Film Review: “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things”

Minimalist space, dining room with living space and windows overlooking water in background.
Image by Jean van der Meulen from Pixabay

How might your life be better with less? Ponder that for a moment. And then please read on!

Have you seen this documentary? That’s the question Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus pose. It’s about more than just minimalism in relation to stuff. It’s about the over-consumptive, planned obsolescent, mass-marketed culture that we live in, and how dissatisfied we are in our culture. A “documentary about the important things” really means just that. It’s not the stuff in our lives that’s important. Check out the trailer:

It leaves an impression

I watched this about a year and a half ago, and I liked it. But I recently re-watched it, after having gone through all the changes our family has gone through since watching it the first time: eliminating many toxic products; reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up; getting away from plastic products; reducing our household waste; etc. We got rid of stuff and had a big yard sale. We’ve been constantly reducing our material possessions, little by little, because it’s a process. So this time I viewed it with a new perspective!

And I was even more impressed by it. In the first few minutes, it featured video footage of the same Black Friday videos I had watched when I wrote my article on the consumer day of insanity! I was captured by the documentary for a second time.

These guys are really awesome and other than their book, they’re not selling anything. They are trying to spread the idea of minimalism and living life in the pursuit of happiness.

But what is minimalism?

I know it sounds like a trend, and it’s hard to define in one quick sentence. But it’s really just a way of living, and it can be different for everyone. It does not mean you give up all of your possessions, your house, your car, your boat. etc. It just means refocusing your life on what’s most important to you. It’s about becoming aware of your life and your behaviors.

The Minimalists, Millburn and Nicodemus, have a website where you can read about how they define minimalism. But here’s what they call an “elevator pitch” definition:

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.

Define success and happiness for yourself

We live in a society that teaches us that success is defined by income and material possessions. Earn more, buy more, buy bigger. What if we all start defining success in a different way? Success can be measured in so many other ways than by career title, income, and how big your house is! Let’s decide for ourselves instead of letting society do it for us.

Maybe you want to spend more time with your children. Maybe that means you quit working 60 hours a week for a smaller salary. Perhaps you’re tired of working all the time to pay the big mortgage payment on the big house. That could mean moving into a smaller home, with a smaller mortgage, with fewer belongings; the trade-off might be having more cash for travel, spending less time cleaning the home, and less stress because your finances are less stretched. It could be any number of scenarios. Again, how might your life be better with less?

The Environmental impact of Minimalism

Consumerism is also ruining the environment through the sheer production of so much stuff! The less we consume, the less we waste. Watch The Story of Stuff for the environmental impacts of the cycle of production and consumption. You buying less means money for other things and less pollution – that’s a win-win!

The film is available on Netflix. If you don’t have Netflix, it’s available for rent or purchase on Amazon as well. Remember to always check your local library first. The Minimalists have two TED Talks as well, both worth watching. This one, entitled “The Art of Letting Go,” I found to be really moving:

I really like these guys. I don’t know if they’ll be touring again, but if they do, I hope to go see them. Their book, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life, is equally inspiring. I highly recommend reading this book and viewing the film as well. Also check out my review of their newest book, Everything That Remains.

Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life book cover

We all have the power to make our lives better. And we all have the power to make great changes to the environment. I’m going to keep striving for less stress, less waste, and more happiness. What will you do? What improvements in your own life can you make?

Feel free to leave me a comment below. As always, thanks for reading!

Bag It: The Movie

Last updated December 11, 2022.Bag It film cover art

Have you seen this documentary? Bag It is an excellent film, and I wholeheartedly recommend it! It’s a great introduction to not only the problem of plastic bags but of plastics in general. Please check out the trailer:

A must-see documentary

I cannot say enough good about this film. It really hits on all the topics, from the perspective of an everyday person like you or me. Before I saw this film myself a couple of years ago, I had only limited knowledge of plastics, recycling, and toxic products. This film was like my gateway to bigger individual topics – like plastic bag usage; the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; toxins in food from plastic packaging; and single-use disposable plastic…everything. I had thought about those things, but I hadn’t researched them or even read much about them. I love this film! And Jeb Berrier is pretty funny too.

