Ask Unclutterer: Movies with an uncluttered theme

Reader Ellis submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I know this is a bit random but … I wondered if you had any recommendations of films with a minimalist/uncluttered theme? I’m looking for some inspiration!

This is an interesting question since there are films that have a minimalist aesthetic (THX 1138) and films that promote the idea of uncluttered living (Wall-E). I’ve included examples of both for you. Also, I’m not the world’s biggest movie-goer, and I see more science fiction and Pixar films than anything else, so my suggestions are limited. Be sure to check the comments for even more ideas from our readers.

Unless otherwise noted, these movies are NOT suitable for young children.

  • Repo Man (a dark comedy showing a future world overwhelmed with stuff)
  • THX 1138 (a stark minimalist future world)
  • Up (kid friendly)
  • Wall-E (kid friendly)
  • Idiocracy (it’s cringe-worthy to watch, but days letter you’ll continue to think about it)
  • Fight Club (extremely violent, but has a strong message on consumer culture)

Also, you might be interested in checking out Dogme 95 films that are extremely uncluttered in their production. Thank you, Ellis, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Again, be sure to check the comments for suggestions from our readers. I’m looking forward to learning about the additional film suggestions, too.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

54 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Movies with an uncluttered theme”

  1. posted by jess on

    The Hudsucker Proxy has a very minimalist art deco aesthetic

  2. posted by Jake I on

    what about ‘Up in the Air?!’

  3. posted by Zach C on

    Gattaca should definitely be at the top of the list.

  4. posted by Ian on

    Have to make a comment to suggest Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring. It’s a korean film about a monk and a boy who live on a floating house on a lake/pond. The story has more to do with the boy’s life, but their lifestyle is probably one of the most uncluttered you’ll find in a movie.

  5. posted by Marie A. on

    I’d point out Eat Pray Love (which I just saw last night) and Under the Tuscan Sun. While not specifically about minimalism they both are about starting over with nothing and realizing what’s important to make you happy.

  6. posted by WilliamB on

    I second Ian’s vote for Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring. I spent a lot of time thinking aboutthe old monk’s daily life. If you do watch it, pay close attention to what doorways (they’re not all doors, btw) the characters use and when.

  7. posted by Honkytonkfoodie on

    I definitely second the Fight Club suggestion. More often than not, when I am cleaning out things, the quote “The things you own end up owning you” becomes my mantra.

  8. posted by Cindy on

    I would agree that Under the Tuscan Sun would be a good movie that promotes, as Marie posted, the idea of starting over with nothing.

    p.s. I’m giving away a copy of your book at my book review blog.

  9. posted by Mike on

    I agree with @Zach C – Gattaca is a definite winner for minimalist aesthetic (and a phenomenal sci-fi “thinker” movie to boot).

    I also echo Idiocracy as a recommend. It’s low-budget and the acting performances won’t wow anyone, but the concept and plot are outstanding and you definitely end up thinking about it afterward. It is actually a remake of Cyril M. Kornbluth’s novella “The Marching Morons,” with a few references to Kornbluth’s earlier short story “The Little Black Bag.”

    For the most part, it’s not so much minimalist movies that you’ll find out there, but bits and pieces of movies and shows that evoke the theme or concept.

    A few that come to mind:

    * Flynn’s refuge on the grid in TRON:Legacy is a minimalist’s dream.

    * One of the two music videos for LIVE’s “Turn My Head” features some iconic minimalist art throughout.

    * In Spielberg’s “A.I.” the home of the primary family is very future-minimalist, and the first half of the movie takes place there. The rest of the movie takes place in gritty urban areas and “in the wild,” though, and does not return to the motif.

    * Minority Report – again, only bits and pieces of it, but there is that same motif and aesthetic again, especially the minimalistic consumer tech.

    * Equilibrium – More of the minimalist aesthetic this time, on a society-wide basis. Homes, offices, and so forth.

    * Logan’s Run – In a very purposeful sense. One of the original Art Deco Future Movies.

