Perhaps you are aware of the tiny house movement, where people move into a teensy-tiny house with the barest of amenities, or Project 333, where people choose to dress with only 33 items for three months or longer. Both have gained significant interest over the last few years as more people in the so called First World realize that the old consumer equation — more stuff plus more square meters equals more happiness — just doesn’t work anymore.
Finnish filmmaker Petri Luukkainen decided it didn’t work for him either. Looking around his flat, he came to the conclusion that his things were plain depressing. And what’s more, Luukkainen was already in a bad place, having just been dumped by his girlfriend.
He needed to do something radical to reset his life, or otherwise he’d sink. The result is “Tavarataivas” (released internationally as “My Stuff”), a very personal documentary recounting Luukkainen’s one-year experiment of deprivation and discovery where he took every single possession he had, put them all in storage and bought nothing more. He allowed himself to take back only one item per day.
He started the project during winter in Helsinki and the first thing he retrieved was an overcoat. Interestingly, a pair of underpants wasn’t retrieved until day 17. The fridge didn’t make it out of storage until much later, since Luukkainen found that he could keep his food cold by placing it on a window ledge.
During the experiment, Luukkainen relied on his brother to bring food, and visits to his grandmother for worldly wisdom. She agreed with him that a person didn’t need very much to survive. At the same time, she had been through the war and knew the face of real deprivation. You can see from her expression that she thought her grandson was a little misguided. Luukkainen’s teenage nephew hits the nail on the head when he says to his uncle: “You don’t have a girlfriend, right? Maybe that’s what you really need.”
Ah, the astuteness of the young. But eventually, Luukkainen certainly got over his breakup and hooked up with someone new — a nice girl who loves the outdoors. At the beginning of the film, though, the guy is miserable, and seems to assuage that hurt by sprinting buck naked through a park at night to get to the warehouse that holds his belongings.
If “Tavarataivas” has a weakness, it’s a tendency to cater to the emotions of the filmmaker. This could have been Luukkainen’s chance to put his experiment into a larger context and make all kinds of statements about consumerism and the environment. Some critics are comparing the film to “Supersize Me” (2004) — a life-and-body-altering indictment against overindulging on fast foot. Luukkianen’s message is far less angry. He’s not out to condemn an entire system, he just wants a few personal revelations. If running through a park naked is going to do that for him, why not? Considering the number of cases where jilted men turn into stalkers or trigger-happy gunslingers, “Tavarataivas” is a small but significant feel-good package.