Currently on tour in the UK, Ireland, and Australia: Free Tickets

The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 3 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.

Resolving to Learn from Failure

Failure Essay "” Joshua Fields Millburn looking right

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

At the beginning of 2011 I made my first ever New Year’s Resolution, in which I resolved to not purchase anything for a year. It was a lofty resolution, I know.

Two months after making my resolution, my thought process around buying stuff had radically changed. 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 that 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 around impulse consumption had changed.

In other words, I had accidentally reprogrammed myself.

The point of 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 stuff on impulse. The endless desire to consume was gone. It was—and still 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 thirtieth birthday—an offer I turned down because I felt like 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 that 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 bought a few other tools I needed as well. But I never went back to the impulse-driven consumption of yesteryear. I was reprogrammed. And I will be forever changed by the experience of not buying stuff 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 a failure. But it was a beautiful failure that I’m incredibly thankful for.

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

How about you?