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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.

Asking Friends & Family to Embrace Change

Friends Essay

Change isn’t easy. More often than not, we don’t change because we get in our own way. Other times we don’t make a change because we’re afraid of what people will think about us, afraid of what they will say about us, afraid they will treat us differently. Ultimately, we are afraid of rejection.

When we approached minimalism, we realized that many of our closest friends and family members were supportive of the changes we wanted to make. And in other cases, many of them were neutral bystanders, ambivalent to the simplification going on around us.

But in some instances, some of the people closest to us didn’t approve of our new paths, some of which people mistook the journey on which we were embarking as a direct attack on their way of life, as if by questioning our own lives, we were also questioning their lifestyles by proxy. Clearly this was not our intent. Clearly our journey involved questioning our own lives, not theirs. We were simply looking for happiness, using minimalism as a tool to search for deeper meaning in our lives.

And yet some people thought the changes we were making were silly, stupid, and even crazy (literally). After all, we had worked hard for more than a decade to accumulate all these nice material possessions and big houses and fancy cars and “important” job titles and the American Dream, all of which was supposed to make us happy, right?

And so when the consumerist, over-indulgent lives we were leading didn’t make us happy, there had to be something wrong with us. At least that’s what the naysayers said: Maybe Joshua and Ryan went crazy. Maybe they are experiencing a mid-midlife crisis. Maybe they joined a cult (someone legitimately accused us of joining a cult, likening minimalism to Jonestown and Branch Davidian).

We had to explain a few things to these naysayers:

It’s not you, it’s me. We’ve all heard this line before. It’s been parodied a thousand times. But there is a profound truth to be discovered here. We weren’t questioning anyone else’s lifestyle but our own. Many people weren’t happy with their own situations, and they aspired to be like us because we “had it figured out.” But we didn’t have it figured out, and that frustrated some people, because we were who they wanted to emulate: we had the material possessions, we had the salaries, we had awards, we had the ostensible power, we were on the fast-track to corporate success. But we looked around us and realized that most of the people above us, people several rungs higher on the corporate ladder, weren’t happy either. In fact, they were far less happy than we were—and we weren’t happy at all. What were we supposed to do—keep working incredibly hard and aspire to continue to be unhappy? It’s alright to tell naysayers that you’re making changes in your life so you can be happy. Better yet, you can do what we did and ask those naysayers a question: “You want me to be happy, don’t you?”

Circumstances change. If our 28 year-old selves could have time-traveled back to 1999 to tell our 18-year-old selves about everything we were going to “accomplish” over the next decade, the teenage Joshua and Ryan would have been elated. You mean I’m going to have this, that, and this? You mean I’ll be able to afford this? But the happiness would have soon faded, and by 28 (or perhaps much sooner) an overwhelming cloak of discontent would have enveloped our lives. That’s because circumstances change. And thus we must change; we must continue to evolve and grow if we expect to be happy. What adds value to your life today, may not add value to your life tomorrow.

You too can change. Minimalism may not be the answer for you. But if you’re not happy, you too can build your change muscle and, over time, change your circumstances. There are many paths to happiness. Minimalism simply allowed us to clear the preverbal clutter from our own paths so we could find that happiness sooner.

Show people the benefits. As we journeyed farther down our paths, many of the naysayers jumped on board. Not because we asked them too—we’ve never asked anyone to embrace minimalism—but because they saw the happiness we’d welcomed into our lives. They saw that for the first time in our adult lives we were truly excited and joyous and content with who we were. They saw that perhaps we didn’t have it figured out before, and maybe we didn’t have it figured out now, but we certainly appeared to be on the right track. The actions alone didn’t convince them, but once they saw the benefits, they better understood the changes we’d undergone.

There were, however, some relationships we had to get rid of. It wasn’t easy, but certain people—friends and family—weren’t adding value to our lives, they were sources of negativity, and they prevented us from growing. We treated this option as a last resort, but it’s important to know that, as we grow, even our relationships can change. Today, many of our old friends are still our friends—while others are not—but we’ve also established new, empowering relationships that encourage our constant growth and help us enjoy what we contribute to the relationship.