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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.

The Million Dollar Joke

Yesterday, April 1, 2016, we introduced the official minimalist T-shirt, a $729.00 piece of cotton, as our April Fools’ Day gag. Because the response was overwhelming, we learned several lessons as our audience split into three camps:

THE TRUSTERS. The first group—the trusting folks—allowed their trust of The Minimalists to steer them in a direction that didn’t align with the values of minimalism: more than 7,000 people clicked the “Buy Now” button, which, assuming everyone continued their checkout, would’ve resulted in over five million dollars in revenue. While that sounds nice, as The Minimalists we do our best to ensure our income aligns with our principles, so a payday drenched in consumerism—even a multi-million-dollar windfall—ain’t worth the compromise. (To be fair, we don’t actually believe 7,000 people planned to complete their purchase.)

Yes, trust is extremely important, but blind trust is a recipe for dissatisfaction; therefore, we must work hard to trust but verify the world around us, especially when it comes to the 5,000 marketing messages we see every day. You see, marketers do a fantastic job of creating ostensible trust by way of vapid marketing speak, which is what we attempted to highlight, satirically, in yesterday’s announcement: with the wave of a marketer’s wand, we transformed “made by underage slave labor in a Chinese sweatshop” into “woven by hand by a small group of enthusiastic young shirtmakers in the Longhua Town area of Shenzhen, China.” And that same wand transformed “an incredible amount of waste is produced by the fashion industry” into “the finished garment is packaged in an individually numbered, velvet-lined box and shipped to your door.” Oh, and don’t forget about the noxious puff words like “artisanal” and “timeless,” which are literally meaningless in this context, crafted only to pique one’s interest, not to connote anything of value or purpose.

THE UNAWARES. The next group—a handful of unaware folks—was truly upset because our actions weren’t congruent with our values. This group was disappointed by our apparent “selling out”: according to them, The Minimalists used to write thoughtful essays about living deliberately, but now we’d sold our souls for the almighty dollar.

Outrage manifested in this group because they didn’t take time to fully comprehend the situation, and to wholly consider their reaction. Like the first group, this group also acted on impulse, albeit a different knee-jerk instinct—one that says I must immediately condemn anything I don’t readily understand.

Being unaware is just as dangerous as trusting blindly—both states of being push us toward life’s autopilot setting, an inherently unintentional way to live. Thus, we must pause and attempt to understand what’s going on before casting judgment on a given situation.

THE INSIDERS. The final group—the insider folks, the vast majority of our audience yesterday—felt like they were in on the joke. They laughed heartily, even though they may’ve experienced initial pangs of confusion or sadness, because they were able to step back and appreciate the joke on multiple levels. Yes, it was a prank, but they also realized it was a satire memetic of our consumer culture writ large: a shiny facade atop an empty offer.

This is what happens when we refuse to blindly trust, but also refuse to be unaware: we move toward the inside—a much more enlightened realm.

CONCLUSION: STANDARDS. Of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with selling a T-shirt. If a similar email was received from American Apparel, most people wouldn’t’ve balked, and they wouldn’t’ve experienced shock or anger or disapproval—they’d’ve simply deleted the email and moved on with their day.

The difference lies within our standards: you don’t expect The Minimalists to act as shills for the fashion industry because we’ve done our best to set a high bar of integrity over the past half decade. This is the key to living intentionally: if we continually set high standards, and then work diligently to align our daily actions with those standards, we can live a life of meaning (sans the $729 shirt).

P.S. If you want to watch a film that highlights the pernicious aspects of the fashion industry, check out The True Cost, a documentary about the clothes we wear, the people who make them, and the impact the industry is having on our world.