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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.

Ending the Tyranny of Cool

Not so long ago, I wanted to be cool.

Steve McQueen cool.
Coca-Cola-advertisement cool.
New-car-smell cool.

Being cool was important to me—it mattered. I had to have the perfect clothes with the right logos. I had to have my shiny Lexus with the tan leather interior and in-dash navigation system. I had to have stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors, modern furniture, and all the trappings propagated by our media-soaked culture.

I was trapped by the tyranny of cool.

If I bought the perfect clothes, then everything would be right, right?
If I drove the perfect car, then everyone would respect me, right?
If I had the right furniture, then I would be happy, right?

I laugh at myself now, but those things were so important to me once upon a time (not long ago).

Those things forced me to continue to work a job—and not pursue my passions—so I could buy more and more stuff. If I bought more stuff, I’d be more cool, right?

Three separate things made me realize how ridiculous being cool really was, and these three realizations made me discover that being cool wasn’t cool at all.

Coolness is perspectival. I discovered material items have no meaning. Or, rather, material items have only the meaning we give them. You can think buying a forty thousand dollar car is cool, or you can believe riding public transportation is cool. Neither is right or wrong: it’s all based on your perspective. It’s up to you to decide what is cool—you don’t have to let TV, radio, magazines, or people on the Internet tell you what is cool.

Real friends don’t care about cool. Why was I obsessed with fancy things? Was it going to make people respect me more, like me more, love me more? Of course not. Besides, anyone who respected me because of the car I drove didn’t respect me anyway: they respected the idea of me, but not me—the me on the inside. Ryan will always be my friend, even if I wear a Jockey tee shirt and ride the bus to his house. He doesn’t care about that stuff: he cares about me. He is a true friend, and I’m thankful to have a lot of great people like him in my life.

I’ve met truly cool people. My friends are atypically cool (though they vehemently deny it). They are acute listeners; they are honest, genuine, trusting, trustworthy—all virtues I consider to be tremendously cool. My friends have taught me that being cool has nothing to do with the stuff I own and everything to do with the way I act, the way I treat other people, the way I contribute—those are the attributes that make people cool.

Read this essay and 150 others in our new book, Essential.