Saturday 29 April 2017

Minimalists: The boys who went back to basics

Can a meaningful life with less possessions be the key to happiness? The Minimalists, two men who had it all and then gave it up, certainly think so.

The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus
The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus
The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus

Claire O'Mahony

How much happier would you be if you had less 'stuff' in your life and if you weren't consumed by the urge to own the iPhone 6 or an on-trend blanket coat?

It's an intriguing proposition posited by Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, aka The Minimalists. The two Americans, who are  childhood friends, traded  their six figure salaries and big houses for pared-back existence, devoid of all superfluities.

Unnecessary consumption, they say, brought them stress, debt, anxiety, fear, loneliness, guilt, and depression. Becoming minimalists has allowed them to leave the corporate and consumer lifestyle behind and embark on what they think is a more important way of living, which has now translated into a best-selling book, Minimalism: Live a meaningful life, an international book tour and three million readers online.

But it's not necessarily about throwing out everything that you own - the problem, they believe, is not consumption, but consumerism and buying things because we think that we need to. "Minimalism can be misunderstood," says Joshua Fields Millburn.

"People often think about deprivation or white walls and monks and aesthetics. When someone asks what minimalism is, I generally ask the question: how would your life be better with less stuff? The reason I ask that, it's a highly individual journey for different people. Initially for me it was getting control of my finances and getting control of my time, which I had wasted for so long. I think minimalism is a tool that people can use to get excess out of the way and make room for what's really important. "

His own journey into minimalism began five years ago, with this mother's death and the end of his marriage. "I started out small, I started asking questions: does this thing add value to my life," he explains. "I looked around and at my possessions and in the course of eight months, I got rid of a load of stuff and it turned out that about 90pc of my materials weren't adding much value to my life, but the things that were adding value I was able to bring forward. I realised was that I was really focused on buying a load of stuff, trying to impress people that I didn't much like."

If you were to visit his apartment in Montana, he maintains that you wouldn't necessarily think that a minimalist lived here, but that it was the home of a very tidy man. "I don't own a lot of stuff but everything I own serves a purpose or brings me joy," he says. "Instead of having a superfluous amount of clothes, all the clothes I have are pretty much my favourite clothes and I think that's the weird paradox of minimalism - I get a lot more value out of the things I own than I did before because I'm not deluded by all of the excess."

Of course, there is some irony in the fact of minimalists being best-selling authors and touring the globe but Fields Millburn has an answer for that. "Whenever it comes to my life, there are five areas that I make sure I focus on - health, relationships, personal creativity or passion, growth and contribution," he says "Being on the road has allowed us to contribute beyond ourselves in a meaningful way. It's cost us a lot of money - we don't get any money from being on a 10-month, 100-city tour, but for us, it's been much more about contributing and it's been a huge growth experience as well."

The Minimalists are discussing their new book, Everything That Remains, in Hodges Figgis, Dawson St, Dublin 2, tonight at 7pm, admission free

Irish Independent

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