3 Things I Learned from the Minimalism Documentary

I heard many good things about the Minimalism documentary (full title: Minimalism: a Documentary about the Important Things, currently available on Netflix).

So what is it all about?

The documentary primarily follows the Minimalists themselves, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemusthe, as they tour around the States promoting their book. Both guys had enjoyed much career success in their twenties within their corporate jobs. Each found that they were leading empty and meaningless lives. Ultimately, they were led to conclude that accumulating money and stuff wasn’t the answer to lasting happiness.

No surprises there, you could say.

For this post I don my film critic hat and explain what I took from the minimalism documentary.

What I learned from the minimalism documentary

The best thing about the minimalism documentary for me was the other people it featured.

You hear from authors Sam Harris (Free Will and Waking Up), Dan Harris (10% happier), Patrick Rhone (Enough), Zen habits blogger Leo Babauta and poignantly, from an ex Wall Street broker named AJ.

Between them, these guys really get to the heart of what I think minimalism is about: how to reach satisfying levels of depth everyday in our relationships and our work. Levels that for many of us, remain elusive unless and until we seriously reorganize our lives and priorities.

Minimalism isn't about stuff. It's about creating a more meaning rich everyday experience Click To Tweet

The documentary participants all seemed to share the same views on what it is necessary to do.

1. Curtail your smartphone use (it’s feeding your consumer mindset)

Neuroscientist and author Sam Harris says that we tend to wind up measuring ourselves by unattainable yardsticks set by advertisers portraying glam and sexy lifestyles. This leads us to experience ‘immense amounts of dissatisfaction.’

“I think that we’re confused about what makes us happy. Many people think that material possessions are at the center of the bull’s eye, and they expect that gratifying each desire as it arises will somehow summate into a satisfying life.” Needless to say, this isn’t the case.

Harris discusses how the way we use technology now feeds our consumerism mindset.

“We have this capacity for focus. But we are living in a context where we are continually moving from one stimulus to the next, in search of the dopamine experience… I think there is a price we pay for that.

Very rarely do we do one thing. We allow ourselves to be interrupted by these streams of data in what would, in any other context, be thought of as distractions, but now we think of as necessary parts of our bandwidth.”

He says that the antidote to ‘high frequency flinches’ caused by smartphone addictions was meditation.

“We’re ruminating about past and future in a way that keeps us from really connecting with the present moment in a way that values it as good enough.

Meditation is a technique of finding wellbeing in the present moment – before anything has happened. You can be happy and satisfied simply being aware of the sensation of breathing.”

2. Meditate (it’ll make you 10% happier)

Dan Harris, a journalist and news anchor, got a job at ABC at 28 years old ‘a really ambitious young guy’. In his words:

“My way of compensating for my insecurity about being such a newbie was to throw myself into the job and really become a workaholic”.

Harris says that his overall state of anxiety and depression was what led him ‘to lose it’ live on national TV during a broadcast. After that, he followed ‘a whacky and windy path that led him to something that he never thought would help him, or anyone – meditation.’

3. Stop deluding yourself that you can afford to wait to make things better for yourself

The most powerful content of the documentary is delivered via AJ Leon, an ex broker. He describes an out-of-body experience he had when he was offered a promotion whilst working on Wall Street.

“I realized I was completely and utterly trapped. I’d never be able to walk away from that amount of money in my life. And any dream I had of living a life of purpose and meaning, and being an adventurer, was gone.

From that moment, Leon decided that his life would be his – ‘wildly, flamboyantly’ his own.

When you finally live the truth that this is your one life, you'll stop wasting time on what doesn't matter Click To Tweet

He no longer works at Wall street.

AJ delivers the documentary’s money shot line:

“You recognise that this life is yours and it is your one and only. When that ceases to be esoteric bullshit, when it’s not hippie poetry anymore, and the pragmatism of that statement seeps into your bones that ‘this is it’. Everything changes.”


Minimalism the movement was never about stuff. It is about how we find what’s important to us.

And for a lot of us, that isn’t clothes, shoes, handbags, cars and watches. It is love, relationships, contribution, learning – and a whole load of other things that don’t cost anything.

Watch the minimalism documentary yourself and get inspired to live a more essentialist life.