The film also introduced me, through interviews in the film, to a variety of plastic experts, ocean and marine life experts, and organizations trying to make the world a better place. To name a few: Beth Terry of myplasticfreelife.com; Annie Leonard of the Story of Stuff Project; Dr. Sylvia Earle of Mission Blue; Algalita (founded by Captain Charles Moore); the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge; Oceana; the Environmental Working Group; authors Elizabeth Royte and Daniel Imhoff; and so many more that I’m forgetting to include. The filmmakers’ requests for interviews with the American Chemistry Council and others in the plastics industry were denied or received no response. Unfortunately, that has been fairly typical with films that investigate and educate the public on the plastic problem.

Plastic bags that have somehow made it into my home. I'm saving these for trash clean ups when I go hiking. Photo by me.
Plastic bags that have somehow made it into my home. I’m saving these for trash clean-ups when I go hiking. Photo by me.

Take action with Bag It The Movie

I was completely inspired by this movie! As I mentioned above, this film is one that led me to other important films, authors, individuals, and organizations that are all making a difference and trying to educate people. I consider Bag It to have been a core part of our household’s path to great changes.

I looked up the film’s website in anticipation of writing this article, and I was even more inspired! Most of their site is dedicated to using the film as a tool to educate schools, communities, and whole towns. They offer the ability for any person or organization to host a screening for a fee and have a free downloadable pdf Screening Tool Kit, which has step-by-step instructions and resources for screening Bag It. They also have a free downloadable pdf to initiate a Bag It Town campaign, meaning a plastic bag ban.

In my article about a weekend trip to Hilton Head Island, where I discovered that that town is implementing a plastic bag ban this month, I mentioned that I might try to propose one where I live! Between both, I’m SO moved and even more encouraged. If I do propose one in my town, I definitely know where to start now. With the tools provided by Bag It!

Thank you for reading! Stay inspired and be the change!

Plastic Bag laws in U.S. map from https://www.plasticbaglaws.org/
Plastic Bag laws in the U.S. from plasticbaglaws.org.

Footnote:

Black Friday and Why You Don’t Have to Participate

Last updated on December 11, 2022.

black friday scrabble letters, Photo by Wokandapix on Pixabay
Photo by Wokandapix on Pixabay

What are the best Black Friday deals?

Sorry, that’s not what this website is about. But I invite you to read on and rethink this crazy annual shopping ritual.

First, what is Black Friday? It’s the day after Thanksgiving, regarded as the first day of the traditional Christmas shopping season. Retailers offer specially reduced prices on all kinds of items. I’ve linked an article about its history of it in the footnotes.1 But now sales extend beyond Black Friday and into Cyber Monday. The 2022 sales were record-breaking, despite the recession. The sales on Black Friday were $9.12 billion, and $11.3 billion on Cyber Monday. That’s so much money!

“America is back…We are once again spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need to give to people we don’t like.” -Stephen Colbert, joking that this was proof that the economy had recovered.

Shopping mall and escalator, Photo by Dieter de Vroomen on Unsplash
Photo by Dieter de Vroomen on Unsplash.

What has Black Friday turned into?

A chaotic mess of stampeding people who act selfishly and just plain mad. I personally have never participated in the madness because I don’t like crowds enough to save a few dollars. It’s just not for me. And I felt that way before the videos of trampling were captured. Here’s a news report featuring the madness I speak of:

The following video from 2010 is one of the worst I found, where people were trampled and injured.

And if you want more, there’s a link to an entire article dedicated to the nastiness that occurred on Black Fridays in the footnotes.2 Don’t forget that during the 2008 financial crisis, a Walmart employee was trampled to death on Black Friday.

The Materialism of it All

This year, please rethink this whole extravaganza. Why are we doing this to ourselves? Why do we participate in the madness? To save some money? To get another diamond for your spouse? The “hottest” toys for your kids? The newest washer and dryer? It’s mass-marketed materialism at its best. I mean, worst. And it’s just STUFF.

You don’t have to be minimalist to reject this entire mess.

We all have the desire to see our children squeal with delight when they unwrap their toys or see our spouse tear up over a thoughtful gift. And most of us do need to save money. So don’t feel guilty about having participated. Just think through what you plan to buy. Having a plan will save you from impulsive purchases, stress, and maybe even chaos.

If you’re striving for plastic-free, zero waste, or minimalism (or all 3!!!), then you’ve really got to think through the whole holiday insanity of gift-giving anyway. Does your wife really need a bigger diamond wedding ring? Or does she cherish the one you gave her when you proposed? Does your child really need the newest plastic toys wrapped in plastic cellophane that then gets wrapped in plastic-coated wrapping paper with plastic tape? Will your washer and dryer last a couple more years?