    Good luck!

  10. posted by RC on

    I have to agree with the whole list. Idiocracy isn’t laugh out loud jokes, but it is funny/scary in a way that makes you think “I could really see the world becoming this way.”

  11. posted by Dawn on

    Mike is sooooo right on with this:

    “Flynn’s refuge on the grid in TRON:Legacy is a minimalist’s dream.” He displays and lives with only his most cherished things with functional and efficient furniture. It’s splendid!

  12. posted by Ellie on

    The Ghost Writer

  13. posted by Chris on

    The Man Who Planted Trees/L’homme qui plantait des arbres

  14. posted by chacha1 on

    Second “Gattaca” and “Up in the Air.” And (this may be a stretch) “Blue Crush.”

  15. posted by ANM on

    mmm THX 1138…the loveliest.

    Even the way it was filmed is uncluttered and timeless. 1971 people!!! and it looks like it could have been released yesterday.

    everything about it is pure. Mr Duvall is devine and (i can’t remember her name–beautiful red headed actress) is simply stunning.

    Other suggestion of minimalist film…”Cube”

  16. posted by Kaylyn Ross on

    This is quite an interesting post. I have to say the TRON actually inspired me a lot. I just saw it recently and the whole digital concept and and the minimalist “Computer Decorations” were awesome. Even in the real world, the main character’s apartment is very simple. Really liked the movie too in case you can’t tell haha

  17. Profile photo of

    posted by trillie on

    Off the top of my head…
    * Æon Flux (the movie, not the comic series), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0402022/ – great architecture and minimalistic interiors
    * Julie & Julia, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1135503/ – not necessarily visually uncluttered or minimalistic, but the uncluttered idea that you don’t need much cooking equipment or a big kitchen to prepare a feast
    * Oh, and Sex And The City or similar movies with an overflowing abundance of rooms, furniture, colors, clothes and so on always make me WANT to declutter and paint my walls white ;)

  18. posted by chrisbean on

    YES to the much-suggested Gattaca for uncluttered films. I’d also include Sleeper and CQ. And, if it isn’t too obvious, 2001.

    For cluttered, well, the crazy old hoarder lady in Labyrinth needs a nod.

    Brazil hits on both extremes, though it’s definitely overall a “dirty future” vision–actually anything Gilliam could slide neatly into the cluttered theme.

  19. posted by Babs on

    Lately I have noticed on Star Trek Next Generation reruns the minimalist sets including the beautiful sleeping quarters on the Enterprise. The Borg however are VERY messy. So maybe my decluttering mantra should be “Don’t be a Borg” or “Make it So”
    Resistance is not futile!

  20. posted by Kim on

    “Out of Africa” did not have a minimalist theme but there is a memorable scene near the end when Baroness Blixen’s luxurious furnishings have been removed.

    She is having tea in an empty room, looks around and says, “I like it better this way”.

  21. posted by Abby on

    I immediately thought of Stranger Than Fiction aesthetic-wise.

  22. posted by Kara on

    There’s the concept of kipple in Philip K. Dick’s book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.” The concept didn’t make it into the film verion of the book (“Bladerunner” with Harrison Ford). However, I’ve always thought the idea of kipple was a great indictment of all the crap humans accumulate in modern society. It’s basically a post-apocalyptic vision about how all the detris of consumer culture will eventually overtake us. Here’s a humorous exchange from the book between two characters, JR and Pris, on the subject of kipple:

    JR – Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers of yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.
    Pris- I see.
    JR – There’s the First Law of Kipple, “Kipple drives out nonkipple.” Like Gresham’s law about bad money. And in these apartments there’s been nobody there to fight the kipple.
    Pris – So it has taken over completely. Now I understand.
    JR – Your place, here, this apartment you’ve picked – it’s too kipple-ized to live in. We can roll the kipple-factor back; we can do like I said, raid the other apartments. But –
    Pris – But what?
    JR – We can’t win.
    Pris – Why not?
    JR – No one can win against kipple, except temporarily and maybe in one spot, like in my apartment I’ve sort of created a stasis between the pressure of kipple and nonkipple, for the time being. But eventually I’ll die or go away, and then the kipple will again take over. It’s a universal principle operating throughout the universe; the entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleization.

