Minimalism — A Chat with Joshua Fields Millburn

Over the past year or so, I’ve come across this movement called Minimalism. At first I was intrigued. I would read an article about it here or there, but then I came across this website called theminimalists.com. The site was started by two guys, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who have basically been practicing this way of life for some time now. They’ve written more than one book about the topic and I just read one of their books, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life. I fell in love with it.

Minimalism is a way of life that Joshua and Ryan chose to embark on. It’s a decision to become a happier person, to live a more fulfilling and meaningful life. Joshua and Ryan have been lifelong friends, they thought they had it good when they were living in expensive homes and making six-figure incomes in the corporate world. Underneath it at all though, they were spending more than they made, they were in debt, they were unhappy in their relationships, and they were basically kidding themselves. They weren’t happy at all. So one day, they chose to embark on a journey to find true happiness. In their book they write,

Minimalism is a lifestyle choice. Minimalists choose to get rid of the unnecessary in favor of what’s important. But the level of specificity is up to you. Minimalists search for happiness not through things, but through life itself. Thus, it’s up to you to determine what is necessary and what is superfluous to your life.

Minimalism is about getting rid of our stuff and living with only what’s necessary. Do we own unnecessary things? Or course we do. We have entire storage closets in our homes full of crap. Joshua and Ryan decided this materialistic life wasn’t for them. They quit their jobs, figured out what was holding them down, or “anchoring” them, got rid of those anchors, discovered minimalism, and never looked back. They write,

We all want to be happy. Minimalism can help. There are no rules in minimalism. Rather, minimalism is simply about stripping away the unnecessary things in your life so you can focus on what’s important.

Can you imagine only having to focus on what’s important and forgetting everything else? I can’t imagine succeeding in that and being unhappy. Is this realistic? I really don’t know. Joshua and Ryan aren’t the only well-known minimalists around. In fact, there’s a lot of people who practice this lifestyle who are very happy and fulfilled. Leo Babauta, creator of Zen Habits, Time Magazine’s #1 blog in the world, is a very well-known minimalist who writes incredible posts. I would suggest checking out his blog. I even asked Joshua if he would ever go back to his old lifestyle. You’ll see his answer to that question below.

Joshua was kind enough to answer a few questions I had for him. These guys are so down-to-earth, that even though they’re busy touring the country right now sharing their journey into minimalism, they still found a few minutes to share with me (and all of you) what minimalism is all about. I figured I couldn’t do this topic justice or explain minimalism nearly as well as he could, so ladies and gentlemen — meet Joshua Fields Millburn…

Me: I’ve tried to explain what the theory behind minimalism is to my readers, but can you give me a quick and simple definition?

Minimalism is a tool to eliminate life’s excess, focus on the essentials, and find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom. It’s not simply about getting rid of the stuff in your life, it’s about removing the clutter so you can rediscover what’s important and meaningful in your life.

Me: I’ve read the book you and Ryan wrote, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life and I fell in love with it. What made you decide to tell your difficult (yet fulfilling) journey to the world? Did you expect that kind of success?

No. I was shocked when 50 people showed up to read our stuff. I always wanted to make enough money to live from my literary fiction writing, and this whole nonfiction, minimalism thing was a beautiful accident. There were two reasons Ryan and I started the site. First, we wanted to document our journey and try something we hadn’t tried before (i.e., writing nonfiction). Second, we knew that minimalism brought us immense happiness and contentment, and we wanted to share our experiences with others in hopes that they might find value in our journey. We knew that many people were discontent and struggling and were looking for something more meaningful—just like we were.

Me: A lot of people may view minimalism as just quitting your well-paying job and selling all your material belongings. Is that realistic? Can you speak to this misconception?

Ryan and I embraced minimalism when we were both in the corporate world. We had no intentions to leave our jobs at the time; we were simply looking for more from our lives. We had achieved everything our society told us to achieve, had accumulated everything that was supposed to make us happy, and yet we weren’t happy at all. In fact the opposite was true: we were in debt, we were stressed out, and we didn’t know what was important anymore. Minimalism allowed us to simplify our lives and focus on what was important, especially when we both worked our corporate jobs.

Me: Once you’ve experienced the feeling of fulfillment after practicing minimalism for some time, do you ever think about going back?

Hell no.

Me: Can you name another minimalist who was (and maybe still is) a big influence on you?

Colin Wright of Exile Lifestyle is the guy who introduced me to minimalism. I was also inspired by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist. All three of these guys lived very different lives, but they all shared two things in common: they were pursuing their passions and they were truly happy. That’s why I chose to embrace minimalism as a lifestyle. I’ve been fortunate enough to become friends with all three of them and I can tell you first hand that they are just as happy and content in person as they are online. Another notable minimalist is Courtney Carver of Be More With Less. She runs a minimalist clothing challenge, Project 333, for women (and men) and she adds a great female perspective to minimalism.

There you guys have it. I won’t lie to you and tell you this is something I plan on trying tomorrow. This a lifestyle change that requires hard work, commitment, and a passion. I am, however, incredibly intrigued and I have so much respect for those who do practice minimalism. Clearly it works for them and they’re obviously very happy with their lives. I believe it’s my duty to share these kinds of things with you to show you that there is always a way to achieve happiness. What worked for Joshua and Ryan may not work for me or you, but it’s definitely worth a shot.

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2 thoughts on “Minimalism — A Chat with Joshua Fields Millburn

  1. Pingback: 5 Easy Ways to Simplify Your Life « A Healthy Balance

  2. Pingback: Living with Less: An Unexpected Key to Happiness « A Healthy Balance

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