Real Life Minimalists: Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

This week we meet Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. These guys take an intellectual approach towards minimalism, and write essays about living a more meaningful life with less stuff at The Minimalists. Joshua Millburn also writes fiction; his first novel, As A Decade Fades, will be published later this year.

Joshua and Ryan write:

Joshua and Ryan

Happiness is an expansive concept, it goes without saying. At its fundament, the term “happiness” is abstract and abstruse and can be a mind-numbing, migraine-inducing thing to try to explain with words. But it was this complex idea—the thought of being truly happy—that led us to live simpler lives. Happiness was at the precipice of our journey. It was happiness that led us to minimalism. Eventually.

But let’s rewind.

Before we discovered the concepts of minimalism, and before we understood the importance of simplifying our lives, we were successful young professionals from Dayton, Ohio. But we were only ostensibly successful.

You see, back then people saw two best friends with their large homes with more bedrooms than inhabitants. They were envious. They saw our six-figure jobs, our luxury cars, our new gadgets, and our life of opulence, and they thought, These guys have it figured out. I want to be just like them. They saw all of those things—all of that superfluous stuff—and they just knew that we were successful. After all, we were living the American Dream, weren’t we?

But the truth is that we weren’t successful at all. Maybe we looked successful—displaying our status symbols as if they were trophies—but we weren’t truly successful. Because even with all of our stuff, we knew that we were not satisfied with our lives. We knew that we were not happy. And we discovered that working 70 to 80 hours per week and buying even more stuff didn’t fill the void. In fact, it only brought us more debt and more anxiety and more fear and more loneliness and more guilt and more overwhelm and more paranoia and more depression. It was a very solipsistic existence.

What’s worse, we found out that we didn’t have control of our own time and thus didn’t control our own lives.

And then, as our lives were spiraling downward in ever-diminishing circles towards empty oblivion, we inadvertently discovered minimalism. Or perhaps it discovered us, as it were. It was a beacon in the night. We lingered curiously on the limbic portions of minimalism’s perimeter, scouring feverishly through internet page after internet page looking for more information and guidance and enlightenment, watching and learning and trying to understand what this whole minimalism thing was all about. Through months of research we traveled farther and farther down the rabbit hole, and over time we had discovered a group people without a lot of things but with myriad happiness and passion and freedom, things for which we desperately yearned.

Eventually we embraced these concepts—the concepts of minimalism and simplicity—as a way of life and discovered that we too could be happy, but it wasn’t through owning more stuff, it wasn’t through accumulation. We took back control of our lives so we could focus on whatʼs important, so we could focus on life’s deeper meaning.

Happiness, as far as we are concerned, is achieved through living a meaningful life, a life that is filled with passion and freedom, a life in which we can grow as individuals and contribute to other people in meaningful ways. Growth and contribution: those are the bedrocks of happiness. Not stuff.

This may not sound sexy or marketable or sellable, but it’s the cold truth. Humans are happy if we are growing as individuals and if we are contributing beyond ourselves. Without growth, and without a deliberate effort to help others, we are just slaves to cultural expectations, ensnared by the trappings of money and power and status and perceived success.

Minimalism, in its many forms, is a tool that allowed us to simplify our lives so that we could focus on what’s important. We were able to strip away the excess stuff and focus on living meaningful, happy, passionate, free lives.

We invite you to join us. Membership is free. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to live a meaningful life.

Visit us at The Minimalists to read more essays, or follow us on Twitter.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

This week we meet Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. These two guys take
an intellectual approach towards minimalism. They write essays about living a
more meaningful life with less stuff at The Minimalists. Joshua Millburn also
writes fiction. His first novel, AS A DECADE FADES, will be published later this

47 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus

  • Click on The Minimalists link and scroll down to the George Carlin clip for a very funny take on ‘stuff’ and travelling with ‘stuff’.

  • heather

    I just found y’all last week and I love your witty, simple approach to minimalism. Thank you for sharing your experiences and for the inspiration.

  • Excellent calcification of your beliefs, guys. Elegant language–the reference to solipsism is so relevant. I’ve spoken of the “solipsist next door”–so many of us have been caught in a way of living that encourages us to believe the universe exists between our ears.

    “Trimming the fat,” is such an elegant way of making an external reality more manageable. When you love people and use things (and not vice versa), that haunted harrowing feeling that “I exist unto myself” is gone. Pooof.

    Divine comedy. I’m in your camp gentlemen, and glad to have found your site, Francine.


  • ElizMcK

    Excellent post. It seems that the unexamined life can lead to the hampster on a wheel drive for excess, while the examined life can lead to minimalistic bliss. To discover this at such a young age is a true blessing.

  • whisper

    A lot of big words but no warmth and a bit preachy. Left me cold.

