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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus help over 20 million people live meaningful lives with less through their website, books, podcast, and documentary. The Minimalists have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Forbes, TIME, ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, CBC, and NPR.

21 Instagram Posts About Intentional Living

Last month, March 2017, The Minimalists posted 21 essays on Instagram with an accompanying photo. Here they are all in once place. Enjoy.

There are many things that once brought joy to our lives but no longer serve a purpose in today’s world. Walkmans. Laserdiscs. Fax machines. Pleated khakis. Mail-order catalogs. Palm Pilots. The Furby. But most of us clung to these artifacts well into their obsolescence, often out of a pious sense of nostalgia. The hallmarks of the past have a strange way of leaving claw marks on the present. We hold deathgrips on our VHS collections, our unused flip phones, our oversized Bugle Boy jeans—not repairing or recycling these items, but storing them with the rest of our untouched hoard. As our collections grow, our basements, closets, and attics become purgatories of stuff, our lives overflowing with unemployed miscellanea. Your life is likely still filled with things that’ve fallen into disuse, and this lack of use is the final sign that you should let go. You see, as our needs, desires, and technologies change, so does the world around us. The objects that add value today may not add value tomorrow, which means we must be willing to let go of everything, even the tools that serve a purpose today. For if we let go, we can find temporary new homes for our neglected belongings and allow them to serve a purpose in someone else’s life, if only for a while, instead of collecting dust in our homegrown mausoleums. On a long enough timeline, everything becomes obsolete. A hundred years from now the world will be filled with new humans, and they’ll’ve abandoned their USB cables, iPhones, and flatscreen televisions, letting go of the past to make room for the future. This means we must be responsible about the new bits and pieces we bring into our lives today, and we must be equally sensible when those things become obsolete. A willingness to let go is life’s most mature virtue. 📷 Markus Spiske

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It’s easy to believe Earth turns slowly on its axis: it’s always there, and we’re a part of it, deep in the middle of its rotation. Consumerism is similar: it’s all around us, everywhere we turn, seemingly unstoppable—Hell’s self-consuming flame. But Earth doesn’t turn slowly: it’s spinning at over a thousand miles an hour. This became easy for us to understand once we stepped back and paid attention, once we became aware of our surroundings. Similarly, we needn’t look at all this mass-consumption and over-indulgence and believe it’s normal—it’s not. Things haven’t always been this way—this chaotic, this meaningless—and the future needn’t be, either. A sunrise is on the horizon, and we can see it once we open our eyes, become aware of what’s important, and realize we’re in too deep. 📷 Slava Bowman

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Take a look around: everyone is multitasking. We’re doing more than we’ve ever done, attempting to fill every interstitial zone with more work. Every downtown scene is the same: heads tilted downward, faces lost in glowing screens, technology turning people into zombies. We live in a busy world, one in which our value is often measured in productivity, efficiency, work rate, output, yield, GTD—the rat race. We are inundated with meetings and spreadsheets and status updates and rush-hour traffic and tweets and conference calls and travel time and text messages and reports and voicemails and multitasking and all the trappings of a busy life. Go, go, go. Busy, busy, busy. Americans are working more hours than ever, but we are actually earning less. Busy has become the new norm. If you’re not busy, especially in today’s workplace, you’re often thought of as lazy, unproductive, inefficient—a waste of space. For us, though, busy is a curse word. We respond to this accusation the same way each time: ”I’m not busy, I’m focused.” There is a vast difference between being busy and being focused. The former involves the typical tropes of productivity: anything to keep our hands moving, to keep going, to keep the conveyer belt in motion. It is no coincidence we refer to mundane tasks as “busywork.” Busywork works well for factories, robots, and fascism, but not so great for anyone who’s attempting to do something worthwhile with their waking hours. Being focused, on the other hand, involves attention, awareness, and intentionality. People sometimes mistake our focused time for busyness because complete focus apes many of the same surface characteristics as busy: namely, the majority of our time is occupied. The difference, then, is we don’t commit to a lot of things, but the tasks and people we commit to receive our full attention. Sure, sometimes we slip; sometimes I fall back into the busy trap that has engulfed our culture. When we do, I make an effort to notice our slip-up, and then we course-correct until we’re once again focused on only the worthwhile aspects of life. It’s a constant battle, but it’s one worth fighting. 📷 Jonathan Velasquez