If you really just want to save money, how about just shopping less? Think about the impact you’ll have not only on the environment but also on your own pocketbook. Here’s a video from The Story of Stuff Project about Black Friday:

Think outside the box this year.

How about gifting experiences? Think museums, aquariums, hotel packages, airfare, theater tickets, movie tickets, or zip-lining tickets. How about gifting someone a day trip to the spa or a massage package? How about a photography package for your family? Does your son or daughter really want to go to Six Flags next summer? Now’s a good time to buy those tickets.

There are lots of other physical gifts you can give too.

What about a nice plant for your friend who has a garden? Or a cousin who loves houseplants? Does your Mom just love scented bar soaps? You can buy naked soaps (meaning no packaging) in many places these days, including in the Southeastern U.S. Does your brother love Jelly Belly jellybeans? Consumables are always good gifts. People used to give bread as a housewarming gift, why can’t we do that for Christmas? You can even give the gift of beer or wine – I don’t think anyone will want to return those things the day after Christmas.

There are always non-profit gifts, donating to a good cause in someone’s name.

Is there an animal lover in your life? Donate money to their local animal shelter, or to an organization that provides animal therapy to people. Does your Dad really want to help victims of natural disasters? Donate to the appropriate non-profit in his name. Does your neighbor love trees? Plant one in their honor through the Arbor Foundation. Does a friend really want to help people in developing countries? Donate to a cause in their name. (Of course, make sure you are donating to a legitimate organization, it usually just takes a little research).

If you’ve got a friend who is into environmentalism or wants to go plastic-free / zero waste / minimalist, how about a book on one of those topics? I’ve got a list that you can start with. I also have a list of children’s books on topics related to environmentalism, wildlife, the ocean, etc. There are so many more out there too; those lists just feature the ones I’ve personally read.

Person's hands, using a credit card machine, Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.

What to do if you do get impulsive

You can always return unwanted items. But there are other options if that’s not possible.

Use unwanted items for that ridiculous Secret Santa routine your office insists on participating in every year. Bought extra children’s clothing or an extra children’s coat? Donate it to a local charity. In Chattanooga, the Forgotten Child Fund’s Coats for Kids annual drive is around the first week of December. Did you buy too many toys for the grandkids? How about donating them to Toys for Tots? Churches, thrift stores, homeless shelters, schools, even some daycare centers are always needing items.

Bought too much wine that you intended on gifting? Bring it to a friend’s house when they’ve invited you over for dinner. Enjoy. Especially if it has a natural cork instead of a plastic one.

Let’s have a peaceful and safe holiday season. Remember, the stuff isn’t what’s important. The people in our lives are. Let’s give them the best gift of all this year: our love and company.

Happy Thanksgiving, and as always, thanks for reading.

People clinking wine glasses over a Thanksgiving meal, turkey and candles with Christmas tree in background.
Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash.

Footnotes:

Halloween Candy Wrappers: A Plastic Nightmare

Last updated on October 23, 2022.

Trick-or-treating on Halloween is a tradition. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Trick-or-treating on Halloween is a tradition. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.

Did you know that Americans spent about $10.14 billion on Halloween in 2021? Or that we spent $3.1 billion on candy that is individually wrapped and thrown away? And that most of it’s not recyclable and just ends up in landfills (or bodies of water)?

Don’t have guilt. Get inspired!

I don’t want to be one of those people that makes you feel bad about it. That’s not why I’m here. But I do want to inspire you to be forward-thinking. I want to get you thinking about next year, and what we can do to eliminate some of the wastefulness.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and I absolutely participate! Especially because I have a young son and I want to share all of the Halloween traditions with him. Surely, I can reduce waste from this holiday and still have a silly great time!

So what can we do going forward?

Start thinking about the big picture and ask questions: How many candy wrappers do we throw away, just in the United States? How many costumes are tossed in a landfill instead of reused or donated? What is the total amount of decorations made of cheap plastic that get used for only one Halloween before they end up in a landfill? Do many pumpkins go into a landfill instead of being used as food or composted? How many resources are wasted on this one holiday?

I’m actually not sure. I couldn’t find exact data for any of those things. But today I’m focusing on candy.

