Do true ‘minimalists’ need more social approval?

Should we apply our love of minimalism to our impulse for attention and recognition?

Earlier this year I watched Minimalism: a documentary about the important things, produced by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. The film includes interviews with many writers and thinkers on the subject of minimalism, but the story principally follows Millburn and Nicodemus themselves on a book tour.

The documentary ignores this underlying irony: Minimalism is a film by Millburn and Nicodemus about a book tour by Millburn and Nicodemus — a book tour all about the ways that commercialization, capitalism, and marketing impoverishes our lives. And make no mistake, Millburn and Nicodemus hope that Minimalism to be, well, big. The film’s website touts that Minimalism had the largest box-office opening for an indie documentary in 2016.

The point of this post is not to critique the filmmakers for celebrating the commercial success of their anti-commercial movie. This conundrum would be an irony that any one of us would face if we set out to share the virtue of minimalism at scale (especially if we did not want to assume massive quantities of debt for our effort). I don’t want to judge the film, but I do want to consider an implicit issue that it raises.

Minimalism represents something of a Who’s Who of people who have made names for themselves by living with less. But this aspect of the film raises a question: when posting selfies of our #minimalist lifestyles become the trendy thing to do, what becomes of the concept of ‘minimalism’ itself if applied to our impulse for the recognition, applause, attention, and respect of others?

While we preach the merit of material minimalism, are we willing to extend the same principle to our ambitions for likes, clicks, and followers? While we praise the simplicity of minimalist design, do we praise the simplicity of a minimalist social circle? If the doctrine that ‘less is more’ is true, does it apply to our digital personas as well? If minimalism is about only living with what we need, do we really need more followers and fans to signal their approval for our simple lifestyles?

Or does the fact I’m raising this personal inquiry publicly on the Internet make the question itself null and void?

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