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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.

How We Woke Up

Every moth is drawn to light, even when that light is a flame—hot, burning, flickering—the fire tantalizing the drab creature with its bluish-white illumination. But when the moth flies too close to the flame, we all know what happens: it gets burned, incinerated by the very thing that drew it near.

For decades now, we consumers have been moths, lured by the blue flame of consumerism, pop culture’s beautiful conflagration, a firestorm of lust and greed and wanting, a solipsistic desire to consume that which cannot be consumed, to be fulfilled by that which can never be fulfilling, a vacant proposition, leaving us empty inside, further fueling the blaze of lust and greed and wanting.

From our intimate vantage points, within reach of the flame’s scorching edges, the fire seems impossible to extinguish. Unlike the moth, though, we have a choice. It is not an easy choice: the flame is ever more intriguing. Advertisers make sure of this: it is their job to find new ways to make the blaze eternally more appealing.

Some of us recognize a need for change. Others know change is necessary, but refuse to stop circling the mesmerizing flame—they can’t remove their eyes from the spill of electric light illuminating their homes. Still others don’t realize it’s a flame at all—how could something so beautiful be so dangerous? So they circle the inferno, unconscious of its dangers.

We must, however, accept the flame for what it is: necessary, beautiful, and—most of all—dangerous. When we do this—when we step back to understand the nature of the fire—we have a chance to survive. This takes deliberate thought, repeated questioning of the way we live, a thorough understanding of why we feel comforted by the flame. It is difficult to do, but this is how we wake up.

Essay inspired by the song “How We Woke Up” by The Moth & the Flame.