The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are the “Minimalists”. They are two guys that have published books, posted you tube videos and pod casts and made a documentary on the benefits of minimalism. The Minimalists have travelled the United States speaking to everyone and anyone who will listen to their message that you don’t need a lot to be happy; you only need to have the things that matter. You may have seen their documentary “Minimalism” on Netflix, listened to their pod cast or read their books and essays. In a few short years they have helped start a quiet movement in the United States and the rest of the world on the benefits of minimalism.

Take a look around you. What do you see? In my house I see a lot of clutter. Having a couple of kids who are teenagers and twenty years of accumulated possessions does that. It’s actually quite normal to have a house full of things that we barely use or need. Our society expects it and we have been bought up to believe the mantra of marketing and consumerism; “more is better”. Take a walk through a shopping mall or a furniture and electrical goods warehouse and we are immediately impressed by the range of goods on offer. They promise a more comfortable existence and the marketing used tries to convince us that we will be happier, more popular and attractive if we fill our lives with more.


Less is More

The Minimalists would argue that the opposite is true. More is not necessarily better and in fact it may be what’s holding us back. Having less is having more. The counter-paradigm is a hard concept to accept. How can having less be better than having more? How can living in a small house or apartment that is sparsely furnished be better than living in a luxury mansion or apartment full of elegant and expensive furniture? Why would someone choose to ride a bicycle to work when they can drive their comfortable BMW? Isn’t it better to have a walk in wardrobe full of clothes and shoes to choose from than a small selection of functional yet attractive garments and shoes? Who wants to work in a job that provides for our needs rather than our endless wants? You want us to work to live, rather than live to work? Life is not about money? Are these Minimalists mad?

In the documentary “Minimalism: A documentary about the important things” we learn that Millburn was working in a higher powered corporate role and was chasing the American Dream. On the rat race to the top, Millburn found that he was working crazy hours and stretching himself thin. Relationships with people were shallow and geared towards personal gain. Life was about owning more and getting as far up the ladder as possible, at any cost. This is the competitive culture that society instils in people.

Take a walk down the main street of your commercial capital and you will hear the hum of capitalism and the fast pace of people defying reality by trying to push infinite growth in a finite system. Something has to give and for Millburn it did. The loss of his mother and marriage in the same month and nearly burned out by his job, Millburn was chronically unhappy with his life. Depressed and questioning everything he lived for he stumbled on minimalism and his life changed for forever. Minimalism and simplicity set him free.


Slow Death

I recently learned that in Japan the rate of deaths of otherwise young and healthy professionals from overwork and stress is unprecedented. China is fast catching up as its fast growing economy and hard work ethic churns people through the system and spits them out. Hundreds of millions of people in that country are desperately trying to achieve the same level of affluence and fulfil the same material goals that hold us hostage in the west. The eastern culture of community, simplicity and harmony has been hijacked by consumerism and unsustainable economic growth.

In the west many of us are forced to work longer and harder for less as prices increase and wages freeze. We spend our lives chasing the dollar to fill our homes with worthless junk or in some cases to continue to live with the basics and make ends meet. People are becoming more insular and disconnected from each other as they focus on their own lives and “keeping up with the Joneses”. Society is becoming more dysfunctional and unhappy as people mindlessly ride the Hedonistic merry-go round. We seek and then finding grow bored and dissatisfied and we seek the next thing to fulfil us. Never happy, never satisfied.

The Environment is suffering from our over consumption and waste. We stand on the brink of ecological collapse. Insanity is the only word to describe the paradigm we live in. It can only end one way, but it doesn’t have to.


Love People not Things

Millburn says in his documentary that we should “Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.” As a 12 Step Jedi I can identify. In active alcoholism we use people purely for the purpose of getting drunk. Alcohol is not so much used by us as it uses us. It sounds insane but the disease of alcoholism is completely insane. We are prepared to sacrifice everything in order to satisfy an addiction that is slowly killing us physically, emotionally and spiritually. A love affair with booze forms that resembles the most dysfunctional and destructive of relationships yet nothing short of death or a spiritual experience will break that bond.

I had a spiritual experience, no doubt about it. Perhaps Millburn did to. No two spiritual experiences are the same. The bright white light and “out of body” experience described in the literature is rare. Most people experience a type of epiphany or a sudden self realisation.  A number of discoveries are made and events occur in almost fortuitous succession that lead of personal insight and spiritual breakthroughs.

I hit rock bottom and was presented with the truth of what I had become and given a clear vision of who I truly am. Perhaps Millburn experienced something similar. The 12 Steps and the Jedi Path is my road and minimalism was his. The end result is that we got the same basic truth to always “love people and use things”.


Clean Minds

Everyone thinks that minimalism is about getting rid of stuff that we have been hording for years. Going through the garage, wardrobe, basement and attic and turfing things out is only part of it. We also have to take a look at the mental junk that we are hording in our minds and decide what to discard and what to hold on to.

