Review: Netflix doc The Minimalists comes up empty

Netflix film about the creators of The Minimalist movement is ironically weighed down by too much stuff


THE MINIMALISTS: LESS IS NOW (Matt D’Avella). 53 minutes. Now streaming on Netflix. Rating: NN


Ten months of pandemic lockdown has provided an opportunity to purge those closets, declutter those shelves and maybe get around to doing some minor renovations. Or maybe you’ve done the opposite and gone online-shopping-happy. Whatever your consumer habits, the new Netflix doc The Minimalists: Less Is Now might just inspire you to pare down the things in your life to the essentials and concentrate on what’s really important. It’s too bad the short doc comes up empty on new revelations.

The basic 53-minute film uses the lives and philosophies of the acclaimed duo dubbed The Minimalists (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus) to present some sobering facts about our spending habits and tendency to hoard. (One of the most popular quotes – it kicks off the film’s trailer – states that the average American house contains more than 300,000 items.)

Millburn and Nicodemus befriended each other as fifth graders in Dayton, Ohio, where they were both overweight, unpopular kids who grew up in poor, broken homes. As they grew up, both chased the American Dream, cramming their lives with material possessions, only to find they were unfulfilled.

Director Matt D’Avella juxtaposes interviews with the two stiffly recounting their life stories (they resemble earnest first-time Fringe artists) with awkward recreations of key moments in their lives and, best of all, smart interviews with other experts, like Greenpeace USA’s Annie Leonard and radio show host and author Dave Ramsey, who coins the term “stuff-itis.”

Oh yeah, and then there are a series of quick interviews with former pack rats and shopaholics who have – perhaps inspired by The Minimalists blog, books and podcast – streamlined their lives and become happier.

The result, ironically, is a cluttered and messy documentary that feels much longer than its running time. Besides Leonard’s wise, calm indictment of late-stage capitalism and Ramsey’s endlessly quotable comments, the best moments come near the end.

Nicodemus recreates a packing party he threw for himself, in which he boxed up everything he owned as if he was about to move. Then he unpacked only the things he needed.

And the final minutes of the film ask us to take the 30-day #LessIsNow challenge by getting rid of one item on the first day, two on the second, etc.

That, along with Marie Kondo’s revolutionary Tidying Up series (also on Netflix), is more entertaining – and useful.

@glennsumi

Brand Voices

8 responses to “Review: Netflix doc The Minimalists comes up empty”

  1. Less is now was quite good. It’ s a documentary, self-help instructions. If I want to chill I watch something else. This documentary is here to remind us what’s important, to show us how to escape materialism, not to entertain.

  2. It’s a good thing this is just an opinion piece. I disagree with you completely. It’s YOUR expectations that you placed on what YOU expected to see that failed you, not them. Get your own house in order before you criticize someone else’s.

  3. You obviously haven’t read their work. Their speach style is simple. Their message is for each of us to live our best life by living with less stuff. By having more personal interaction and experiences instead of stuff you can live a more meaningful, fulfilling life.

  4. The minute I saw ” Tidying Up series trailer…I knew this criticizing was out of context…..the message behind decluttering in less is now” it’s more clear than Tidying up”

  5. I liked the minimalist documentary. It really got me thinking and I have to say, I agreed with most of what was said. Many of us have far too much “stuff” and continue to buy even more. The lifestyle being introduced wont be for everyone , but it sure piqued my interest to learn more.

  6. Both of their documentaries have inspired me. Which I feel was their point. The personal extra touches in the new one really brought it home for me. Hearing about how people made the leap is what makes it real for me. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and mine is that they deserve an applause and I wish I could personally thank them for setting my life change into motion.

  7. Hi everyone!
    Introducing myself,
    I’m Mace (just a regular guy).

    My thoughts:
    Everyone has different views.
    Mine for instance,
    resumes the documentary
    as a directional reminder
    For communities or societies
    To be a bit more selfless.
    I think I speak for everyone
    When I say that
    Our World needs healing
    Often damaged by greed.
    So minimalism is a good way to start.
    The message is Grand & Positive.

    PS.
    Glenn Sumi,
    I’m curious to understand
    Why do you quote;
    – “The minimalists comes up empty”
    – “ The Minimalist movement is ironically weighed down by too much stuff”
    – “ The result, ironically, is a cluttered and messy documentary that feels much longer than its running time”

    If not only to create an easy targeted irony or clout?

  8. I feel that Glen Sumi sadly took the easier negative approach to aggregate eyeballs to this review. Watch the film and see who’s names you remember a week. Will it be Sumi or Milburn and Nicodemus?

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