Monday, January 18, 2021

"The Minimalist: Less Is Now" Movie Review and How It Relates To Christianity

Photo by Karim Ghantous on Unsplash

We watched a new documentary on Netflix called "The minimalist: Less Is Now"

It's a sequel to Minimalism, a documentary also on Netflix.

Like so many things in life, I agree with 90% of the film. Yet, that last 10% - often the why behind the action - is different, and it tends to make all the difference.

The basic premise is that stuff won't make you happy. Yet, tragically, we keep buying more and more stuff in a vain attempt to find happiness.

It's like drinking honey when you're thirsty. There might be a temporary satisfaction from having something wet in your mouth, but it fundamentally won't quench your thirst. In fact, it'll make you more thirsty! And so you try drinking more honey...

And part of the problem comes from advertising and social media. Advertising, especially online targeted ads, are sophisticated enough to meet you where you're at and nudge you ever so slightly closer to wanting their product.

There's also the sheer volume of advertisement exposure. If you're told you need something enough times, you start to believe it. I remember learning that people need 7-12 exposures of a product/brand to move them along the 5-stage buying cycle. It sure feels like companies are aiming for at least 12 exposures.

And then social media makes it impossible to "keep up with the Jones" because it tends to only highlight the best part of people's lives - setting an impossibly high bar. And instead of just comparing to your physical neighbor, we now compare to 500+ "friends" regardless of their income, living expenses, or priorities.

Not pictured: the complete breakdown when we told them it was time for bed

It's not that advertising and social media are inherently bad, it's that they've unintentionally amplified consumerism - the desire to find happiness in stuff.

So far, I agree 100% with the problem. So what's the solution?


Here's what minimalism is, in the words of the two main guys from the documentary:

Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life's path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.

And here's how it's used:

Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we've built our lives around. Real freedom.

That doesn't mean there's anything inherently wrong with owning material possessions. Today's problem seems to be the meaning we assign to our stuff: we tend to give too much meaning to our things, often forsaking our health, our relationships, our passions, our personal growth, and our desire to contribute beyond ourselves. Want to own a car or a house? Great, have at it! Want to raise a family and have a career? If these things are important to you, then that's wonderful. Minimalism simply allows you to make these decisions more consciously, more deliberately.

If I summarized their summary, it would be: minimalism is consciously owning/doing things that are important to you and ruthlessly cutting everything else. This frees you up to pour even more into those things that are important to you.

Again, I 100% agree with this sentiment.

What's Important to You?

The documentary shared stories of people discovering that stuff can't provide lasting happiness. And then ruthlessly cutting things out. Marie Kondo would be proud. I know I was inspired!

[Story telling side note: It would have been fun to watch someone go through the transformation instead of watching people talk about it after the fact and showing generic b-roll. Maybe that's the plan for part three? Call it "Minimal Makeover"! ha!]

Where was I? Oh yeah! You're not happy. You realize more stuff isn't helping. So you remove everything that isn't important to you (or, doesn't bring you joy, as Marie would say).

But then the film skips a step and goes straight to "having real freedom."

The step that was skipped is determining what's important to you. What does bring lasting joy? Lasting happiness? Again, what's important to you? This is critical. The cornerstone. The key element.

I think they skipped that step because they fundamentally believe one of two things:

One: The act of removing things brings inherent happiness. But this too seems fleeting. 
Two: What's important is unique to each individual, so it's better to not comment on it, lest some false limitations are added to minimalism. (Ex: living in a tiny house is not a requirement).

There is a notion that important things revolve around people, and giving to the greater good, but that's about as far as they take it.

This creates the danger of people trying to find lasting happiness, not in stuff, but in equally disappointing endeavors. You're no longer drinking honey, which is good, but you might have switched to Pepsi, which has a whole new set of unintended consequences.

Living Water and Lasting Happiness

There's a fantastic event recorded in the Bible where Jesus meets a Samaritan woman and he asks her for a drink of water. But then he pivots the conversation to offer her true satisfaction and lasting happiness. Here's the event (highlights are mine):

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock." Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." - John 4:7-14

There is only one thing that provides lasting happiness. It's not honey. It's not Pepsi. It's water. Specifically, it's water that Jesus provides with the promise that once you drink it, you will never be thirsty again.

How you drink it might be unique, but unless you seek joy in Jesus, joy and freedom will always be fleeting - even if you minimize the amount of stuff in your life.

Minimalism Fits Perfectly with Christ

Christ answers the why behind what's important in minimalism:

You can only find lasting happiness in Jesus and his gracious gift to live with God after we die. We need to recognize we can't earn our way into Heaven. We can't do enough good deeds to offset our bad ones.

All we can do is trust what Jesus told us - that he is God, that he overcame death so we can have a joy-filled relationship with God today, and continue in eternity in Heaven. Regardless of our good vs bad deeds, all we need to do is humbly accept Jesus' gift.

If you think about it, it's the ultimate form of minimalism. There's nothing you can buy to make you perfect (or happy). So stop trying. Instead, look to Jesus, who said two things are important: love God and love your neighbors.

How you express that love is unique to you. Just like minimalism.

Let's modify the quote about minimalism above to show how perfectly it fits with Christ:

"Want to own a car or a house? Great, have at it! Want to raise a family and have a career? If these things are important to you, then that's wonderful. Minimalism [is a mechanism that] simply allows you to make these decisions [of how Jesus would like you to live your unique life] more consciously, more deliberately."

Remove everything in your life that isn't about Christ. What you'll find is lasting freedom and joy. You'll also find that the remaining items have to do with other people, and giving to the greater good. And this isn't conjecture, Jesus promised it while talking to the Samaritan woman.

Minimalism is a wonderful mechanism for achieving that simplicity and focus of your desire - your important thing - is to find joy in Jesus.

Jacob's Well in 1934, the same one use by Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

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