  23. posted by Ravi on

    Up in the Air.

    It’s been mentioned a few times before already, so hopefully by the time you read this comment, you’re convinced to actually go and watch it.

    A sample:
    https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=105317682818085

  24. posted by Debbie M on

    “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” – I like the old cartoon one.

    The scene with the flying desk set from “Dead Poets Society.”

  25. posted by Beth on

    Another Idiocracy fan here. I was in Costco today and wanted to ask where could I find the law degrees.

  26. posted by waicool on

    maybe i’m seeing the question in a different context and i watch a lot of movies looking for distinctions and style. I immediately thought of “sleeping with the enemy”. once you see how obsessed that dude is with organizing his world you might feel the urge to mess up the canned goods in the pantry a little bit.

  27. posted by Erin on

    I have to agree with Idiocracy…I just saw it for the first time a few months ago and I’m still thinking about it (with horror as I realize how prescient it really is!)…

  28. posted by B on

    Jacque Tati’s “Mon Oncle” – lots of contrasts in the visuals as well as the themes (chaos/control, etc.).

  29. posted by Kate on

    I just watched Babies (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1020938/), which shows the development of four babies from birth to walking in four very different places (Mongolia, Namibia, San Francisco, and Tokyo). It’s not clutter-free, and it’s certainly not for every unclutterer, but it does show just how little “stuff” is needed for a little one to be healthy and happy.

  30. posted by jbeany on

    I, Robot, with Will Smith for the cluttered part. It’s set in a futuristic Detroit that has spread to encompass half of Michigan, and the landfill from society has nearly buried the Mackinaw Bridge.

  31. posted by Nina on

    Another Tati: Play Time.

    I think Idiocracy is one of the best warnings about what we might become. “But it has electrolytes!”

    Kubricks 2001 for its minimalism.

  32. posted by Maarten on

    What is minimalistic or frugal about Repo Man?
    Repo Man is about finding one’s destination; the plot moves around a car (actually an UFO) driving through the City and many people are searching for it. The main character is not looking for anything (career, money, stuff) and that is the reason why he is chosen by “the mechanic” to join him on his voyage. The message is: when you do not strive for more stuff, status or money; endless possibilities will open themselves to you.

    Recommended viewing: “Destiny turns the Radio”.

  33. posted by Jo@simplybeingmum on

    Highly recommend Fight Club – Fantastic on so many levels. One of the my favourite films of all time – I was fascinated by it years ago…then as my minimalistic tendencies developed I realised why… It obviously spoke to me. Jo

  34. Profile photo of

    posted by Parsifal on

    Labyrinth with Jennifer Connoly and David Bowie. It has a nice scene where a goblin trash picker tries to load Sarah down with all her childhood toys and mementos until she screams, “It’s all junk!”

    Plus, it’s super kid-friendly.

  35. posted by David Carlson on

    Add my support for Eat, Pray, Love, which shows a range of minimal to cluttered, depending on local and ethnic culture, and extremes of wealth and poverty. Sex and the City 2 also shows range among the extremely wealthy.

  36. posted by Momma Yen on

    I love “Up!” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it and it makes me cry everytime! For the unclutterer point of view, I like how he can’t let go of anything in the begining, including the entire house! But by the end of the movie he has to decide what’s really important in life. Wonderful! And my kids love it too!

  37. posted by christine on

    I’m confused by the “Repo Man” reference as well.

  38. posted by jon on

    Here’s a fresh one… Nine And A Half Weeks. A wonderful love story and the chap is a minimalist.

  39. posted by Sandra on

    I think you meant Repo MEN, not Repo MAN. Repo Men is coincidentally showing on HBO tonight.

