Lessons Learned from The Minimalists in “Less is Now”

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Less is Now Documentary by The Minimalists

The Minimalists have put out their second film, titled Less is Now. It is directed by another minimalist, Matt D’Avella, and is currently available on Netflix. Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus started The Minimalists over ten years ago. In their second film, they dive into the “why” behind their minimalism, speaking passionately about how their upbringings and experiences have led them toward a more simple, intentional life.

The first film from the Minimalists, Minimalism literally changed my life. I had never heard of minimalism as a movement or idea, but I had already started to move toward trying to lead a more simple, frugal, and intentional life. After watching the first film, I knew what I had to do.

I had to clear the clutter and get rid of the “stuff” to make more room for the things that really matter in my life.

Related Post: How It All Started: Minimalism

Since then, Ashley and I have calmed the clutter and focused on what’s important to us: family, friendships, travel, experiences.

The Impact of Poverty

The film also talked a great deal about money. Ryan and Joshua both grew up poor. They talk about their upbringing and struggles throughout the film. Both families had lots of stuff because they never said no to any item because they felt they needed it. Over time, they accumulated lots of items, but most had very little purpose.

As they grew older and started careers, both looked to make as much money as possible, but then used that money to try to buy their happiness. The problem is that each item we buy gives us a boost of happiness, but over time the shine wears off and the cycle continues to repeat itself. The iPhone 4 needs to be replaced by the iPhone 8, which then needs to be replaced by the iPhone X, and now you need that iPhone 12 Pro.

The Quotes in the Less is Now Film

Whenever I take a deep dive into a movie or book, I tend to navigate to quotes or passages that stick out to me. In Less is Now, there were a number of different quotes that struck me as fundamental to the philosophy of minimalism.

Essential vs. Extravagent

What is essential?

Joshua Fields milburn (the minimalists)

This concise question is far from a simple one. I think this gets to the heart of what minimalism is all about, though. What is essential in our lives? Beyond the essential, the rest is up to us.

Choose wisely.

The less we consider essential, the more space we have for what we do consider worthwhile.

Misplaced Priorities

“We’re binging on all the wrong things and we’re dying of a hunger from the things that matter.

Erwin mcmanus (Founder, mosaic)

This was one of my favorite quotes in the entire film. We all need to ask ourselves, where are our priorities? Are they in the right place and are we happy as a result?

Sentimental Items

Our memories are not in our things. Our memories are inside us.

joshua fields milburn (the Minimalists)

Joshua tells the story of finding old boxes in his mother’s house that hadn’t been opened in years. They turned out to be all of Joshua’s elementary school work. But those boxes weren’t providing any memories for his mother. They were just taking up space. Our memories are in our heads and we will find much more value in keeping a few cherished, sentimental items rather than keeping piles of stuff.


“Stuff is contributing to our discontent in so many different ways because it’s taking the place of the things that actually do give us more happiness.” – Annie Leonard

annie leonard (executive director, greenpeace usa

Throughout Less is Now, we see how excess stuff deprives us of the things that really matter to us and what makes us happy. We spend so much time buying, comparing, cleaning, and organizing all of our stuff that we lose track of what can really make us happy.

The American Dream

“I was so focused on so-called success and achievement and especially on the accumulation of stuff. I might have been living the American Dream, but I wasn’t living my dream.”

joshua Fields Milburn (The Minimalists)

As a history teacher, I cover the American Dream each year. We discuss the influx of immigrants into this country in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We discuss what the American Dream meant to those immigrants, many escaping poverty, persecution, and tyranny. But, later we cover post-World War II consumerism and the rising urge to “keep up with the Joneses”. The American Dream shifted from freedom and opportunity to consumerism and excess, a trend that has amplified over the past seventy years.

Create your own definition of your American Dream.


“The more action you take, the more you want to take action.”

joshua fields milburn (the Minimalists)

A funny thing happens when you start your minimalism journey. It takes hold of you. The process of decluttering quickly gains momentum and most people love the feeling they get from lifting the weight of all their stuff off of their shoulders. Before you know it, everything you have serves a purpose or brings you joy.


“I was focused on community, not consumerism. Giving, not taking. People, not stuff.

ryan nicodemus (the minimalists)

Adopting a minimalist lifestyle will change your outlook and mindset. Minimalism not only benefits the individual but also one’s circle. The change in mindset, extra time, and less stress benefits family, friends, and the entire community.

Less is More

How might your life be better with less?

Joshua fields milburn (the minimalistS)

To steal the phrase from one of my all-time favorite Minimalists, Courtney Carver, “Be More with Less“.

Less commitments, regrets, worrying, clutter, negativity, fear of failure, technology, complaining, busy work, overthinking the future, and overthinking the past.

All of that gives us time for more! More family game nights, time with friends, hiking and biking, experiences, and traveling. Less gives us more to be grateful for, more contentment, and more purpose.

The Numbers in the Less is Now Film

There were a few statistics that really jumped out at me during the film. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes statistics can have the same impact.


The average household contains over 300,000 items. No, that’s not a typo. Think about that number for a moment. It’s mind-boggling to think about. How many of those items are really necessary for our lives?


The average American works 47 hours per week according to a Gallup poll cited in Less is Now. This number is surprising enough, but it’s particularly shocking when put alongside the 35 hours that the average European works. We are working more now than ever before, while the rest of our time is gobbled up by our constant desire for more.

More stuff.

More technology.

Less time for what’s really important in our lives. My friend Jessica from The Fioneers writes a great deal about this subject.


The average credit card debt for households that hold debt is $16,000! I have written before about how credit cards can bring many benefits when used properly, but accumulating this much credit card debt is crippling. This number shows the power of advertising and how difficult it can be to say no to purchases, especially when plastic money is always at our fingertips.

The Action Plans in the Less is Now Film

Ready to get started? Sometimes starting this process can be a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, in Less is Now, Joshua and Ryan presented a few different options for ways to start your journey into minimalism.

Joshua’s Original Plan – One Item Per Day

When Joshua first decided to declutter, his goal was to get rid of one item every day for 30 days. Once he got started though, there was no slowing down. He easily found A LOT more than one item each day to purge.

Ryan’s Original Plan – Packing Party

Ryan took things to the extreme with a packing party. He and Josh boxed up every single item in his house as if he were moving. They labeled each box well so things could be easily located and retrieved if necessary. Ryan spent the next 21 days living his life as he normally would. If he needed an item, he would unpack it. After three weeks, 80% of his items were still boxed up!

The Less is Now Film Challenge

At the end of the film, The Minimalists presented a 30-day challenge: For each day, get rid of the same number of items as days you are into the challenge. One item on Day 1, 2 on Day 2, etc. On the final day of the challenge, you will get rid of 30 items. In total, you will rid yourself of 465 items!

It’s important to note, that whenever you decide to declutter, your first choice should be to donate or sell an item. Your second option should be to recycle and your last resort should be to throw an item in the trash.


Have you seen Less is Now yet? I’d love to hear what you thought of it in the comments below.

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