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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.

A Minimalist’s Thoughts on Meaningful Relationships

Photo by Adam Dressler

For many years, I associated with people based on convenience.

The people who were closest to me were the people who were, well, closest to me. That is, I spent most of my time with people whose only commonality was proximity: schoolmates, co-workers, acquaintances, networking buddies, etc.

Most of them weren’t bad people, but other than location, we had very little in common. We didn’t share similar values or beliefs—the bedrocks of any meaningful relationship. In many cases we didn’t even share any common interests.

My life is appreciably different now, though; I live more deliberately. Accordingly, my relationships are more deliberate, too. Besides two of my closest relationships—Nicodemus and my wonderful former spouse—and a handful of friendships spawned from yesteryear, I’ve met all my most meaningful relationships online.

That’s right: I’ve met most of my closest friends on the Internet. That’s a weird thing to read, isn’t it? Well, it’s a weird thing to write, too. But it’s the magnificent truth. And for good reasons.

People ask me about my relationships all the time, usually with respect to dating or intimate relationships: e.g., “Now that you’re a minimalist, do you find that the women you date have a problem with your lifestyle?”

My answer: Why the hell would I want to spend significant chunks of time with someone who doesn’t share similar values or interests? My lifestyle is predicated on certain principles, and thus my relationships—intimate or otherwise—must align with my personal standards. It’s hard to grow with someone if you’re both growing in opposite directions.

But you see, because of the Internet, you and I are no longer relegated by propinquity. We’re no longer forced to engage in pointless small talk in an effort to uncover a morsel of commonality. We no longer have to hang out with the guy in the nearby cubicle outside work hours. Instead, we can seek out people with similar values and beliefs.

The online world has led me to many of my most important relationships. Dozens of people come to mind instantly…

Colin Wright, the guy who encouraged Ryan and me to start this website, is now our housemate and business partner at Asymmetrical Press. He’s also one of my closest friends.

Dave LaTulippe and Jeff & Marla Sarris, the dynamic trio who run Spyr Media, are great friends who add tremendous value to my life. Dave is the Mozart behind all seven of our book covers; he and Jeff also redesigned The Minimalists website theme to be, in my humble opinion, the best-looking site on the World Wide Web (N.B. you can now get our theme for your blog here). And Jeff’s wife Marla, the brains behind their operation, is the best cook I know. Seriously, she’s amazing; I’m always well-fed whenever she’s around. While all that is fine and dandy, what stands out is that they are good people. Like, really good people. Outstanding people actually. They stand among the most authentic people I know.

Shawn Mihalik and Chase Night are two of the best fiction authors I’ve met. They’re so good in fact that Colin, Ryan, and I asked them to be the first authors on Asymmetrical Press. Moreover, Shawn edits all the essays you read on this site, jettisoning much of the misemployed punctuation and superfluous words in the process. Chase assists with my writing classes and offers free story consultations to some of my students. They’re both genuine people; they’re men I trust, and I’m honored to be able to call them friends.

Other friends from the online world, guys and gals who’ve added worth to my life, include folks like Julien Smith, Chris BroganLeo Babauta, Markus Almond, John & Dana Schultz (of Minimalist Baker fame), Joshua Becker, and Courtney Carver (I’m on a panel with Becker and Carver at SXSW this year). There are literally dozens of other souls as well, too many to name here in what has already devolved into a rather protracted essay.

Besides friendships, I’ve also chanced on a few intimate relationships via the Net—meaningful relationships that’ve shaped who I am, that’ve helped me grow and’ve allowed me to contribute beyond myself.

All my newfound relationships have in common two things: we met because of the Internet, and we see the world through similar lenses. That doesn’t mean we always agree on everything, nor do we have the same tastes, opinions, or personalities—we’re human beings, not robots, for Pete’s sake—but our common interests allow us to forge bonds that’re predicated on something much more meaningful than proximity.

“How’d we meet?” you ask. Good question. I wish there was a simple answer as to how I’ve met all these incredible people online, but because the web is so vast, there’s any number of ways to meet new people—folks with similar belief templates as you—online. For example, Jeff and Marla happened to be at a Tweetup in Chicago that I attended. I met Colin via his blog. Julien and I started exchanging emails about bread (I kid you not). I’ve met other people on OkCupid or social media or Skype or anywhere where people with similar interests gather online. Twitter often works best for me, but there’re hundreds of ways to reach out and establish new connections with new people who share your ethics and core behaviors.

After diving down the Internet’s endless rabbit hole, I’m thankful for all the people I’ve met in cyberspace, whether it’s a one-time conversation, an intimate relationship, or something in between. That doesn’t mean I think you must comb only the Net to find people who share your morals, but it’s important to realize that we’re no longer delimited by proximity; we’re no longer forced to find a soulmate or a friend at the corner bar. We can venture out and find someone who’s compatible, someone who’s worthwhile.

After all, worthwhile interactions make life more meaningful; they make life worth living. Without them, we’d be forced to experience the world with people who’ren’t understanding or supportive or caring. Or worst, we’d be forced to encounter the world on our own, completely alone, which doesn’t sound like a pleasant proposition, even for an introvert like me.

Related reading: Getting Rid of Shitty Relationships