  • Lorna

    Actually, whisper, that’s the beauty of Francine’s site…each contributor can express himself/herself the way he or she is comfortable. Yes, some of the words are not commonly used in daily discussions, but hey, it’s what makes the world go ’round, right? LOL
    I don’t want someone to “dumb it down” just for me. Nice article, guys.

  • whisper

    I don’t want anything dumbed down either but struck me as pretentious. But yes, to each their own, I think it is ok to be critical as well as complimentary on this site.

    • Karen T.

      You’re right, whisper, you’re free to be complementary or critical. That’s the point of a discussion. I thought your comments expressed your sincere reaction to today’s post, and even though you were not complementary, you weren’t rude or out of line in any way.

      BTW, today’s post also seemed a bit cold and pretentiously wordy to me as well. Maybe that is just the way these men express themselves. Nevertheless, their conclusion that meaning and happiness in life is found through freedom, passion, and growth rather than the trappings of money and status is probably something we can all agree with.

      • Jessica

        I agree with Karen – we still all get the point that freedom comes from having less stuff and fewer distractions – but the message got a little muddy with the fluffly language.

        I could have also done without knowing about the “luxury cars” and “six figure salaries.”

  • Joshua and Ryan, this essay truly spoke to me. You two have captured the essence of what I’ve tried to explain through conversations with my friends and family with such depth and meaning here. This is one the best pieces I’ve read from you guys. Nice Work!

  • I have read Joshua and Ryan before, and they do have such a way with words, explaining what I also am feeling. Thanks for having them here to visit and as a reminder to me!
    Are you stuck in a rut?

  • Aspiring to be a minimalist

    I really tried to like these guys’ site. I admire how they’ve pared down and are happy for them that they so enjoy their new life. They have some good ideas; I especially liked reading about their “packing party.” But I do find the whole thing just too pretentious for me. Calling themselves “leaders of people” is a bit much; insisting that they write essays rather than blog posts… I also notice that many of their posts reference how much material wealth they had and how great everyone thought they were. I must say I’m sticking to Miss Minimalist and Joshua Becker these days, but if people enjoy The Minimalists as well, by all means, find meaning and inspiration where you like.

  • Man I love these guys! I’m actually wearing the damn nice dress shoes that Josh sent me, for free! He even paid the shipping. These guys are legit and classy.

    Check out this post if citing sources is your thing:

    I’m glad you featured them. You’ve always got the right touch :)

  • Really well written, but I don’t feel like I got to know these guys the way I have felt about some of the ‘Real Life Minimalists.’

  • cigi

    I have no problem with big words and the last thing I would ever want is for someone to dumb down their writing but this post left me cold as well. There is a big difference between eloquence and showing off. Funny, this is the second time I’ve run across minimalist bloggers who tend to overwrite. Minimalism can be applied to writing after all. Why use three or four words when one or two will do? P.S. Francine, for what it’s worth, I love your philosophical bent and find your writing to be consistently economical and elegant.

    • Don’t mind that you disagree or dislike our writing styles, but it might be worth noting that minimalism W/R/T writing exists within literature (e.g., Ellis, McInerney, Carver, et al.).

      Take care,


      • cigi

        Hi Joshua- Thank you for your gracious reply. Just to clarify…In no way do I disagree with your content. As the commenter below put it…We are all on this minimalist walk together. I am always happy to glean inspiration and practical advice from others on this path. Writing styles are secondary, I suppose, and a matter of taste. I guess it’s all the streamlining and eliminating I’ve been doing that makes me sensitive to anything I perceive as “extra”. Thanks again and best to you.

      • Robyn

        Sorry, what is W/R/T?

  • The Graduate

    I really enjoyed ready about their experiences, but also enjoyed reading the comments as well. I think it really helps us all learn and grow from everyone’s perspective. Sometimes I enjoy reading short and to the point essays on minimalism, and sometimes I enjoy walking down the path of a story, learning as I go. In this walk you can focus on what you choose, take away from it what you choose, but I think it is important that everyone can express their unique perspective: as a “real life minimalist” or as a person that comments. I think the important thing is to keep discussions going and remember we are all on this minimalist walk together, regardless of our viewpoint. We can all learn something from everyone, even if it is very different from our own “voice” (writing style).

    Just as their are mothers that want to be minimalist, people who want their partner to respect and honor the happiness they have found through minimalism, I think Joshua and Ryan offer a unique voice which may really inspire those that are so saturated in consumerist ideology they cannot see their way through. What I took from their post was that minimalism allows us the time and space to grow as individuals as well as contribute to the happiness of others. Thank you for the reminder, Joshua and Ryan. I encourage you to write in your personal style so that every person that is interested in minimalism finds a perspective/voice that speaks to them.

    Thank you Francine for featuring them and for always honoring all perspectives.

    • I think you summed it up very well: “honoring all perspectives.” Francine is a Mozart of doing this. Thanks for the well-thought-out comment.

