Why Less Is So Much More: An Interview With 'The Minimalists'
Why Less Is So Much More: An Interview With 'The Minimalists'
You won't hear them spout Eckhart Tolle-esque mantras, although spiritual health is a distinct component of their message. And despite their light eco-footprint, they won't even call themselves environmentalists. But a life of conscious minimalism has been key to happiness for best friends Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus.
In 2011, the duo ditched a frantic, upwardly-mobile career track that was making them miserable to embrace a lifestyle with the bare minimum of possessions. Their writing and lifestyle recommendations on TheMinimalists.com has struck a chord in our culture of excess, gaining them a following of more than 2 million readers.
Josh and Ryan are currently on tour with their new book, The Minimalists, a chronicle of their journey from mindless excess to mindful minimalism. They took some time out of their Canadian leg to answer questions for iVillage Canada.
iVillage Canada: Does "paring down" accomplish some of the goals of minimalism, or do you both feel that people need to go the distance to truly appreciate the benefits?
RN: Getting the excess stuff out of the way is merely the first step. By clearing the physical clutter from our lives, we're better able to deal with our internal clutter -- be it mental, emotional, spiritual. Once we've rid our selves of that which is superfluous, we can focus on life's more important things: health, relationships, pursing our passions, personal growth, contributing to others.
As North Americans, we know we have obsession with "stuff." How do other developed countries measure up? Which countries are smartest about minimalism?
JFM: Many of the Scandinavian countries have embraced minimalism in a rational, balanced way -- not just aesthetically, but as a lifestyle where people don't live to work, they work to live. Because minimalism allows people to live more deliberately, it allows us to find balance between owning possessions that add value to our lives and allocating our time to more meaningful endeavors. Many Scandinavians have figured out this balance. But no matter where you go, in every country you'll find people who are living more intentionally by making better decisions with the resources they have.
Does your concept of minimalism translate in developing countries? What do you say to people who use the phrase "first world problems" when talking about your lifestyle?
JFM: Yes, minimalism makes even more sense if you have fewer resources, because it helps you decide how to make the best decisions with limited resources.
What "lessons from the road" have you discovered in Canadian cities?
RN: The so-called American Dream -- working 60–80 hours a week, buying stuff that won't make us happy -- has permeated the border, and Canadians are realizing that they've been sold a bill of goods. True, there's nothing inherently wrong with the American Dream itself; but it's an answer for some people, not the template for happiness for all.
Do you think that digital property is also clutter? What do you recommend people do with the reams of digital info (video, emails, photos etc.) that one accumulates throughout their life?
JFM: Digital clutter can be problematic, yes; but it's certainly not as problematic as physical clutter. This is because, in many respects, we're moving from a culture of ownership to a culture of access. No longer must we own 1,000 DVDs when we have access to unlimited movies with the click of a button. The same is true for music, books, and photos. Advancements in technology have allowed us to rid ourselves of the burden of physical clutter by storing everything in the cloud, to which we have access whenever we need it. And when we don't need it, it's out of the way.
Your journey into minimalism sounds like a spiritual journey -- has it also translated into a political one?
RN: It was neither spiritual nor political motivations that led us to minimalism. However, there can certainly be spiritual or political benefits. The nice thing about minimalism is that it's not a specific, rigid set of rules, which means it can co-exist with virtually any spiritual or political beliefs. During our 100-city tour, we've met orthodox monks, republicans, mormons, CEOs, atheists, soccer moms, and even a rabbi -- all of whom were living simpler lives because of minimalism.
Would you call yourselves environmentalists?
RN: No, but there are wonderful environmental benefits from minimalism. It's no secret that when you consume less, you have less waste. Living intentionally is great for the environment.
Have you converted a lot of people close to you?
JFM: We're certainly not proselytizing. And, by definition, you can't "convert" anyone to minimalism. We are simply sharing our recipe with the world in hopes that people can tweeze a few ingredients and apply them to their own lives. Thankfully, many people -- including our close friends and family members -- have found value in our message because they see the benefits we've experienced in our own lives.
Has having kids changed the game for people in your life when it comes to possessions? There are certain things it makes sense to hold onto if you're thinking of expanding your family.
JFM: It's usually a bad idea to hold on to things while waiting for some non-existent, hypothetical future. We know many minimalist families, some with as many as six children, and what's important for all of them is never the stuff. The best advice we've learned from those minimalist families is: Spend half the money and twice the time with your family. The return on your investment will be exponential. Our friend Joshua Becker also has a great book for families called Clutterfree with Kids.
You have some great games on your site that involve jettisoning excess materials from your life. In your mind, what type of possession causes the most brain clutter?
RN: Usually it's the stuff that's easiest to get rid of that poses the biggest problem: e.g., the clothes we never wear, the junk in our basements, the kitchen cabinets teeming with unused dishes. Do yourself a favour: find a friend and play the 30-Day Minimalism Game together. You'll get the momentum you need, and you'll immediately begin feeling lighter, happier, freer.
Without stuff to distract you, how do you keep from driving each other crazy?
JFM: Gratitude and support. We're grateful to have amazing, supportive relationships in our lives -- including each other. One of the most important aspects of living a meaningful life is to surround yourself with supportive people. You can't change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.