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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.

Day 6 | Fear

The Minimalists, photo by Adam Dressler

We’re all afraid of something.

Some of our fears are obvious: spiders, heights, exes.

Other fears are less pronounced, less obvious—like the fear of loss: Loss of things. Loss of acceptance. Loss of friends. Loss of love.

Sometimes we’re afraid to give up what we think we have.

Fear traps us: It prevents us from growing. It prevents us from contributing to other people. It prevents us from living happy, satisfied, fulfilled, free lives.

Fear is the antithesis of freedom: it is, by definition, constricting.

We often hold on to things because we are afraid to get rid of them: we fear losing those things we think we might need. We don’t just fear the loss of these things, though—we fear the loss of what these things might mean to us in some distant, hypothetical future.

When you say that out loud, it sounds ridiculous. Try it: say I’m afraid to get rid of this [insert object name here, e.g., “T-shirt”] because it could have a serious impact on my life in the future. Ridiculous, right?

So there is an obvious question we must ask ourselves when we’re holding on to something: Why am I afraid to get rid of this?

Julien Smith—in an amazing and potentially offensive essay—tells you to ask yourself a crucial, basic question: What am I afraid of? While it might seem banal on the surface, it’s actually a great question to ask when you’re faced with difficult decisions.

Give it a try.

I don’t want to say “no” to that person. What am I afraid of?

I can’t write the novel I’ve always dreamed of writing. What am I afraid of?

I can’t learn to play that instrument I’ve always wanted to play. What am I afraid of?

I can’t exercise and eat healthy foods. What am I afraid of?

I can’t quit the job I hate to pursue my passion. What am I afraid of?

I can’t [fill in the blank]. What am I afraid of?

The answer to this question is almost always ridiculous: I’m afraid people won’t like me anymore. I’m afraid people won’t love me anymore. I’m afraid people won’t respect me anymore.

Chances are you have manufactured these false fears, and it is these manufactured fears that keep you from doing what you want to do (or, in the case of our physical items, fears that are keeping you from getting rid of certain things that have no real value—things that have no real meaning in your life).

We have good news, though: fear is a choice. You choose to be afraid—and you can choose to live without fear. All you must do is make a conscious decision: a decision to not be afraid. When something stands in your way, you must ask yourself: What am I afraid of?

So many people have chosen to get rid of their fears and move on with a meaningful life. But don’t take our word for it—try it out yourself:

Throw away your favorite T-shirt.
Get rid of your TV.
Write that novel.
Take yoga classes.
Do something you wouldn’t normally do.
Live your life.
Live a better life.
What are you afraid of?

It’s time to stop being afraid of whatever is preventing you from being happy, whatever is preventing you from being free—starting with the excess stuff in your life. Because in the end, you’re holding on to the fear because you’re afraid to give any of it up.

Today Ryan unpacked fewer items than yesterday, and the majority of his stuff is still packed in boxes. The fear is dissipating: letting go is getting easier each day.

“Fear” is Day 6 of Our 21-Day Journey into Minimalism. Move on to Day 7. Read Ryan’s journal entries from this entire journey in Everything That Remains. You can also subscribe to The Minimalists via email.