Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus founded the multimedia project the Minimalists .In their new documentary, the Minimalists recount their experiments with simple living while showcasing like-minded reformers: couples who live in tiny houses, people committed to carbon-neutral living, the guy who travels full-time carrying everything he owns in a couple of shoulder bags.
Though they’re in the spotlight, the Minimalists didn’t want the film to focus on them alone. The approach reflects the way Millburn composed his lifestyle, by borrowing elements of other people’s ideas.
“What intrigued me when I first started was that there were a bunch of different voices,” he says — bloggers who talked about minimalist fashion or raising kids with less. None of their “recipes,” as he says, “looked exactly how I wanted my life to look, so I started tweezing ingredients from each one.”
One of the film’s contributors is Juliet Schor, a Boston College sociology professor and the author of several books on sustainability and consumer culture. A vegan and a devotee of clean energy, she says the Minimalists’ emphasis on removing physical clutter can be easier to grasp than the abstract notion of, say, rising methane levels.
“People do tend to have a kind of visceral reaction against an accumulation of things,” she says. “There’s something about the culture of goods that people react strongly to.”
At BC recently, Schor conducted an experiment: For one month, she and her students tried to restrict themselves to a wardrobe of just eight items.
“That didn’t include underwear and socks,” she said.
Such simple living commitments seem to be gaining adherents, as the stresses of modern life and concerns about future generations persist. The Minimalists suggest another challenge: At the start of a month, try getting rid of something on the first day. On the second day, make it two things; three the third day, and so on. Do it with a friend or family member. The person who makes it longest wins.
Millburn, asked to identify the last thing he bought that felt like an indulgence, thinks hard.
“I wish I had a sexy answer for you,” he says, “like a Faberge egg.” Finally, it comes to him: a pair of water shoes.
He’s quick to note that he and Nicodemus didn’t coin the term “minimalism,” and that they’ve adopted most of their ideas from a long history of lifestyle philosophers, from Epictetus and Thoreau to Oprah Winfrey. The reason he and Nicodemus were able to claim themselves as the Minimalists is simple: The domain name was available for seven dollars.