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There isn’t an invisible committee of maniacal minimalists somewhere conspiring to force everybody to get rid of their material possessions. Like your stuff? Keep it! Find value in that wardrobe teeming with clothes? That closet brimming with mismatched bath towels? That basement abound with un-played-with toys? That garage stuffed with collections of trinkets? That shelf overrun by dusty DVDs, CDs, VHS tapes? Great! Hold tighter if you feel so inclined. Permission granted. You have permission to keep anything that adds value to your life. And you have permission to keep anything that doesn’t. But you also have permission to let go. You have permission to clear the clutter. You have permission to remove the excess—the clothes you don’t wear, the junk you don’t use, the things you hold on to just in case—and focus on what’s truly important to you: health, relationships, passions. Either way—you have permission. Of course, you don’t need anyone else’s permission—only your own. 📷 Breather

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Money does not buy better habits. Minimalists are not averse to earning money; that would be silly. We are, however, much more concerned with outcome than income. A common mistake people make is that we often assign money as our primary driver of happiness: If I make $X, then I’ll be happy. Once this happens, though—once we earn $X—we quickly discover that the equation is broken. There is, after all, a reason most lottery winners end up broke: bad habits. Besides, there are plenty of miserable millionaires and countless happy poor folks. A much better conductor of individual contentment, then, has little to do with money: our daily habits. Said another way, the outcome of better habits is more rewarding than your income will ever be. You see, we have a much better chance of radically improving our happiness by just changing our habits—by forming new, empowering daily rituals. And we needn’t earn exorbitant amounts of cash to do so. High income or no, we must avoid passivity in favor of active, engaged, deliberate tasks. We must acknowledge our mistakes, make the right direction-changing decisions, and then take incremental actions each day. Over time, as we move farther in the right direction, we’ll be able to wave at our bad habits in the rearview, happy and content, driving toward a more meaningful horizon. This is all, of course, not as easy as it sounds. But, then again, it’s simpler than you may think. 📷 @akeenster

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The ghosts of desperation, lust, and envy hide in the shadow of our yearning: be it money, material possessions, or accolades, we are haunted by our aspirations. Covet that shiny new truck, that next big promotion, that beautiful man or woman, and you will feel unspeakable pain until it, he, or she is yours. When your desire is met, however, your flame is not extinguished—you’re filled with new desires. It’s a never-ending cycle. The key, then, is to aspire toward something worthwhile. Instead of jonesing for things, we must pursue those which are without definitive milestones: growth, contribution, love. These qualities are self-fulfilling: seek growth and you will grow, endeavor to give to others and you will contribute, love others and your cup will overflow. 📷 @sweeticecreamphotography

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Consumption is a continuum that covers an expansive range, with monk-like ascetics on one end and ready-for-reality-TV hoarders on the other. But consumption alone isn’t an inherently bad or evil thing. Actually, it isn’t a thing at all—it’s an action. While minimalists are closer to the ascetics than the hoarders on this continuum, minimalism itself is far more concerned with living intentionally, living elegantly through simplicity, living meaningfully while enjoying the material possessions you own without giving those possessions too much significance. Thus, the problem isn’t consumption; the problem is us. We are the problem. When we give too much meaning to the stuff we buy, when we think it will bring us happiness or contentment, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Happiness doesn’t work that way. Contentment is internal, and it is possible to be content with nothing or with a room full of stuff. We’d posit to you, however, that it’s much easier to see what’s important when you get the excess stuff out of the way. A sunset is far more beautiful when you remove the blinders. 📷 @averieclaire

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We all need some stuff. Many of us have taken it too far, though: the average American household contains more than 300,000 possessions. We accumulate more than we need hoping it’ll make us happy someday. It won’t—we know this. Needing more will always lead to a pall of desire until, ultimately, we feel trapped by consumption. But consumption isn’t the problem—compulsory consumption is. Purchasing more stuff to make us happy—adhering to a broken template—is the real issue. The solution is to consume deliberately—to ignore the inane advertisements so we can determine what we need based on our lives, not on what we’ve been told. We’re all different: what we need is different for each of us. 📷 Jeff Sheldon

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Every whole person has wants, cravings, aspirations. We all desire something. We don’t, however, all have the same desires. Some of us long to create something meaningful, to make a difference in the world, to eschew the so-called American Dream in favor of something better, something more deliberate, an experience-driven life of intentionality instead of a life pushed toward the wrong side of the consumption continuum. On the other hand, some of us watch the luminous box in our living rooms and yearn for the material things in its advertisements—the things that bring us stress and discontent and often keep us tied to a particular income, which keeps us tied to jobs we don’t love (or worse, jobs we hate), all so we can obtain the shiny objects projected on the glowing rectangle. In truth, most of us desire both: we desire the meaningful experiences and the stuff. But usually the latter gets in the way of the former. After all, we are what we desire. 📷 @jeremyyappy