That is essentially what Millburn did when he quit his job and sold his stuff, he was overhauling the mental paradigm he was trapped in. By changing his external world and his behaviours he was changing his internal world. As he started to free himself of the clutter and false ideas of the world he began to realize a better and easier way to live, minimalism. The changes in his life resulted in changes to his own mental patterns and ultimately his character. The wonderful thing about the Minimalists is that they could also take this and share it with the world and support themselves by doing it.

So what can we take from the Minimalists and how can we apply it in our own lives? Those that practice a philosophy for life will have many answers. I know that the 12 Steps and the Jedi Path lead us to a minimalist life through deeds, not words. To be Jedi is to take action:


Take Action

  1. Take Stock: Millburn quit his job not because he hated his boss but because he saw that his life was passing him by in the mindless pursuit of wealth and material possessions. Millburn recalibrated his values and decided he wanted to live a life worth remembering. A major part of that was realizing that money is not everything. Yes, we need money and it can make life more pleasurable but poor people are happy too. We need to decide what we value in life and live in accordance with our values.
  2. De-clutter: In the army they used to say something along the lines that “if your shit is not squared away neither is your head”, except the language was far more colourful. It is true that a cluttered home or workspace denotes a cluttered mind. By applying the 5S principles we can de-clutter and organise our external world and allow the benefits to flow in to other areas of our lives.
  3. Service: One of the best ways of getting out of our own heads is by helping others. It is no cliché, doing something for others, even small acts of kindness make us appreciate people more and thereby forget our own troubles. We come to realize that helping others provides us greater rewards than money can.
  4. Mental Breaks: Meditation, mindfulness and awareness are tool we can use to reduce the mental clutters and ease the chattering mind monkeys that assault us sometimes constantly.
  5. Less is better: I find I am addicted to social media and the news. Taking a break from both is a respite. We are tied to our phones and our internet accounts. Some people never put them down. The other day I heard a line which I thought rang very true “Years ago we used the internet to escape from reality, these days we escape the internet by returning to reality”. Our over consumption extends to television and food as well. We need to eat less junk and more healthier food, exercise more and spend more time outdoors in nature and with other people instead of staring at a box.

And most importantly, remember: “love people, not things.”



Books by The Minimalists:

Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists

Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life


The Minimalist Website


The Tree

Every autumn I take a chainsaw to a tree in the back yard and take back most of the branches. The tree is reduced from a tangle of foliage and branches to a short truck with a couple of main-stems left behind. Looking it after my hack job you would think that it will surely die but every spring it returns in full vigor. New branches reach out with sprouts of leaves. Flowers blossom and the trunk thicken. The tree is healthy and productive. By cutting back old growth and dead wood and leaving it almost bare I have allowed the tree to renew itself and continue to grow. Simplicity is like that.


Consumer Society

Life can get messy. We can fill our days with drama and complexity. Our time seems to get shorter as we are constantly distracted by new things. We fill our homes and garages and eventually a rented storage unit with so much stuff that we soon run out of room. Our attention hops from one thing to another. For a while we are interested in one thing and soon enough we get bored with that and move on.

The constant pull of modern consumerism sees us accumulating stuff that we don’t need or acquire mindlessly because we have been told that if we have it we will be happier, cooler or more popular. By having more and being constantly busy we think that our lives will be fulfilled and we will reach our desired state of happiness and contentment. All that happens is we find ourselves on a slippery slope and soon get overwhelmed by the tempo and shallow materialism of our lives. The environment suffers, we suffer and only big corporations win selling us stuff they tell us we need.


Hatchet Job

From time to time we need to take a pruning saw (or a hatchet) to our lives and cut back the excess. We should identify the dead branches and cut them away. Cut back the complexity and over activity. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

All monastic orders required their adherents to live lives of simplicity. Excess was avoided and attachment to material possessions and relationships eschewed. When I was in the Army the principle of simplicity and self discipline was constantly reinforced. We were expected to have few personal possessions and avoid the trappings of conspicuous consumption. Our job demanded that our first priority was the job. Some of the guys took it far and owned little more than one set of civilian clothes for going out; everything else they owned was issued or bought kit.


A Life of Purpose

The Jedi are an example of simplicity. Besides a Jedi Robe, a belt and boots and a light sabre what does a Jedi own? Seemingly nothing, they got funds to support themselves and their mission when required but otherwise a Jedi was discouraged from having attachments.

Allegiance to the Jedi Order demanded simplicity and purpose. By living simply, the Jedi were never distracted from their primary purpose. The Jedi also kept their internal world well ordered and simple. The Jedi demonstrated equanimity and dispassion.


