonists share their personal story. In my opinion, this could have been cut much shorter, and as part of the intro, could have just served the purpose of making it more personal and interesting. But the movie goes on like that, basically telling the life stories of Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Milburn.
3. »Less is now« is basically a giant ad
Rather than a documentary, in my opinion, this movie is a great and pretty intelligent ad for »The Minimalists« and all their minimalism products. They have made minimalism a business and they leverage it to its full extent.
Side not on that: I have zero problems with people making money with minimalism. I do. That’s perfectly fine. But there are certain levels to it. And there are certain strings attached with those levels, and with this kind of extreme professionalism put into something that simple, that primitive of a topic as… well, minimalism.
Yes, of course, you can treat every simple everyday item like a hobbyist science club. Maybe there are people out there who like that kind of approach to a new interest. And maybe that is more common in the minimalism bubble than I’ve been aware of, because, as I mentioned before, I usually do not watch that much minimalism content… But I am just not someone who likes to theoretisize the shit out of the basics of life.
Minimalism is a very simple topic. That is why we have to stop talking about the basics, and only the goddamn basics all the time.
Looking back at having studied some real difficult shit, such as quantum mechanics or differential geometry, I must say, I find it rather ridiculous to obsess about the details of such simple topics. Furthermore, I am very much guilty of it (and therefore it triggers me even more), but I am constantly trying to not make everything about minimalism, to broaden my horizon, and to avoid hovering over the whole topic or to make every little thing about it every damn day.
I embrace minimalism as an easy subject. I have a blog about it after all. But I’ve been actively trying to not take it too seriously lateley. And for sure, I do not want to get stuck in minimalism content forever. Maybe it triggers so much me because of that personal dilemma with the whole topic…
The Minimalists have made minimalism a business, and that’s okay, but…
»The Minimalists« have created this whole business around this one super basic category of content. And there really only is so much you can talk about, when it comes to minimalism. Maybe this movie shows better than anything else, how they are kind of stuck in this bubble.
The only fresh perspective you can get at this point of a »minimalism-only content publishing journey« are probably interviews with other minimalists. And that is exactly what we get. And that is a reason for many people (me included) to listen to The Minimalists’ podcast.
However, it doesn’t get that far in the movie. The movie is basically only about them, what they do, how they got there and why they enjoy it. It is about their perspective on minimalism and their work. But not really about minimalism itself. – Therefore, this is my biggest point of critique. Because, what is the purpose of this movie then, if it does not function as an introduction to minimalism?
I think, this movie is more of a biography. And it will probably help The Minimalists to promote their work more than it helps educating people about minimalism (if there even is such a thing). After having watched this movie 2×, I just feel like I’ve gotten a whole lot of information about their personal lives and thoughts, but not so much about minimalism itself.
Should you watch this movie?
So, if you want to watch a movie about minimalism, maybe don’t watch this one. »Less is now« is simply not a good introduction to minimalism. In fact, there is so much awesome free content out there. Just go for that first. You are not missing out on anything.
y.February 2, 2021 at 2:46 pm
I liked you youtube-review, but missed your (further) thoughts on minimalism as a lifestyle of responsibility and sustainability. Glad to see them here!
When I watched the movie, this was my main concern as well: To me, this rather “commercialized” approach on minimalism doesn’t catch the (in my opinion) essence of a minimalistic lifestyle at all. For me, minimalism is not just about getting over your unfulfilling and depressing lifestyle in a oversatisfied western society. It’s mainly about living a responsible, sustainable life. Its about reducing your footprint. This is, what may lead to a happy and fulfilling life, isn’t it? This brings sense to ones individual life and contextualizes your lifestyle in a big picture.
“The Minimalists” want you to focus on yourself, your personal success, your progress in whatever (as well as almost all the other increase-your-productive-lifestyle-youtuber). This almost seems to be just the same egocentric perspective as we find in our destructive and consumption orientated western lifestyle.
Undine AlmaniFebruary 3, 2021 at 6:32 am
Yes, you’re right. I didn’t think of it in the video, but it came to mind when I wrote the article. I try to always write something to add additional information to my videos, if people like to read some more from now on 🙂
I totally agree that it just adds meaning to minimalism if it is about sustainability. Otherwise: What’s the point? Yes, it is therapeutic and all. But for me, there has to be some greater purpose in it. Another one would be: I don’t want to leave all that trash for my kid to clean up. Neither the on in our apartment, nor that what we leave in the environment, for generations after us to deal with…
I also think that minimalism can be kind of the “high road” of consumerism. Being above all the cheap products, saving money and creating a beautiful simplistic space, yadda yadda ya. I’m all for that as well – in a way. Because if it’s not sustainable, it simply doesn’t feel right. And at some point, the quest for high end products also gets a little bit ridiculous. Even if I can afford a $500 designer lamp – why would I really? What good do those maybe $450 to $400 extra do in the world? They just go straight to that company, and it’s probably not even fair-made. (If it is, that’s another question, and it’s just an example… hope you know what I mean) 🙂