Living With Less: Joshua Fields Milburn & Ryan Nicodemus From 'The Minimalists'

BY A. CADWELL | NOVEMBER 2016

Meet The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, known to their readers as “The Minimalists,”write about living a meaningful life with less stuff. These gentlemen mix humor and satire with insightful and practical steps for living a minimalist lifestyle. Through their website, books, podcasts and documentary they speak to the truth that minimalism can assist us in finding freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around, and allow us to make lifestyle decisions more consciously and more deliberately. Longtime fans of their work, we were thrilled to talk more about their journey and get their insights on where to begin to when simplifying your life.

Minimalism seems to be striking a chord with millions around the world. What do you believe is drawing people to this message and lifestyle?

Minimalism is the thing that gets us past the things so we can make room for life’s important things—which actually aren’t things at all.

Minimalism is an old idea that solves a relatively new problem: unchecked consumption. Since the industrial revolution, we've had unprecedented access to more and more stuff, some of which adds value to our lives, most of which, though, simply gets in the way. Minimalism as a lifestyle often taps into the wisdom from ancient philosophers like the Stoics and Henry David Thoreau, as well as the simple-living ideas espoused by many world religions: namely, that we can live a more fulfilling life by being intentional with our resources—time, attention, money, relationships, and material possessions.

You have mentioned your goal for your work with The Minimalists is to help people make room for their passions, experiences, growth, and contentment. How does clearing the clutter in our life help us make room for the important things?

Minimalism is the thing that gets us past the things so we can make room for life’s important things—which actually aren’t things at all. Ergo, by clearing the excess from our lives, we free up time to focus on our values; and, of course, our values are the cornerstone of living a meaningful life.

My interest in a move towards minimalism was the result of a diagnosis that demanded I slow down and live more intentionally. More and more I meet people with similar stories. Was there a significant life event that acted as catalyst in your journey towards minimalism?

Yes. Seven years ago, when I was 28, my mother died and my marriage ended—both in the same month. These two events forced me to look around and question what had become my life’s focus. I realized I was so focused on so-called success and achievement—and especially on the accumulation of stuff. Yeah, I might have been living the so-called "American Dream," but it wasn’t my dream—and it took getting everything I thought I wanted to realize that everything I ever wanted wasn’t actually what I wanted at all.

How do you see minimalism intersecting with conscious consumerism and environmentalism?

Conscious consumerism and environmentalism are both positive benefits of minimalism. Of course there are other benefits, too: financial freedom, more time, better relationships, increased creativity, and greater contribution.

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You’ve co-authored several books. Which would you first recommend to readers as a beginner’s guide to living a more thoughtful life?

People often ask why we wrote three books about simple living: “That’s not very ‘minimalist,’ is it?” Actually, it is—all three books communicate something unique, all three books add value in different ways—we didn’t just slap three different covers on the same content.

Everything That Remains is the why-to book: it is our personal story of letting go; it documents our five-year journey from suit-and-tie corporate guys to minimalists. This book attempts to answer the questions: Why have I given so much meaning to material possessions? Why have I been so discontented by the status quo? What if everything I ever wanted isn’t what I actually want? Of everything we’ve written, we are most proud of this book.

Minimalism is the what-to book: it focuses on the five values we must focus on to live a meaningful life. This book attempts to answer the questions: What is a meaningful life? Who is the person I want to become? How will I define my success after letting go of the excess stuff?

Essential is the how-to book: the “best of The Minimalists,” this collection of 150 essays focuses on twelve distinct areas of intentional living, from decluttering, gift-giving, and finances, to passion, health, and relationships. This book attempts to answer the question: How would my life be better with less?

Because people enjoy books differently, all three titles are available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook. For the best experience, we recommend reading them in the above order: why, what, how.

What other resources would you recommend for getting started?

The Minimalists top tips for simplifying one's life are:

1. Question. Start your process by asking the most important question: "How might my life be better with less?" By answering this question, you will identify the benefits of letting go—not just the how-to, but the more important why-to. Of course, the benefits are different for each of us: for some people, they involve improved health or relationships; for others, the benefits are financial freedom or more time to create. Understanding the purpose of decluttering will grant you the leverage you need to keep going.

2. Start Small. Once you understand why you're decluttering, you want to start small so that you can get the momentum you need. We recommend starting with the 30-Day Minimalism Game, which will make decluttering more fun by injecting some friendly competition into the mix.

3. Packing Party. Once you have momentum, let go of more stuff by throwing a Packing Party. Do it in one room or, if you're feeling adventurous, your entire house!

4. Rules. If you need some guidance while letting go, consider the Just-in-Case Rule, the 90/90 Rule, and the 10/10 Material Possessions Theory to help you stay on track.

5. Organize. No matter where you are on your journey, always remember: The easiest way to organize your stuff is to get rid of most of it.