Addition by Subtraction: The Minimalists

“Reject the basic assumptions of civilization, especially the importance of material possessions...Happiness comes from within, from inside yourself, from living a meaningful life.”

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The Netflix documentary Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things follows two men in America who gave up the corporate world, and basically all of their material belongings, to follow a template of "living simply." They deconstruct the digital age American Dream, that we all unknowingly buy into: the more stuff you have, the happier you will be. 

We are bombarded with consumer culture, accelerated by the rise of technology and social media. The documentary looks at our mindless consumption, and how objects will always fail to make us happy. There will always be a newer, shinier toy on the market that we need to replace it.

Joshua Millburn is a minimalist, and joint writer of Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists. In the documentary he tells us that he experienced the death of his mother and the end of his marriage in the space of a month. He then reads an extract from his book, describing his toxic response to these traumas:

“But even while Rome is burning, there’s somehow time for shopping at IKEA. Social imperatives are a merciless bitch. Everyone is attempting to buy what no one can sell.  See, when I moved out of the house earlier this week, trawling my many personal belongings in large bins and boxes and fifty-gallon garbage bags, my first inclination was, of course, to purchase the things I still “needed” for my new place. You know, the basics: food, hygiene products, a shower curtain, towels, a bed, and umm … oh, I need a couch and a matching leather chair and a love seat and a lamp and a desk and desk chair and another lamp for over there, and oh yeah don’t forget the sideboard that matches the desk and a dresser for the bedroom and oh I need a coffee table and a couple of end tables and a TV-stand for the TV I still need to buy, and don’t these look nice, whadda you call ’em, throat pillows? Oh, throw pillows. Well that makes more sense. And now that I think about it I’m going to want my apartment to be “my style,” you know: my own motif, so I need certain decoratives to spruce up the decor, but wait, what is my style exactly, and do these stainless-steel picture frames embody that particular style? Does this replica Matisse sketch accurately capture my edgy-but-professional vibe? Exactly how “edgy” am I? What espresso maker defines me as a man? Does the fact that I’m even asking these questions mean I lack the dangling brass pendulum that’d make me a “man’s man”? How many plates/cups/bowls/spoons should a man own? I guess I need a dining-room table too, right? And a rug for the entryway and bathroom rugs (bath mats?) and what about that one thing, that thing that’s like a rug but longer? Yeah, a runner; I need one of those, and I’m also going to need…”

― Joshua Fields Millburn, Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists

Our throwaway culture is destroying the planet. Most of the things we buy end up in landfills, or mountains of rubbish thousands of miles away. So many of us have more stuff and space than we will ever need. We must become content with only having essential items. Slow-fashion, smaller houses, less plastic, less food, less waste and less mindless consumption. Let's try to live deliberately. 

I urge you to watch this programme. It is a fantastic reminder of valuing the important things in life. 

“Love people and use things- the opposite doesn’t work”

Grace Proctor. 

Grace Proctor

Content Editor, LetsReset

Graduate of the University of Exeter First-Class degree in English
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