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My Meeting with the Minimalists

A couple of weeks ago, the Minimalists were in town promoting their book “Everything that Remains”, and held a free talk which I went to. The Minimalists, in case you haven’t heard of them before, are two Americans (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus) who both had successful corporate careers, earning 6-figure salaries and living the American Dream (read – buying lots of stuff; gadgets, cars, huge homes, getting into debt) and who both gave it all up, becoming minimalists and embracing a slower, simpler, more meaningful way of life.

My husband has been following the Minimalists for a while. He feels he can relate to their story. He finished university and secured a good job straightaway, and progressed through the ranks. He spent his money on nice furniture and fine dining (he even bought a brand new car…and waited five months (!) for it to be available in the specific colour he desired). But despite the money and stuff, he wasn’t particularly happy. After getting rid of most of his stuff, travelling overseas and working as a volunteer (and meeting me!) he came to the same conclusion as the Minimalists – money doesn’t buy you happiness. Experiences, connections and living with meaning are what are important.

I can’t really relate to the Minimalists’ journey, because it has been very different from my own. I’ve never had the big six-figure salary. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever earned more than (or even the same as) the national average. When I got my first job after graduating, in 2005, I earned £12,000 a year. (In 2005 the UK national average was £22,411.) I never had the spare cash to spend on fancy gadgets. That said, I still saw shopping as a form of stress relief, and I still aspired to have/earn more – because more would make me happier, wouldn’t it? I had a few epiphanies in my late twenties and early thirties that have led me down this minimalist path – stories I’ll share with you another time. My conclusions have been the same as the Minimalists, however – stuff doesn’t make people happy. Neither does money. We may have followed different paths to get here, but we have the same philosophy.

Well…partly. I have my big zero waste/sustainability focus, which can be at odds with the minimalist philosophy. (Get rid of it. You can always buy another one if you need it. Something I struggle with!) A friend came with us to the talk. “Look around you!” she said. “None of these people are into sustainability!” People everywhere around us were clutching plastic water bottles and takeaway coffee cups. She was genuinely surprised. Another sent me a text: “Are you going to the talk by those Minimalist guys with the enormous ecological footprint?”

But minimalism isn’t about avoiding flights or bringing a reusable cup, it’s about living consciously. Living with meaning, rather than living on autopilot. Building relationships. Giving back. Recognising what is important – and what is important is different for each of us. Joshua and Ryan aren’t dictating a lifestyle. They aren’t telling anyone what to do. They are just sharing their story in the hope it will inspire others.

As someone very familiar with the idea of minimalism, the most inspiring thing for me was a room packed out with people who wanted to know more…but others were so moved they left in tears. It’s a reminder that each of us are a different point in our journey. I could easily have rocked up three years ago with a takeaway coffee cup in hand, without a second thought.

The Minimalists’ Perth talk was their 100th tour date – their final one. In the time they’ve been touring, their popularity has grown and there were a thousand people queuing around the block to see them. In order to avoid turning people away, they held another talk straight afterwards as the venue could only accommodate 400 people! I love that they genuinely tried to reach as many people as possible. Ecological footprints aside, these guys have a mission, and a great message to share.

The Minimalists have critics, of course. Not just my friends! People say it’s easy to eschew money when you’ve had it. If you’ve been rich, then isn’t it hypocritical? But minimalism isn’t about advocating poverty. It’s about recognizing what is enough.

Did the Minimalists come to a city near you, and did you have the chance to see them speak? What did you think? Do you like their message? Or is minimalism something that you just can’t embrace? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so please leave me a comment below!