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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.

Resolving to Learn from Failure

I failed last year. A lot. I failed more times than I can count. No matter how often I fail, failure is always sharp and cutting—it never feels good.

I made my first-ever New Year’s resolution at the beginning of 2011: I resolved to not purchase anything for an entire year. A lofty resolution.

Two months after making my resolution, my thought process regarding buying stuff had changed significantly. At first, when I wanted to purchase an item, I would think, Hey, look—that thing looks cool. I think I’ll buy it.

But, eventually, I was forced to face the fact I couldn’t buy those things. And, by the end of the fourth month, something beautiful had happened: I no longer wanted to buy new things. My entire thought process regarding impulse consumption had changed.

I had accidentally reprogrammed myself.

My resolution was to prove I didn’t need to buy stuff for a year. But I learned I could actually change myself in the process. After four months, I no longer wanted to buy material items on impulse. The persistent desire to consume was gone. It was—and is—a phenomenal feeling.

And then, six months into the experiment, something unfortunate happened: I spilled tea all over my computer. It wouldn’t power on. It was ruined. Thankfully, my first thought was not, I guess I’ll go buy another computer. Instead, my first thought was, How can I live without this item?

I went the next several weeks without a computer. I wrote essays longhand on yellow legal pads. I wrote fiction by hand, and it looked like the musings of a madman. I accessed the Internet at libraries, at friends’ houses—anywhere except my tea-soaked Macbook.

After a few weeks, Ryan offered to give me a new laptop for my 30th birthday—an offer I turned down because I felt it was cheating. So I soldiered on, computerless for several more weeks.

Eventually I realized I was less productive without my computer. I was writing less, I wasn’t enjoying writing as much, and I didn’t feel as good about what I was writing. I realized I was depriving myself of an essential tool. For me, minimalism has never been about deprivation; rather, minimalism is about getting rid of life’s excess in favor of the essential. For me, a computer was essential, so I got a new one.

And, throughout the rest of the year, I purchased a few other tools I needed as well. But I never returned to the impulse-driven consumption of my past. I was reprogrammed. And I will be forever changed by the experience of not buying stuff impulsively this year. I strongly recommend not buying anything for the next four months—see what it does for your impulses.

At the end of the day, my experiment was, by definition, a failure. But it was a beautiful failure that provided invaluable feedback and insight that I’m thankful for.

This year’s resolution? Well, I don’t have any goals, but I plan to continue to learn from my failures.

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