Podcasts, books, (video) blogs and documentaries about minimalism (and its various incarnations) have been a great source of inspiration (and motivation booster) on our journey, and we are happy to share with you a shortlist of documentaries and television shows that have influenced our way of thinking and living over the past 4+ years (in alphabetical order).
If the clutter in your home causes you unnecessary stress or you are sick of mindless (over-)consumption and the impact it has on us and our beautiful planet, these may give you the final kick in the butt to start your own minimalist journey.
Affluenza / Escape from Affluenza
Minimalism as a movement began long before The Minimalists came along. The 1997 documentary, Affluenza, called it Voluntary Simplicity, and disturbingly, what was discussed then is still relevant today.
Affluenza and its sequel, Escape from Affluenza, provide a look at the rampant materialism consuming America and show that we have not learnt our lessons over the past 20+ years.
Books such as The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith (originally published in 1958), Giving Kids The Business by Alex Molnar, and Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin are referenced in the documentaries for good reason. If you can look past the 1990s hairdos, these documentaries will get you thinking about what is important and what is ethical in our western society. Maybe, we’ll learn our lessons now.
Not technically a documentary but a reality-TV show, de-cluttering expert Jill Pollack challenges families who are drowning in their stuff to live with only the bare essentials for two weeks and get rid of 75% of their stuff by the end of the experiment. With (most of) their possessions gone, each family is forced to confront the real issues that were buried under all their stuff, issues that have affected their relationships and quality of life.
Jill revisits the families after three months to see how they are going. Sadly (and not surprising), some of them have fallen back to old habits. While interesting to watch, the show would have done a better service to those featured in it had it included counselling/psychotherapy sessions for some of the protagonists, as the underlying issues – in some cases, significant mental health issues – can’t be truly addressed without them.
Less is Now
Four years after the release of Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things (see below), The Minimalists’ newest documentary (also directed by Matt D’Avella) seeks to create a sense of urgency in today’s consumer culture: now is the time for less.
Having lived the minimalist lifestyle for over 4 years now, the film did not surprise us. Based on the title, we expected more on the why now?, creating some urgency amid the climate crisis, Covid-19 etc. There are some alarming statistics being shared. And we were particularly pleased to see Annie Leonard (Greenpeace USA) speak about the impact our collective consumerism has. But the film could have delivered a lot more.
Instead, it focuses on Joshua and Ryan’s upbringing (which is interesting but unclear how it relates to the Less is Now message), shares the experiences of everyday minimalists and the views of experts from various fields, including Dave Ramsay. If you’ve watched The Minimalists’ first documentary and are relatively new to minimalism, it’s definitely worth watching. If you live and breathe minimalism the film might feel a little underwhelming.
Living On One Dollar
Living on One Dollar follows four young American friends as they live in Guatemala for two months on just $1 a day – the harsh reality for 1.3bn people around the world, including many Guatemaltecos – battling hunger and parasites, and realizing that there are no easy answers.
While in Guatemala, the guys released short YouTube videos about their experience. The videos quickly received over 700,000 views, inspiring them to produce a feature-length film, Living on One Dollar, to mobilize others to help end extreme poverty. Living on One Dollar is one of the most thought-provoking and inspiring documentaries we have seen, and it didn’t come as a surprise to us when it won Best Documentary at the Sonoma International Film Festival. We even ended up visiting Mayan Families, the charity the guys support, while in Panajachel/Guatemala in 2017.
Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things
Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (aka The Minimalists) are the two most well-known advocates for minimalism. They started touring in 2011, book publishing in 2012, and then released this documentary in 2016.
This documentary has become the most referenced and searched for documentary around minimalism and values-based living. It revolves around Joshua and Ryan, and their 2014 tour to promote the book Everything that Remains. It cuts back and forth from their experiences and interactions on the tour with other prominent advocates for the movement including Dan Harris (10% Happier), Patrick Rhone (Enough), Tammy Strobel (You Can Buy Happiness – And It’s Cheap), Colin Beavan (No Impact Man), Leo Babauta (Zen Habits), Joshua Becker (Clutter-free With Kids) and Christine Koh (Minimalist Parenting).
Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo
In her latest reality series, Marie Kondo brings her tidying approach to people struggling to balance work and home life. Using her well-documented method demonstrated in her first series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, the families she helps this time around go through books, office supplies, memorabilia and whatever else occupies too much space and energy in their lives – always asking the same question: Does it spark joy?
We also learn a bit more about Marie Kondo’s own life and Japanese culture. We recommend to have the closed captions turned on to help understand the narrative as Marie speaks mostly Japanese.
Available to view on Netflix.
The Clean Bin Project
Could you ever live completely waste-free? In this award-winning documentary, partners Jen and Grant go head to head to see who can swear off consumerism and produce the least amount of garbage.
Described as An Inconvenient Truth meets Super Size Me, Jen and Grant’s light-hearted competition examines a darker problem: waste. Featuring laugh out loud moments, memorable images, great animations and captivating interviews, this film is a fun and inspiring call to individual action.
The True Cost
The True Cost is not just a documentary about sweatshops. It explores issues of materialism and over-consumption, the power of advertising, and the social and environmental impacts of fast fashion. The documentary is a collage of interviews with garment industry workers, factory owners, environmentalists, and people promoting fair trade and sustainable clothing production. A real eye-opener… at least for us.
Thrive With Less
As part of a project, six millennials document their search for what it looks like to live minimally in an excess-driven society. The participants ask some probing and pertinent questions of themselves and of the viewers:
- When did we decide that more is better, yet never enough?
- When did social media, fancy cars and fashion take priority over family, friends and the things we’re passionate about?
Somewhere along the way our society has become more focused on attaining fleeting sources of gratification than working towards establishing true, lasting joy. This is a lesser-known documentary with a small budget feel, so it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo
Author Marie Kondo offers tips and sparks joy with her art of keeping your home and workspace tidy and organized. Her 8-part Netflix series looks at different couples, from those with toddlers to empty nesters and downsizers. And in each episode, she presents different ideas on how to organise the house to be less cluttered and feel more like home.
Marie’s show is both entertaining – in a reality TV kind of way – and enlightening. While it isn’t the most riveting, her specific advice is fresh and thought-provoking, especially if you haven’t read her books (which includes us).
What Would Jesus Buy?
A parody of sorts, infusing consumerism during the holiday period with religious overtones, Reverend Billy from the Stop Shopping Church, along with his Gospel Choir, travel from New York to Los Angeles to fight the Shopocalypse and reinforce their (despite the wrapping) serious message: Stop shopping.
On their road trip in the weeks between Black Friday and Christmas, they brave harsh winter weather, hostile security personnel and even a threat to their own mortality, but a scene on a parking lot at Christmas Eve makes all the challenges worthwhile (you’ll have to watch it to know what we’re talking about).
As with Affluenza / Escape from Affluenza, this documentary is 20 years old, yet its message is as topical as ever. Sad but true.
Why Denmark is the Happiest Country
In this show, Oprah Winfrey gets an insight into Danish life when she visits Denmark’s capital Copenhagen. She speaks to locals and experts, trying to understand why the country regularly tops the Happiness Report rankings. Comparing the lives of the Danes she meets with those of her fellow Americans, she discovers that spending time with loved ones is more important (to the Danes) than owning a big house full of stuff. Or as one of the people she meets puts it: Small space. Fewer things. More life.
Could living with less be the key (for all of us) to living a happier life?
Watch it on YouTube.