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Our tools are only as good (or bad) as the person using them. A chainsaw can cut down a rotting backyard tree, preventing it from impaling a neighbor’s house. Or, that same chainsaw can be used to hurt our neighbor, to chop him up into tiny pieces. A can of paint can be used to beautify a home’s facade. Or, one might use it to graffiti the walls at an otherwise pristine public park. The same goes for technology. We can use Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat to enrich our lives and the lives of others, to communicate and share in ways we’ve never been able to communicate before. Or we can get stuck in social media’s Bermuda Triangle, careening from Facebook to Pinterest to YouTube, lost in the meaningless glow of our screens. We can use our smartphones to photograph gorgeous landscapes, message loved ones, or map out directions to a distant national park (or—gasp!—to make phone calls). Or, we can use that same device to Twitch: to incessantly check email, thumb through an endless stream of status updates, post vapid selfies, or partake in any other number of non-value-adding activities, all while ignoring the beautiful world around us. Bottom line: It is up to us to determine how we use our chainsaws, paint cans, and technology. Our tools are just tools, and it is our responsibility to ask important questions about how and why we use them. Because to become a Luddite is to avoid an entire world of possibilities, a better world that’s enriched by the tools of technology. If used intentionally, we can change the world with these tools. Or, we can do a lot of harm. It’s an individual choice, the world is at our fingertips, and it’s up to us to act accordingly. 📷 Alice Achterhof

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In "066 | Things," a brand-new episode of #TheMinimalists Podcast, @JoshuaFieldsMillburn & @RyanNicodemus discuss the things people hold on to, the things people let go of, and the things that may or may not add value to our lives, and they answer the following questions: If my family and I are moving into a fully furnished house for the next year, should we sell everything or should we place it in storage? As a divorce lawyer, how can I help clients realign their values so they don’t fight over the division of their things? How do I minimize the paper clutter that results from all the documentation that my job requires? You can hear this episode on our website, iTunes, or wherever you listen to podcasts. 📷 Vadim Sherbakov

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There are many ways to learn: many methods and techniques, many ways to acquire new skills, many teachers and mentors from whom we can gain knowledge. One way is often referred to as “continuing education”: graduate schools, trade schools, and various seminars offer this kind of study. This approach allows one to append their existing education, to build atop a firm foundation (or a shoddy one). Another way is to start anew: not unlike kindergarten, this manner of learning is simultaneously terrifying and exciting because everything in the atmosphere is so new, so vivid, so uncertain and uncharted. Growth happens rapidly amid the terror and excitement of elementary school. (By the way, both emotions—terror and excitement—tend to conjure the same physiological reactions: rapid heartbeat, dilated pupils, sweaty palms. This type of attentiveness significantly aids personal growth.) Both learning structures possess their advantages and disadvantages. Thankfully, in today’s world, adults can have a hand in both methods, enjoying the fruits of uncharted territory while building upon the necessary bedrocks of an adult life. Elementary school can be terrifying, but you grow through the discomfort. Ultimately, you’ve won when your dreams have broken through your fears. Eventually, we all graduate kindergarten. What’s new and exciting today will soon become routine, just another part of everyday life. When this happens, we need to move on to the next elementary-school experience if we want to keep growing—which we will. Without growth, people atrophy: we waste away, we die inside. To avoid this fate, we must continue to find new ways to grow, new elementary schools to crash. How about you? What is your elementary school? How will it change over time? 📷 JJ Thompson

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One misconception about minimalism is that it requires barren rooms, stark white walls, a vast emptiness. But it doesn’t. While a clean aesthetic certainly lends itself to the minimalist lifestyle, one doesn’t benefit from having nothing at all. Only a sanitarium functions optimally when totally vacant. Everywhere else, however, requires a certain amount of stuff. How much stuff is up to us—an individual choice. Yes, there is a certain elegance of minimalism. But that’s because erasing that which is superfluous allows us to see the beauty in the essential. Cleaning the slate can be nice—temporarily freeing—but only because we can fill the slate with whatever adds value to our lives. Real value, though, comes only from inside us—not the room, not the stuff. Of course this is much easier to notice if there’s less junk cluttering our lives. 📷 Philipp Berndt

