Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Less Stuff, More Life

The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, show readers how to make room for creativity

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus subscribed in their twenties to the typical American definition of success: get more money, buy more things, move into a bigger house, and move up the professional ladder. But the side effects of that success included more debt, more stress, and less personal time. In their new memoir, Everything That Remains, the authors write of the personal crises that drove Millburn to reject that life and turn to minimalism. The book also includes a kind of Socratic dialogue in which Millburn brings Nicodemus around, too. Together they explore techniques for eliminating excess material possessions. Millburn also reviews other contemporary minimalists and discusses the values and side effects associated with a minimalist way of life.

That life depends on the individual, but in general it includes a radical reduction of personal stuff and the elimination of all debt. Less material and financial baggage makes it easier to identify personal passions and priorities and to enjoy satisfying relationships. Healthy eating and exercise naturally follow, along with an emphasis on contributing to other people’s lives, helping them to fulfill their own passions. Nonetheless, Millburn and Nicodemus are not prescribing ascetic rules or heavy-duty personal discipline.

In some respects, the authors’ current lives, with extensive book-tour traveling and media appearances, would seem to be potentially stressful. Still, they work for themselves, not for corporate masters, and Millburn redefines success as “a simple equation: Happiness + Growth + Contribution = Success,” and argues that goals get in the way. He tried living without them, and it worked. “With the decreased stress and increased productivity resulting from no goals, I am able to enjoy my life; I am able to live in the moment without constantly planning for my next achievement.” It’s all a matter of perspective, of course. As Nicodemus writes, “We construct our own beliefs. Our friends, our habits, our jobs, our happiness is all up to us. We need to choose carefully.”

This is a young, hip book. Millburn, who identifies his basic passion as fiction writing, is barely into his thirties. He provides the main narrative, which bears the marks of a fiction writer. Nicodemus, his long-time friend, provides annotations—comments, glosses, explanations, or “interruptions,” as the authors call them. Their blog has won them hundreds of thousands of followers, and their events are often packed. A frequent dissatisfaction with the assumptions underlying contemporary American life has given the Minimalists near-celebrity status. They have struck a resonant chord for this age.