Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus speak to Sriya Narayanan about the virtues of simple living
“The quickest way to give yourself a pay raise?” asks the title of one of their blog posts. “Spend less money,” reads the entry. This and some of the other nuggets of wisdom on www.theminimalists.com have propelled Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus to cult status amongst over two million readers, all looking to shift their focus away from a materialistic lifestyle.
The bloggers, both based in Ohio and in their early 30s, walk the talk. They walked away from their high-powered, six-figure-pay jobs in corporate America (Joshua quit, Ryan was laid off), systematically got rid of around 90 per cent of their material belongings and preached the power of the bare minimum. Their books on simple living have consistently topped Amazon bestseller lists, and they host meet-up tours to spread their message: that we’re trapped in a culture that encourages us to live beyond our means; one that keeps us in perpetual pursuit of the next shiny goal.
“Goals are for the unmotivated,” blogs Joshua who frequently speaks of how his earlier material goals landed him in deep debt, and took a toll on his health and relationships. Today, the writer, who’s also a bestselling novelist, has co-authored their posts on the 21-day journey into reducing the number of things they owned. This means not just donating or selling things they didn’t truly need, but also throwing out objects that have sentimental value. Has he ever regretted discarding something that had emotional significance? “No. I’ve never missed anything I’ve gotten rid of.”
As for Ryan, he believes that being fired from his job freed him from the insecurity that came with a fixed income. “Being laid off from my job was both exciting and terrifying,” he says, adding it was a much-needed catalyst that helped him understand that money and things weren’t a guarantee of happiness or fulfilment. Recently, for his 31st birthday, Ryan asked friends and readers to donate $ 31 to Charity Water (a non-profit that provides clean drinking water to Third World countries) instead of buying him yet another gift he didn’t need. “I was able to raise more than $ 5,500, which helped bring clean water to 276 people in a village in Ethiopia,” he says. The duo believes that the final element of minimalism is organ donation, and that giving the gift of life during death is one of the best decisions one could make.
While they state they are not anti-corporation as such, they find that slick marketing campaigns often create feelings of inadequacy, and contribute to the vicious cycle of consumption. They steer clear of the strategies they dislike, including ‘psychological pricing’, which is why they’d never price a book at $ 6.99 instead of $ 7. During their journey into a life of less, their friend circles changed too. “Over time, my friends and relationships changed into people who share similar beliefs. Now my relationships are predicated on my values rather than proximity,” says Joshua.
Though their context is that of a highly consumerist society, they believe that the issue is relevant everywhere. Joshua elaborates, “In both the U.S. and India, we face many of the same problems. Namely, most of us want to own more material things without knowing why we actually want them. I think that in both places, we look toward the American Dream as if it will make us happy. But it won’t.”
A life of freedom
Asked if his lifestyle is sustainable in the long haul, Joshua responds that he doesn’t think of himself as a radical. “Minimalism is not a radical lifestyle. It’s a tool I use to get rid of unnecessary stuff and live a meaningful life — a life filled with freedom and conscious awareness.”
Just In Case...
People often hold on to things just in case they need them. They don’t let go because they might need something in the future. And they pack too much stuff for trips and vacations just in case they might need it.
But we needn’t hold on to these things. The truth is, we rarely use ‘just in case’ items, and thus they sit there, take up space, get in the way, and weigh us down. Most of the time they aren’t items we need at all. Getting rid of them clears one’s mind, frees up their space, and takes the weight off their shoulders.