Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, known to their audience as The Minimalists, help more than 20 million people live meaningful lives with less through their website, books, podcast, and documentary. The Minimalists Podcast is often the #1 health podcast on iTunes, and their film, Minimalism, was recently released by Netflix.
MiLLENNiAL caught up with Joshua and Ryan to learn the deeper meaning behind what it means to live a minimalistic lifestyle.
1. Tell us about the brand identity behind The Minimalists!
We don’t have a strategic “brand identity,” per se; rather, we focus on adding value to other people’s lives by sharing our insights and our simple lives.
2. How did you both meet and determine you were ready to start living with less?
For us, it all started with a lingering discontent. A few years ago, while approaching age 30, we had achieved everything that was supposed to make us happy: great six-figure jobs, luxury cars, oversized houses, and all the stuff to clutter every corner of our consumer-driven lifestyles.
And yet with all that stuff, we weren’t satisfied with our lives. We weren’t happy. There was a gaping void, and working 70–80 hours a week just to buy more stuff didn’t fill the void: it only brought more debt, stress, anxiety, fear, loneliness, guilt, overwhelm, and depression.
What’s worse, we didn’t have control of our time, and thus didn’t control our own lives. So, in 2010, we took back control using the principles of minimalism to focus on what’s important.
3. What does the “Minimalist” lifestyle represent to you and how does it reflect itself in your life today?
Minimalism is the thing that gets us past the things so we can make room for life’s important things—which actually aren’t things at all.
As minimalists, we don’t focus on having less, less, less; we focus on making room for more: more time, more passion, more experiences, more growth, more contribution, more contentment. More freedom. Clearing the clutter from life’s path helps us make that room.
4. Your books and podcasts talk about minimalism “making room” for other things. Give a real-world example of how this works.
There are many things that once brought joy to our lives but no longer serve a purpose in today’s world: walkmans, laserdiscs, fax machines, pleated khakis, mail-order catalogs, Palm Pilots, the Furby.
But most of us clung to these artifacts well into their obsolescence, often out of a pious sense of nostalgia. The hallmarks of the past have a strange way of leaving claw marks on the present.
We hold deathgrips on our VHS collections, our unused flip phones, our oversized Bugle Boy jeans—not repairing or recycling these items, but storing them with the rest of our untouched hoard. As our collections grow, our basements, closets, and attics become purgatories of stuff, our lives overflowing with unemployed miscellanea.
Your life is likely still filled with things that have fallen into disuse, and this lack of use is the final sign that you should let go.
You see, as our needs, desires, and technologies change, so does the world around us. The objects that add value today may not add value tomorrow, which means we must be willing to let go of everything, even the tools that serve a purpose today. For if we let go, we can find temporary new homes for our neglected belongings and allow them to serve a purpose in someone else’s life, if only for a while, instead of collecting dust in our homegrown mausoleums.
On a long enough timeline, everything becomes obsolete. A hundred years from now the world will be filled with new humans, and they will have abandoned their USB cables, iPhones, and flatscreen televisions, letting go of the past to make room for the future.
This means we must be responsible about the new bits and pieces we bring into our lives today, and we must be equally sensible when those things become obsolete. A willingness to let go is life’s most mature virtue.
5. What were you both doing before becoming passionate entrepreneurs in this space?
After growing up poor in Dayton, Ohio, we both thought that money would be the key to our success, so we spent our twenties climbing the corporate ladder. By age 29, we each had everything we were supposed to have: we were living the American Dream.
But of course we were only ostensibly successful. Yes, we were living the American Dream, but it wasn’t our dream. It took getting everything we thought we wanted to realize that “everything we wanted” wasn’t actually what we wanted at all.
That’s when minimalism entered the picture.
6. What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in order to get to where you are now?
Letting go of one’s identity is often the most difficult change to make. Too often we think “who we are” has to do with the title on our business cards.
No longer are we obsessed with only “myself.” By jettisoning our old identities, we’ve formed new identities, a large part of which revolves around contribution to others. Contributing beyond ourselves brings with it a sense of fulfillment that we can’t get from a corporate moniker.
7. What are the dynamics of working together? Give us some pros and cons.
We are total opposites. One of us is an extrovert; the other is an introvert. One of us has ADD; the other has OCD. One of us is always early; the other is perpetually late. In fact, we have different religious and political beliefs, and we even voted for two different people in the last election (gasp!).
Even though we have have different beliefs, interests, desires, and personalities, we have the same values, and that’s the key to a thriving partnership.