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:
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.