Minimalist Inspiration: The Story of Stuff

In the spirit of Minsumerism, I wanted to share with you one of my favorite internet videos: The Story of Stuff, by writer and activist Annie Leonard. It’s a brilliant, 20-minute, stick-figure documentary about the life cycle of material goods.

The video explores the environmental and social issues of our current model of consumption, and calls on us to create a more sustainable economy.

While walking us through the five steps of extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal, Annie provides many thought-provoking statistics, such as:

  • 80% of the planet’s original forests are gone.
  • 40% of waterways in the United States have become undrinkable.
  • People in the United States are targeted with more than 3,000 advertisements a day.
  • People in the United States makes 4.5 pounds of garbage a day.

If you’re not a minimalist already, you may very well become one after watching this!

Want to learn more? Annie has recently released a book version of The Story of Stuff, with more details of the materials economy — including her travels to factories and dumps around the world, to see exactly how the stuff we buy is made and disposed of.

And if that’s not enough, two new videos have been added to the site: The Story of Bottled Water, and The Story of Cap & Trade. I’m looking forward to The Story of Electronics, which is coming in May.

So what inspires your minimalism? Is it a concern for the environment or human rights, or simply a desire for clean closets and a spacious home?

26 comments to Minimalist Inspiration: The Story of Stuff

  • Great topic. I caught the story of stuff a couple of years ago at a time when I was thinking, “What the heck is wrong with the world?!?” It definitely stuck with me. For those who haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

    I think the thinking behind the story of stuff is similar to the thinking that drives me to simplify things in my life: All that stuff is not so great for our health, our environment our our society AND it’s not making us happier, in fact, the pursuit of stuff is making us miserable.

  • Heather

    One of my favorite stories. It makes you really think. : )

  • Anne

    One of my favorites. Opens ones eyes immediately.

    Anyone wishing to know about the exploitation of some of the still drinkable water can google ‘Nestle’ and ‘Great Lakes’ for another eye opener. Make sure to note the number of gallons removed…

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  • Noel

    I just checked out a copy or Daniel Goleman’s book Ecological Intelligence. Previously, he’s written on emotional and social intelligence. This book is about the impacts of what we purchase. Looks like a good read to go along with this topic.

    • miss minimalist

      That sounds like a fabulous book, Noel — I can’t wait to read it. I *love* the idea of “radical transparency” regarding how products are made.

  • I think you would also enjoy “Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash” by Elizabeth Royte, 2005. The author goes “under cover” to track what happens to our trash, from curbside to….

    I happened upon this book on the used books for sale shelf at my local library. I found it very interesting.

    I am drawn to minimalism from both a lifelong environmental bent as well as a more recent desire to save money. I’ve also discovered how liberating living with less clutter/stuff can be.

  • Mia

    This is a great video. As for what inspires my minimalism, I can think of the following reasons:
    – to minimize our impact on the environment
    – to minimize stress (work less, buy less)
    – to minimize my participation in the monetary economy controlled by banks (I started thinking this way after watching the movie Zeitgeist and Zeitgeist Addendum)
    – to minimize and hopefully eradicate human and animal suffering on this planet

  • Minimal

    Just plain and simple fact that I’m sick of how people today revolve their world around stuff. I realize that none of it makes us happy. After watching the show Hoarders: Buried Alive, I clearly saw people owning things and never using them; maybe once or twice then refusing to part with the item.

    I am inspired by the simplicities in life and living for what I need and not for what I want.

  • Hello, Miss Minimalist! Thanks for sharing this with us. I live in a “third world” country, so I watched the video from another vantage point. I’m glad that more and more people are embracing this lifestyle.

  • Macadamia

    Story of Stuff Critique –

    Her statistics are extremely dubious at best.

  • Flo

    Hi Francine,

    thank you for this entertaining video. If you take all whats said with a grain of salt and use it to get yourself thinking about it for yourself it works best. I really enjoyed it. Thank you!



  • pretty much a mixture of the three? I never thought about the environmental part but now i know i am sooooo being more of a minimalist!!

  • Dante Iscariot

    I’m a little ashamed: The reasons I became a minimalist have very little to do with environmentalism (though I do recycle everything I can and try not to be overly wasteful, but I’m still working on my energy habits, I tend to be up half the night reading blogs *cough*). What did it for me was moving house four times last year. When I got back to my mother’s with my tail between my legs, I looked at all my Stuff and saw it as nothing but a burden. Since then I’ve gone from filling three rooms to fitting everything I own in a chest of drawers and two bookcases. It’s taken me six or eight months and it’s still in progress, but I feel much better in my space. One of the first things to go was my double bed, which filled the room. Now I sleep on the floor and never have to worry about the dogs pushing me out of bed :D

  • Tina

    I read the book “the story of stuff”. I took it out of the library. I’ve tried to use less of everything since the FRugal zealot books came out in the 80’s and I got them at a garage sale. We’ve never used paper towels and I used to make my own yogurt for my kids to eat. T shirts got passed down as did most things until they became rags. I brought home scrap paper from work and the kids drew pictures. Cardboard boxes were cars and boats and doll houses. Egg cartons were for sorting various collections or for starting seedlings. Very little was ever new at our house.

  • Tina

    I have yet another bag for Goodwill ready to go. I save safety pins, paper clips and rubber bands when they come in the house so we never buy them. I print materials from the computer at the library so we don’t own a printer. I recycle everything I can. I hope to make a small footprint. We haven’t used our furnace in 13 years.

  • Tina

    We have 1 car. If we are going downtown or near another big shopping area, we take public transportation. A bottle of shampoo lasts 2 years. I bought a tube of toothpaste for the first time in over a year. I had been using samples. We will be making another trip to the e-recycling next week. There is still more I can pass on and more to give away. I like the house as empty as possible.

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