After watching Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, I was reminded of one of the most memorable lines in The Lord of the Rings:
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
Each generation in the modern era has faced the specters of busyness, materialism and deciding what is truly important. Arguably, at no other time in history, have societal forces have been so powerful in telling us how to live and what to become. It’s as if we’ve given up in finding out what we are truly meant to be. We’ve abandoned our intellectual ability to make our own decisions. Then one day, we wake up, wonder where it has gone, and wish we’d set out and found our own story, not someone else’s.
In Minimalism, the focus is on consumption and perceived wants vs. actual needs. But clutter can be other things as well: Activities, hobbies, work, addictions. In the film, we see a number of people come to a point in their lives – often a low point – where they ask: Why am I not happy with all these things? Is this worth more than friendships and family? Why am I working to maintain possessions instead of a life?
The Minimalists aren’t suggesting throwing everything away and move into a yurt (though some people shown in the film do some serious downsizing to their homes), but clearly show how far to one extreme we have gone.
Many people get mad at the very suggestion of changing the way they live. These are often the very same people who are stressed, have no time or can’t afford the amazing house they live in. They’re still locked in that high school mindset of fitting in, being cool or saying, “I got one of those.”
There is some irony with a couple of the film’s featured interviews. Sam Harris has spent a career reducing much of the human experience through his deterministic and naturalistic interpretation of science. Naturalism (in the sense that matter is all that there is, and all is governed by chance) can’t explain morals, human values, consciousness or love. In fact, all of these things transcend any deterministic model, so Harris and others like him must reach outside of their belief system to argue for the points of the film. One of the interviewees even admits this materialism (in the sense of material possessions) is a result of evolutionary belief. If this were true, than there is no hope, but this materialism is a societal force, not one determined by some blind process.
While many won’t delve that deep into the philosophical implications of the film (for more on this topic, go here), I did so in hope others will do just that. Rampant materialism and consumerism is a symptom of deeper problems, of broken beliefs. We let it come to this. We made it happen. One decision at a time, one penny at a time. We let time get away from us.
The Minimalists have opened a door, an escape. It’s up to you to open it all the way and begin ridding all things that eat your time like a monster. It is a journey where you will encounter demons other than materialism.
It is a war we can’t afford to lose. Use the time given to you and win it.