  40. posted by Jennifer on

    @trille- i watched aeon flux again last night after several years. her wardrobe was so drool worthily minimal and the decor EVERYTHING about that movie makes me want to jump into that world-screw the repetitive consequences!

  41. posted by Hanah on

    The Gods Must Be Crazy – A Coca-Cola bottle falls out of a plane and is found by a group of tribesmen, wreaking havoc on their culture.

  42. posted by Paige on

    Love Idiocracy. Very prophetic movie. I see signs everyday of our society headed in that direction.

  43. posted by bandicoot on

    for heaven’s sakes, do NOT watch sex and the city 2.
    i loved that show, but the latest movie was so full of mindless ridiculous consumption and over decorated houses/hotels/venues, it quite turned me off the whole thing.
    how many vases does one couple need to have on display? INSANE!!

  44. posted by molly on

    I agree with above posters, you probably mean Repo MEN.

    Fight Club is my movie choice for a philosophy to follow in life. I think the end also speaks volumes now that we have had a huge credit crisis!

    I also think Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element should be on your list. The production design is just fabulous. Minimalist coupled with maximum color.

  45. posted by Jennifer on

    the fifth element was amazing! i find that european directors have a finer grasp on the whole minimalist aesthetic. blue by kieslowski, although not a happy film by any stretch, has a very focused minimalist feel. and of course, the homes in kurasowa’s masterpiece seven samurai are the ultimate minimalist homes. the fire pit in the floor, the stream running through…and a couple clay bowls on the window sills. YES please.

    @kate-dear lordissa on high! i can’t believe how many times i’ve watched babies. wasn’t it gripping in a very non-hollywood gripping sort of way. i watched that movie with my young cousin (16) and midway through the film she goes “wow that african baby is so healthy and study and happy.” and although she was the one that had the least in terms of material things, she really seemed the most well-adjusted and happy.

  46. Profile photo of

    posted by lucy1965 on

    Seconding Babs on liking the ST:TNG aesthetic: I’ve been a ST:TOS fan since I was small, and as a geek and someone with visual limitations, I like my technological solutions/adaptations! *grin*

    That said, I prefer the Vulcan variations, with natural materials used where appropriate and technology integrated, rather than the focal point.

  47. posted by kathleen on

    I really liked “confessions of a shopaholic”
    very inspiring when she started to get rid of stuff. and the therapy scenes were great.

  48. posted by richard on

    hi,

    In 2000, French filmmaker Agnes Varda made a film about the folks who pick up leftovers in fields and urban markets, something which is a legal right in France.

    It’s a brilliant and often amusing look at “waste”, and reclaiming good stuff from disappearing in landfills. I hate when I watch those home reno shows and see them throw away TONS of still very good material. The lesson here, I guess, is one person’s clutter = someone’s else treasure.

    Les Glaneurs aka THE GLEANERS
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gleaners_and_I

    Richard

  49. posted by Booknerd on

    In This House of Brede – Diana Rigg is London business woman who gives up her comfortable life to join a Benedictine nunnery.

    An Emmy nominated, 1975 made for TV movie based on a Rummer Godden novel of the same name.

  50. posted by me on

    “Everything you own, own you.”

  51. posted by Patti on

    Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks

    He is stranded alone on a desert island for years after an airplane crash, making do with what is available out of necessity

    SPOILER ALERT

    He lost his home and his fiancee thinking he was dead. Even after being rescued and once again having access to lights and all the food and drink he can consume, it’s almost like he doesn’t want the excess anymore

  52. posted by Mark on

    “Into the Wild” about a kid inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s book “Walden; or, Life in the Woods”, pretty much the Unclutterer’s manifesto.

  53. posted by Mark on

    If you’re into documentaries, Garbage Warrior may peak your interest. Check out the site here: http://www.garbagewarrior.com/.

  54. posted by Jurgen on

    To me, the best one’s are Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Jaqcues Tati’s “Play Time” (I just LOVE the ultraclean and decluttered office building in that movie – it’s from 1967 but it’s totally timeless) and the beforementioned “Fight Club” with it’s strong points about consumerism.

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