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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 4 million readers. As featured on: ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, TODAY, NPR, TIME, Forbes, The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and National Post. They live in Missoula, Montana.

Our 21-Day Journey into Minimalism

The Minimalists, photo by Adam Dressler

Happiness Is a Curious Thing

Happiness is an expansive concept: it can be a mind-numbing thing to try to capture with words. But it was this abstract, complex idea—the thought of being truly happy—that led us to minimalism. Eventually.

But let’s rewind a moment.

Before we understood the importance of simplifying our lives, we were successful young professionals from Dayton, Ohio. But we were only ostensibly successful.

Back then people saw two best friends in their large suburban homes and they were envious. They saw our six-figure jobs, our luxury cars, our new gadgets, our lives of opulence, and they thought, These guys have it figured out; I want to be just like them. They saw all that superfluous stuff and they just knew we were successful. After all, we were living the American Dream—weren’t we?

But the truth is we weren’t successful. Maybe we looked successful—displaying our status symbols like trophies on a shelf—but we weren’t truly successful because, even with all our stuff, we weren’t satisfied with our lives. We weren’t happy. And we discovered working 70 to 80 hours a week to buy more stuff didn’t fill the void—it only widened it: the endless pursuit of more stuff only brought us more debt, anxiety, fear, stress, loneliness, guilt, overwhelm, paranoia, and depression. It was a solipsistic existence.

What’s worse, we discovered we didn’t have control of our time, and thus we didn’t control our own lives.

And then, as our lives were spiraling downward in ever-diminishing circles towards an empty oblivion, we inadvertently discovered minimalism. It was a beacon in the night. We lingered curiously on the limbic portions of its perimeter, scouring feverishly through Internet page after Internet page, looking for more information and guidance and enlightenment, watching and learning and attempting to understand what this whole “simple living” thing was all about. Through months of research we traveled further and further down the rabbit hole, and over time we discovered a group of people without a lot of things but with myriad happiness, passion, and freedom. We yearned for the same.

We embraced minimalism as a way of life and discovered that we, too, could be happy. But it wasn’t through owning more stuff; it wasn’t through accumulation. We took back control of our lives so we could focus on what’s important—so we could focus on life’s deeper meaning.

Happiness, as far as we’re concerned, is achieved through living a meaningful life: a life filled with passion and freedom in which we grow as individuals and contribute beyond ourselves. Growth and contribution: those are the bedrocks of happiness. Not stuff.

This may not sound sexy or “marketable,” but it’s the cold truth. Without growth, and without a deliberate effort to help others, we are simply slaves to cultural expectations ensnared by the trappings of money, power, status, and perceived success.

Minimalism is the tool that helped us simplify our lives by stripping away the excess so we could focus on what’s truly important.

We invite you to join us. Membership is free. And you deserve to be happy: you, too, deserve to live a meaningful life.

Background

In the fall of 2009, soon after his mother died and his marriage ended (in the same month), Joshua stumbled across Colin Wright’s website. Colin said he was a “minimalist,” but Joshua had no idea what this meant. However, the world he soon discovered showed him he could be happy without trying to accumulate more stuff. Although he didn’t fully embrace minimalism at first, Joshua opted to dip his toe in simplicity’s waters instead: he began simplifying his life with experiments like paring down his stuffgetting rid of his TVliving with enough, and questioning what he owns.

In time, Joshua realized most of his stuff—about 90% of it—was weighing him down, keeping him from the freedom, happiness, and fulfillment he so desperately wanted.

So he let go. Over the course of eight months, Joshua jettisoned approximately 90% of his possessions. As he let go, he began feeling freer, happier, lighter. As the external clutter was removed, so was the internal clutter: emotional clutter, mental clutter, stress, anxiety.

Soon, Joshua’s best friend of 20 years, Ryan, asked him a question: “Why the hell are you so happy?”

Joshua told Ryan about minimalism.

“What’s minimalism?” Ryan asked.

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

Joshua told Ryan that consumption isn’t the problem—compulsory consumption is the problem. We all need some material things, but minimalists actually get more value from their possessions because they own only things that add value to their lives. As a minimalist, everything you own serves a purpose or brings joy—everything else is out of the way, which allows you to focus on what’s truly important: health, relationships, passions, growth, and contribution.

With this revelation, Ryan decided to become a minimalist, too, and document his journey alongside Joshua—a journal of their journey they both hoped would help other people simplify their lives. This is that journey. The following 21 days were the impetus for this website, which we began sharing with the world on December 14, 2010. (If you find value in this website, please consider supporting it by donating a dollar.)

The Planning

Once the decision was made, we drew up a plan.

Since Joshua had already simplified much of his life, we decided to start by focusing on Ryan’s stuff. With Joshua’s help, Ryan wanted to turn his cluttered, consumer-driven life into a minimalist lifestyle in 21 days.

Why 21 days? Well, there are a few reasons: First, it takes 21 days to form a habit, and we wanted to be habitually happy, habitually free, habitually minimalist. Second, we probably could have done it in fewer than ten days, but we didn’t want to stress out during the process—we knew we could enjoy the journey if we took our time and simplified over the course of three weeks.

The Day-by-Day Schedule

Day 1 | Decisions

Day 2 | Planning

Day 3 | Packing

Day 4 | Essentials

Day 5 | Things

Day 6 | Fear

Day 7 | Relationships

Day 8 | Belief

Day 9 | Growth

Day 10 | Everything

Day 11 | Trash

Day 12 | Donate

Day 13 | Sell

Day 14 | Digitize

Day 15 | Reduce

Day 16 | Electronics

Day 17 | Car

Day 18 | House

Day 19 | Work

Day 20 | Health

Day 21 | Time

You can also read Ryan’s journal entries from this entire journey in Everything That Remains, and subscribe to The Minimalists via email.