Bowl of Halloween candy from a trunk-or-treat event. Photo by me.
Bowl of Halloween candy from a trunk-or-treat event. Photo by me.

Candy & Their Wrappers

Recycle Nation calls Halloween candy “Halloween’s Environmental Nightmare.” Putting plastic wrappers into regular recycling is not possible. They aren’t made of materials that are collected by recycling facilities. Hershey’s kisses, gold chocolate coins, and other types of candies are wrapped in aluminum foil, which is great if you live in a town or city that accepts aluminum foil through the recycling system. Unfortunately, where I live in the Southeast, it is not accepted. Even so, foil-wrapped candies would be better than plastic!

Sometimes candy wrappers can be upcycled. TerraCycle and lots of artists on Etsy.com make upcycled candy wrapper bags and purses, and many other items. TerraCycle sells zero-waste boxes for candy and snack wrappers, and they take the collected materials and make them into new products.hey are expensive, and not everyone can afford this option. Realistically, recycling candy wrappers is not the solution.

So what is the solution? There are a few ways to drastically reduce plastic waste.

Plastic Halloween candy wrappers from a Halloween event. Photo by me.
Plastic Halloween candy wrappers from a Halloween event. Photo by me.

Trick-or-treaters at your house

Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home wrote that if you are purchasing candy to give out to trick-or-treaters, ensure it comes in fully recyclable packaging such as cardboard or paper. Think Nerds, Junior Mints, Pixie Sticks, Dots, or Milk Duds. Find lollipops that are paper-wrapped and not plastic-wrapped. Maybe small boxes of raisins or paper wrapped truffles.

Another idea I’ve found online is giving out coins for trick-or-treating. I remember finding quarters in my Halloween bag when I was a kid. Have kids close their eyes, reach into a bowl, and grab a handful. Child obesity is very high these days, so this could be a good option!

Coin jar, Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash
Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash.

Think outside the box! Maybe seeds packets or small wooden toys? Pencils or crayons? Drinks in aluminum cans, which might be quite refreshing after running from house to house all evening. Anything to stop this huge plastic waste stream. Others suggest different types of fruit, such as oranges and tangerines, but the urban myth of poisoned foods will likely result in the fruit being thrown away.

If you are having a Halloween party, purchase candy in bulk using your own jars or cloth bags to avoid the candy wrapper dilemma altogether. Wrap candies in small paper bags and decorate them!

Individually wrapped candies create a litter and plastic problem. Photo by Tucker Good on Unsplash
Individually wrapped candies create a litter and plastic problem. Photo by Tucker Good on Unsplash.

Taking your children trick-or-treating

How about reducing the amount of trick-or-treating you participate in? It’s fun to go house to house (or trunk to trunk), and kids love the reward of candy. But you, as a parent, know how much candy is enough for your household – so stop there. This is how our family does it. We try to focus on the experience and fun, not the candy gathering. Encourage the fun by just walking the neighborhood, and shifting the focus from obtaining an excessive amount of candy. Maybe just stop at every other house on your route. Your whole family will still have a great time!

My son trick-or-treating, on the walkway leading up to a house with pumpkins and Halloween decorations.
My son trick-or-treating in a neighborhood with lots of costuming and decorations. Photo by me.

Trash Art?

Last, if you aren’t using Terracycle’s zero-waste boxes for candy wrappers, how about using the wrappers for art? There are hundreds of art project ideas out there, just search “upcycle candy wrappers” online and you’ll find them. Anything from vases to handbags, hair bows to dresses. This is one of my favorites that I’d like to try someday:

Upcycled candy wrapper vase, found on Pinterest
Upcycled candy wrapper vase, found on Pinterest.

Trash & Litter

The last thing I want to say about candy wrappers is the amount of litter they create on Halloween. Kids don’t necessarily mean to drop things, they just do – even the environmentally-conscious ones. I’m part of the Litterati, and my plan is to photograph and pick up every piece of litter that I see while taking my son trick-or-treating. It will be mostly candy wrappers, but we live in a city that has the Tennessee River flowing right through the center of it. So I feel compelled to pick up those wrappers!

Can you do the same thing, pick up the candy wrappers and trash? Can you join the Litterati? Will you be the change?

As always, thanks for reading. I’d love to know if you have any out-of-the-box ideas about reducing waste from Halloween. Please leave me a comment below!

 

Footnotes: