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The Minimalists
The Minimalists are Emmy-nominated Netflix stars and New York Times–bestselling authors Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Alongside their podcast cohost, T.K. Coleman, this simple-living trio helps millions of people eliminate clutter and live meaningfully with less. Learn More.

40 Life Lessons from 40 Years

A decade ago this month, as I exited my 20s, I published 30 Life Lessons from 30 Years. Since then, the world has changed, and so has my understanding of the way things are. Now, standing at the entryway to 40, I’m contemplating 40 truths I’ve learned in this lifetime.

1. Letting go is not something you do. It is something you stop doing. You stop pretending every thing is precious. You stop clinging to material possessions and toxic relationships. You stop acting like busy is a good thing. You stop posturing as if achievements make you, you. If you let go of the thing but not the attachment, you will get dragged. (More.)

2. Decluttering doesn’t work. If you own too much stuff, a “67 decluttering steps” video won’t help. The problem isn’t a shortage of decluttering tips—the problem is the attachment to stuff. So if you want to simplify, understanding the benefits is much more powerful than the techniques. If you deeply understand the why, the how takes care of itself. (More.)

3. Organizing is well-planned hoarding. Organizing the excess only hides the clutter. No matter how “organized” you might be, you are still forced to care for every possession you store in bins and boxes and basements. Ergo, the simplest way to organize your stuff is to get rid of most of it. (More.)

4. More stuff won’t make you more complete. Neither will getting rid of it. You were born complete, and you are still complete—even in an empty room. (More.)

5. Love people and use things. Because the opposite never works. This isn’t just the title of The Minimalists’ new book, it is the North Star by which I navigate. (More.)

6. Minimizing isn’t meaningful. Jettisoning your excess stuff can be freeing and even exciting, but it isn’t inherently meaningful. True, clearing the clutter creates the space for a more intentional life, but it’s up to you to determine what to do with your newfound freedom. (More.)

7. Scrolling is the new smoking. Our addictions are showing. Look around the next time you’re in a checkout line: heads tilted downward, faces lost in glowing screens, technology turning people into zombies. A generation ago, nearly everyone absently puffed cigarettes throughout the day. Today, indoor smoking seems unthinkable, but it’s been replaced by the captivating glow of our six-inch screens. (More.)

8. You can’t change people. A healthy relationship is one that enhances your life without trying to change the other person. (More.)

9. The thing you want is never the thing you want. We think we desire people and possessions and prominence, but what we really desire is the feeling that arises from those things. If we interrogate our wants, we can locate what we truly desire. (More.)

10. Advertisements are poison. They disturb the peace. They make us feel inadequate. They encourage overconsumption. They indoctrinate our kids. They promote outrage. They sway elections. They fuel fake news. They lack sincerity. They persuade people to go into debt to buy things they don’t need. (More.)

11. You cannot fix anything. As soon as something is “fixed,” the world will change, and it will become un-fixed, exposing the truth: it was never fixed in the first place. If you have a problem, it is useless to try to fix it. You must understand the problem if you seek to eliminate it. (More.)

12. Conditional love is an oxymoron. To love is to see things as they are, not as we wish they would be. To place conditions on love is to remove love altogether. (More.)

13. The path to peace is uncovered with subtraction. Peace cannot be packaged and purchased. It is buried beneath the hoard we’ve added to our lives. Yes, some objects may enhance our lives, but only after we subtract the attachment that gets in the way. (More.)

14. Success does not exist. Running after a result isn’t success—it’s chasing. Chasing the past or the future. Success is always bound to chasing. Chasing is attachment. Attachment is suffering. Suffering is failure. (More.)

15. Your happiness is moderated by your expectations. Absolutely nothing and no one can make you happy, but your expectations will certainly increase your misery. (More.)

16. Attachment is not love. Every attachment—even a so-called healthy one—is a tether that restricts your freedom, a governor that constricts your ability to love. You’ve been told, by pop music and poetry, that to need someone is to love them. But that was a lie. That’s not love—it’s clinging. (More.)

17. All advice is flawed advice. The moment you try to convince someone, you have lost the plot. The truth does not require persuasion, coaxing, or coercion—it is the truth whether you’re convinced or not. (More.)

18. The solution is the problem. Most people want “solutions” because they’re unwilling to dig down to the root of the problem. What if, instead of numbing the pain, you sidestepped the solutions and scrutinized the problem itself? If your desk chair is aflame, reading the Fire Safety Manual won’t save you. The problem isn’t a lack of instructions—the problem is your posterior is on fire. (More.)

19. Righteousness fuels the ego. Our culture has moralized everything from clothing and consumption to relationships and routines. But “correct” and “incorrect” are personal, situational, perspectival. And they are detrimental as universal proscriptions. You are not supposed to do anything. Anyone who tells you otherwise, any human being who seeks to change another, displays the ugly hubris of the ego. (More.)

20. Love is more. In our culture, we stretch love to apply to people and pick-up trucks, friends and fried chicken, lovers and Louis Vuitton bags. But when you extend anything beyond its natural limits, it loses its strength. This is especially true with love. (More.)

21. “Habit change” won’t change your habits. Human beings are infatuated with “habit change,” but lasting change doesn’t work like that. Stated plainly: Changing your life won’t change your life. But understanding will. The moment you recognize the source of your troubles, an awareness flows through every fiber of your being, and habits change without volition. For once you see the problem in its entirety, you will have no choice but to change. (More.)

22. Empathy is overrated. We hear everyone from preachers to pundits proclaim the power of empathy. But most of these people are actually talking about compassion. If that’s the case, I have no argument: compassion—that is, concern for the misfortunes of others—is useful, and we could use more of it. Empathy, however—that is, the ability to feel the suffering of others—is not a desirable outcome. (More.)

23. We are all hypocrites. The man who protests capitalism using a megaphone he purchased from Walmart. The woman who tweets about income inequality on a device made by underpaid workers. The minimalist who owns six jackets (me). We are all hypocrites. And we are all suffering on some level. So, instead of pointing fingers, we can find compassion for the people who disappoint, upset, and anger us. (More.)

24. Most emergencies aren’t. We often confuse other people’s priorities for our own. Technology has brought everyone else’s so-called emergencies into our inboxes. But just because something is important to your neighbor, that doesn’t mean it must be urgent to you. (More.)

25. There’s no such thing as “good” debt. The debtor is always a slave to the lender. Thus, be free or be in debt. You can’t be both. (More.)

26. A credit score is really a debt score. Your culture has told you that to be a “responsible adult,” you must have a “good” credit score. Nonsense. There’s no such thing as a credit score. If it measures your ability to go into debt, then let’s call it what it is: a debt score. If you plan on being debt-free, then a credit score is useless. (More.)

27. Being does not require doing. Doing less isn’t about the doing—it’s about the less. (More.)

28. Busyness is a cultural disease. There is a vast difference between being busy and being focused. The former involves the typical tropes of productivity: anything to keep our hands moving, to keep the conveyor belt in motion. It is no coincidence we refer to mundane tasks as “busywork.” Busywork works well for factory robots and other automatons, but not so great for people who are attempting to do something worthwhile with their waking hours. (More.)

29. Criticism hurts only because you value praise. These are two sides of the same coin. If accolades, approval, and admiration are important to you, then you’ll suffer with every cavil, niggle, and jab. Chasing the “good” will always bind you to the “bad.” (More.)

30. You don’t value the things you think you value. Your values aren’t what you say they are; they are whatever you spend your time and resources on. Show me your calendar and your bank statement, and I will show you what you value. (More.)

31. A life without boundaries is a life without peace. It might seem like setting boundaries is the last thing you’d want to do to foster relationships—as if boundaries mean you’re unwilling to let people in. But you can establish a boundary without erecting a fence. Knowing your boundaries will help you get a grasp on what you’re willing to accept, as well as what you need to reject, to live congruently. (More.)

32. Competition is a mental illness. We are smitten with “winning.” But tethering contentment to an outcome is a recipe for discontent. If you win the game but lose equanimity, what have you won? Nothing. You’ve lost everything. Ancient cultures have known this for millennia: competitive behavior is linked to depression, anxiety, stress, and self-harm. (More.)

33. Society conflates schooling and education. You don’t need a lectern and a lecture to learn something valuable. (More.)

34. Parenting is detrimental to children. While adults might have more knowledge, children are far more wise than their conditioned parents. Consequently, we are better served by learning from our kids than we are from “parenting” them. Perhaps Kapil Gupta said it best: “Adults are fools. Children are wise. For children, everything is new. The adult hasn’t seen a new thing in years.” (More.)

35. When everything is precious, nothing is precious. We hurry through life pretending everything is important: from marketing meetings and makeup and Mercedes-Benzes to social-media followers and stilettos and sentimental items. But if everything is important, then nothing is. (More.)

36. “No” is the most freeing word in the world. You are buried by false obligations. But if you say “yes” to everything, you’re accidentally saying “no” to your own tranquility. (More.)

37. Your opinion does not matter. Neither does mine. What matters is the truth. Our beliefs only cloud the truth. (More.)

38. There are no shoulds. There are only coulds—possibilities for the future. A devoted seeker won’t find anything they must do, but they will discover many things they can do if they are compelled—compelled not by society, but by a deep longing in their heart. (More.)

39. Health is everything. If you’re reading this and you’re healthy, you’re already living the dream. Everything else—possessions, status, riches, validation, adulation, even companionship—is window dressing. (More.)

40. Ultimately, there is nothing. There is no past, there is no future—those concepts exist only as memories and thoughts that occur right here, right now. Don’t worry! This isn’t a “bad” thing (good and bad are societal constructs)—it’s a freeing thing. If there’s nothing to cling to, then there is only now. (More.)

For a two-hour conversation about all 40 of these lessons, listen to the newest episode of The Minimalists Private Podcast.