Hording is Suffering

They say that what makes a person horde possessions and refuse to let them go is fear. They are suffering from over attachment. We have all seen the effect of severe hording on television shows that take us in the homes of chronic Hoarders.

People will horde and even refuse to throw out old newspapers and trash. Eventually their lives become unmanageable and desperate; they are drowning in an ocean of junk but refuse to let any of it go. Fear won’t allow them to lighten their lives and simplify. They feel by throwing their “treasures” away they are somehow losing a part of themselves. Inanimate objects hold them hostage. Attachment becomes real suffering to the point that they would rather die than toss out a box of old moldy magazines. The problem is not that they can’t do without their possessions, they can, and the problem is only in their mind.


Dead Wood

We might say, “Yeah but that’s pretty extreme. Most people aren’t like that”. The reality is that the ego is exactly like that. We may not be hording a ton of stuff we don’t need, we may even own very little. On the other hand we may be holding on to beliefs and ideas that do not serve us or represent who we truly are. Few people, if honest, would disagree. Most of us hold on to more than we realize. Every single experience, thought, word and action in our lives becomes a part of who we are. As the years pass, we find that we have become like an old tree; an over grown jumble of unruly branches and dead wood.

For more than a decade I lived out of a bag. My possessions were limited to a backpack with a few clothes, a sleeping bag, a pair of shoes and a camera. There were a few keepsakes I’d picked up on my travels, a couple of books and a sealed plastic bag full of photos. I was homeless and owned nothing. My home was wherever I found myself at the end of the day. Not having much meant I didn’t have a lot to lose. The freedom allowed me to indulge in my addiction without constraint. The problem of course was that inwardly I was a mess.


Handing it Over

Getting rid of unwanted excess is actually liberating. By handing over my problems to a higher power I started the process of pruning back my life. Writing an inventory of my character defects and misdeeds to others highlighted where I needed to make further changes and do amends. Sharing my inventory with another helped me take a weight of guilt off my shoulders. By coming clean I was able to throw off the dead wood that had been holding me back. I was free to move on.

The pruning back continued. There was years of growth that needed to be removed. I finally decided to do something about it and I asked my Higher Power to guide me. The work was up to me, but I left the outcomes to the Force.

One by one I hacked back the character defects and flaws through application of principle and changing my thought pattern and behaviour. Several years later with pruning being a constant and meticulous job I can look back at my work and see what I have become. The person I was is gone and a new man stands in his place. This is the feeling of freedom; to cast off the world like some dark cloak and walk through the gates in to another dimension of existence.


Daily Maintenance

Today I continue to take a pair of secateurs and prune away. My life is like a tree that requires daily maintenance to keep it healthy. Where I have made a mistake I admit it, where I have wronged someone I try to make amends. Each day is reviewed and where improvements can be made I do so where I have control. Life becomes a daily pursuit in simplicity and purpose, the Jedi way.


Inventory and Let Go

We don’t need to get rid of all of our stuff and live like a monk or a Jedi but we can simplify and reduce the clutter. One of the best ways of taking stock of our rampant and manic lives is to inventory. List all the things that take up our time and attention. What do you enjoy doing? Are you doing things which take up time but bring you no joy or return? Decide which you would be better off without and drop it.

Review your consumer patterns. Take a shopping list with you or decide on what you are going to buy and then buy it. Avoid making purchases on impulse and ask yourself whether you need it or just want it. Remember, wants are not needs.


Sort, Sift, Sweep, Sanitize and Sustain

Go through your wardrobe and garage. Do you really need all of the clothes hanging up? One way is to turn all your clothes and shoes to face one way. Every time you take something and put it back have it facing the opposite direction. After a year take all the items that were not moved and donate them to good-will. Take all of your horded clutter out on to the lawn and divide them in to categories based on their utility and purpose. If you have stuff sitting there since 1999 which has not been used, donate it if it may be of use to others or throw it out.

Occasionally review your life and take stock. Not just where you are financially, in your career, or on the journey to achieving your goals; review your internal values system. Are your values consistent with who you are and who you want to be? Ask what do you care about, what is your purpose and what do you want out of life. Decide whether your values match your principles and agree with your goals. Remember that values define you, principles are the way your express them and goals are where you want to take your life. Keep it simple.


Take what you Need

Sometimes we will find that a lot of ideas and assumptions that we had are no longer useful and we resolve to get rid of them. For example, we may have decided some time ago to be less stressed about life and worry less about material wealth and more on our self improvement but our actions may be the opposite. If our ideas no longer serve, we drop them and find those that do. We align ourselves to our purpose. Being Jedi is about being agile and adaptive. Its about being able to take what you need and leave the rest.

Life is like a tree. It is a living and breathing thing that grows and throws out branches in all directions. Sometime we need to do some pruning in our lives and re-calibrate ourselves so that we can continue to grow and get better.