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Driving through the Midwest after weeks in the Mountain Time Zone creates an interesting juxtaposition. Navigating the terrifying interstates between cities, one can’t help but notice the sprawl, the gridlock, the cacophony of road noise. Although some of the best people on earth reside in the heartland (Dayton is the birthplace of The Minimalists, after all), there seems to be a sort of ever-present, east-of-the-Rockies angst there, too. If you walk the streets of your average downtown, the overwhelming sounds are unavoidable: People blaring car horns with anger. Passersby bellowing into mobile phones. Pedestrians arguing loudly on street corners. Everything seems caffeinated. If you step back and listen, though, it quickly becomes obvious what all the fuss is about: we make noise because we want to be heard, and because it’s a loud world, we’re forced to shout amid the backdrop of chaos. We’re screaming, tooting our anger-horns, and disrespecting other people in an effort to feel relevant. Too often, we treat the people we love like shit—not to make ourselves feel better, but to make us feel less bad—an ephemeral solution to a perpetual discontent. Tearing down everyone else’s buildings doesn’t make our building any taller, though. Likewise, being the loudest or most angry noisemaker doesn’t make us any more relevant. Real relevance—true, lasting importance in this world—comes from the influence we yield, and influence comes from our ability to contribute beyond ourselves—to add value to other people’s lives. We are considerably more relevant when we help the people around us build taller buildings. Otherwise, we’re just adding to the noise, which makes it hard to hear the soft, beautiful whisper of the world around us. 📷 @drossthethird

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We are driving through Mississippi. The air is crisper than we expected, an abrupt cold spell in the American South. After a trip to St. Petersburg, the Sunshine State has now receded into our rearview, but a bag of Florida-grown oranges still sits perched in the back seat. Every so often, one of us reaches into the bag and removes a plump orange from the hoard. So juicy, so delicious. Occasionally, though, the citrus fruit we extract is less than ideal: underripe, slightly bruised, or even green and fuzzy with mold. Bluck! Like Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. You can, however, mitigate your risk. Like anything in life, you’re going to get at least a few bad oranges. This is true even when you scrutinize the bag: there’ll never be a perfect assemblage. So, whether we’re buying oranges or a new home, we have three choices: We can close our eyes, select any bag, and hope for the best. We can hold out until we find the perfect selection. We can choose carefully: pay attention, closely examine our options, and then pick the best. The first option relies on luck (and laziness) to guide the way: don’t be surprised if you end up with a bag of mold. The second option leads to discontent and starvation: there will never be a perfect bag. The third option is the intentional option: it optimizes the good, while understanding that no matter how hard you try, there will be bruises. Intentionality requires more work, more deliberate action, but that’s where all the reward is—an intentional life always tastes best. 📷 Ruben Bagues

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Whenever we fail to make a decision, we fail to grow. As we approach each of life’s proverbial forks in the road, we are not faced merely with two potential courses of action; rather, as many as four choices appear in front of us at each fork. The right path. Often the correct decision is glaring: the right path is illuminated, clear for miles, obvious to everyone. Whenever this is the case, seize the opportunity—take the right path. The wrong path. There are some paths that are blatantly incorrect, filled with obstacles and venomous creatures lurking about. Avoid these routes, even when they appear to be beautiful, tantalizing, or easy. The left path. Sometimes the fork presents two equally viable options: the right path is right, but so is the left—or maybe you cannot tell which path is correct. In these instances it is most important to simply pick either path, using all available relevant information, and keep moving forward. Even if we pick the wrong path, we grow from the failure. No path. When we are faced with two unknown paths—left and right—we often freeze with indecision, stuck in our decision-making paralysis. This is the worst option of all: not deciding is always a bad decision. 📷 Peter Gabas

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How important is the stuff in your life? Your material possessions—those things you’ve worked so hard for by slaving 40, 50, 60 hours a week to acquire—how much value do they actually add to your life? We bet it’s less than you realize. Here’s an exercise for you. Take a moment and write down your ten most expensive material possessions from the last decade. Things like your car, your house, your jewelry, your furniture, and any other material possessions you own or have owned in the last ten years. The big ticket items. Next to that list, make another top ten list: ten things that add the most value to your life. This list might include experiences like catching a sunset with a loved one, watching your kid play baseball, eating dinner with your parents, etc. Be honest with yourself when you’re making these lists: it’s likely that both lists share zero things in common. 📷 Markus Spiske

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A lot of people think we’re anti-corporation. We’re not. We don’t think corporations are innately bad or evil. Corporations—large ones in particular—are inherently troublesome, though, because their primary objective is, by definition, to make money. There’s nothing wrong with bringing in revenue—we’re certainly not allergic to earning an income—but when it’s the central focus, which it has to be for a large corporation, then the wrong lines tend to get real blurry real quick as the bosses’ collective feet are held to the fire. We’ve seen it too many times—an upstanding, respectable person ignoring his values, bending his ethics, and exhausting his moral gas tank just to aid the bottom line. (We know, because we did it ourselves in our corporate days of yesteryear: that’s why we left.) Of course not all corporations are created equal—some add great value to the world, while others cause great harm. Either way, bending one’s principles in the name of profit is not celebrating the true nature of capitalism. A small business or individual, however, can earn money while their main focus is on something more rewarding—be it creating, innovating, growing, or cultivating a passion. So, yes, we’re wary of corporations—but we’re heartily supportive of the people who work for them to feed their families. [email protected]_henry_photo

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