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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 2 million readers. As featured on: CBS, BBC, NPR, Forbes, The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and National Post. They live in Missoula, Montana.

Never Leave the Scene of a Good Idea Without Taking Action

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People want options, it almost goes without saying. We get a few emails per week from overwhelmed readers asking us where to start on their journey into minimalism. They are lost and overwhelmed and are looking for direction. Really, these people are looking for options. Some of them are scared shitless. They don’t know where to start and thus options make it easier for them to make a decision.

This presents a particular kind of double-bind though. You see, options are great until we have too many options. That’s why it takes you twice as long to shop at WalMart than at your local grocery store. That’s why you’re wife/husband/significant other spends five minutes in the shampoo aisle. Paralysis by analysis. Options are good and helpful, but too many options are not.

So you want to live a more minimalist lifestyle? “But where the hell do I start?” you ask yourself. There are so many blogs out there that you feel overwhelmed just trying to scratch the surface. And there are ebooks and references and everyone has his or her opinion that they pretend is some sort of absolute truth or some kind of zen maxim or something. It’s all a little crazy making.

Whenever we get one of those emails asking us where to start, we usually respond with three options: extreme, moderate, and conservative.

1. Extreme. You could call this the Colin Wright or approach towards minimalism. This is both the easiest and most difficult option of the three and it is not for most people (it certainly isn’t for the two of us). To sum it up: rent a dumpster and throw all your shit in it. That’s pretty much all there is to it, but be prepared to live with a bag or two of clothes and that’s about it. There is nothing wrong with it, especially if you want to travel.

2. Moderate. Do what Ryan did and have a packing party. Pretend you’re moving and unpack what you need over the course of the next week. Discard everything else thereafter. This option takes about a day of your life, but you can actually have fun doing it. This option tends to work very well for single people and for couples with one or no children. It is, however, too much for some people to handle at first.

3. Conservative. We call this the Joshua Becker approach. Start with one room and take baby steps towards your goal. Listen to this audio to hear his story about his family’s journey into minimalism.

Whichever option you chose, the most important part is taking action. Once you make the decision, you must take action. This allows you to build momentum. You should never leave the scene of a good idea without taking some sort of immediate action.

And your actions can change over time too. This past week, Joshua donated the majority of his clothes to Goodwill.

Getting rid of most of your clothes might not sound practical. There’s no doubt that it’s a bit more on the extreme side. You see, he started out initially with the conservative option, well over a year ago, slowly paring down his possessions and decluttering and getting rid of things he didn’t use or want or need.

But he eventually moved to the more moderate option, beginning to question his possessions. “Do I really need this?” was the question he started to ask himself about all his stuff, from clothes to furniture to kitchen utensils.

Recently, he realized that he could get by with less and by doing so he could appreciate what he had even more. So he got rid of anything he hadn’t worn in the last 30 days, from coats and shirts to belts and shoes. His closet is down to the basics now and he feels great about the decision. (N.B. We’re sure that he still owns more than 100 things.) The moral of the story is that it’s OK to start out by taking baby steps. Walk before you run. If you can start off running, that’s even better, but don’t get discouraged if you can’t. You should only get discouraged if you refuse to take immediate action.

Don’t wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow will always be a day away. Don’t throw up a barrier or an excuse that prevents you from taking action. You’re so much better than that. Sure you’re tired, sure you’re busy, sure you’re whatever, but don’t let that stand in your way. The only person holding you back is you. And you don’t need permission. Take action today. Take action now.