    • Clare

      Thank you to The Graduate. I always enjoy reading the comments as well as the articles. I definitely agree with your first paragraph; the beauty of this site is that everyone can take away the messages, tips, and stories that mean the most to them.

      I would like to thank Francine for providing a space where discussion about minimalism can occur. She is excellent at providing food for thought (or hunting down others to do so) to spark discussions. And I would like to say how much I appreciate the thoughtful, respectful, mature, and beautiful comments and contributions from everyone, even when there is disagreement. They make this site a joy to read and the reason I come back every week. It can be hard to find spaces online where everyone is treated with kindness.

      To Joshua and Ryan-Thank you for your contribution. I would have liked to read more about your journey after you discovered minimalism, but I will look to your blog.

  • Laura

    I read the “Screw You, I Quit!” essay by Joshua, so I am glad to see you again here on Well done for being so mature at such a young age.

  • Ruby Dellson

    I have to agree with whisper on this one. I usually feel a connectedness with the minimalists. This one, not so much. I didn’t find this story very authentic. Just seemed like some guys looking to use minimalism as a platform to make $$$.

    • maria

      agree with you ruby… why do this guys bother so much we tewwt them or follow them on facebook or rss or email or whatever… when we give we give it for free: that’s open heart giving. When you give and even before give you ask for… something is quite wrong…

  • Sara

    I love Miss Minimalists blog because I can relate to it. I have 2 children and a husband, which makes the minimalist journey are more or less family decision.

    I dont really relate to the boys and their essays. I admire them and their craft, and can try to appreciate their work.

    Generally, I enjoy more minimalist posts written that have an element of softness and heartfeltness. But thats just me!

    But as a few of you have written, its good to have a place to enjoy others points of view.


  • jennifer

    I’ve been a subsciber to Joshua and Ryans works for awhile now, and always find their writing interesting, intelligent and thought provoking.
    As always a great essay Guys.

  • maria

    Well, well, guys… I’m not american, I am european, so pardon my english ;), but, besides the fact that your site reminds me too much the Mentalist (arghhh), I don’t get in any way convinced by your words. I’m glad you come down to earth and get rid of all your extra stuff – hey, it’s our planet, right?, and if you feel better making less that a 6 figure amount/year (you know, talk about how much money you make it’s considered unpolite where I come from…)good for you. But who cares??? you don’t give us anything new, and you sure could be more humble. For instance, never start an article asking someone to do you a favor, we are already doing you one, by reading it. Sorry guys, you are probably great people, but you should keep your good actions for your own. Try to read some oriental philosophy… or maybe you need some more years living as minimalists to achieve a minmalist mind. Wish you the best, greatings from warm Lisboa

  • Fawn

    I have been to a couple of MENSA meetings, but have found that the smart people understand what I have to say when I use more common usage words, and the less educated people do too….

    I am all for what draws people to living more authentically, whether that is big words or small words….

    There are big word people who need the big words to understand (pay attention) to the concepts. Let them subscribe to these gentlemen’s blog… no shame in that.

  • […] Guest post from The Minimalists on Miss Minimalist: Real Life Minimalists: Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus – Joshua and Ryan wrote an amazing story of their journey to minimalism. There were some […]

  • meg

    What big words? I didn’t see them, don’t know what the complaints are all about…. ;D

    Cold? No. Crafted? Yes. Elegance and eloquence need not be mutually exclusive.

  • Diane

    I look forward to reading Francine’s Real Life Minimalists every week and am never disappointed. It’s inspiring to me with the diverse backgrounds and experiences that bring each person to the point of realization, that owning more stuff is not the pathway to happiness.

    Great job Joshua and Ryan! I particularly related to the section: “Happiness, as far as we are concerned, is achieved through living a meaningful life, a life that is filled with passion and freedom, a life in which we can grow as individuals and contribute to other people in meaningful ways. Growth and contribution: those are the bedrocks of happiness. Not stuff.”

    Like it or not, six figure incomes seem to be a symbol or measurement of success in our society and it is powerful when anyone has been there and experiences the loss of time and control over your own life. There’s nothing ostentatious when communicating that they have discovered that the trappings of the money doesn’t bring happiness with it and finds a simplier, more meaningful way. I’ve been there, done that myself.

    Thanks for your story!

  • Tina

    Many years ago, I had a job that made me sick. I lasted only a few months. I do not do well with long hours and little structure, no matter how much the pay is. I have always been happier with less pay and more structure and defined hours. I don’t need a lot of things or a fancy lifestyle. Luckily, things have worked out for me over the years.

  • Joshua and Ryan, I get your email. I enjoyed your demonstration of how you pack a suitcase. We chose to retire early and live on less. People make choices to use credit cards, buy fancy furniture, etc. I have independent, adult children so our choices are our own.

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