The two steps discussed in the previous chapter regarding focusing your mind on minimalism require you to be disciplined and methodical. If this makes you feel that you’re alone in your pursuit, it might be comforting to know that the modern minimalist movement is consistently growing in popularity. I’d like to highlight a couple of people who have decided to spend their lives encouraging others to pursue what minimalism can offer.
They are Joshua Field Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. These two advocates have been featured in numerous publications such as the New York Times and the Boston Globe. Learning about the steps that they are taking to make the benefits of minimalism well-known will help you to realize that you’re not alone in this journey. More importantly, the work that they are doing can serve as a source that you can reference once you’ve finished reading this book.
Joshua Field Millburn
Joshua Field Millburn did not discover minimalism until after he had gotten a divorce and his mother died. Both happened within the same month, and this shock to his system and his life prompted him to question everything around him. Prior to quitting his job and pursuing a minimalist philosophy, Millburn had a high-paying job, managing retail stores. Once he quit, he decided that he would pursue his greatest passion— writing. Since then he has written six fiction books. In order to understand Millburn’s thought process, we can examine an interview that was conducted by Jason Zook.
Zook is an entrepreneur who hosts a podcast and publishes articles. During this interview, Millburn gave an in-depth discussion about how competition works in our relationships and society. Millburn decided to reject these ideals and instead pursue goals that he personally finds fulfilling. Zook prompted Millburn by asking, “You may notice that I didn’t ask ‘what do you do?’ in the first question … Can you talk about why people should stop asking ‘what do you do’?” Millburn answered “… Unfortunately, it is often the first thing we ask strangers … On the surface, it seems like a fairly innocent question … But let’s face it, the majority of the answers are boring, soundbites ripostes we have standing by at the ready, prepped for the next dinner party or networking event: I am a director of operations.
I am a regional manager… Whoop-de-doo. Good for you …” Millburn continued, “Sadly, what we’re actually asking when we posit this question is: how do you earn a paycheck? How much money do you make? What is your socioeconomic status … Am I rung above you? Below you? How should I judge you? Are you worth my time?”  Millburn went on to say that instead of beginning a conversation by asking someone what they do for a living, you should instead discuss what you’re passionate about— what fulfills you.
By doing this, you give yourself and the person with whom you’re talking the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation that goes deeper than simply a job title. While Millburn offered sound advice regarding relationships and how to live a more meaningful life, he also pointed to a key part of minimalism that is sometimes overlooked. While minimalism is certainly about decluttering your life to get rid of excess, it’s important to understand that having less also involves making room for more. This is a key point in Millburn’s overall philosophy, and he seeks to emphasize the fact that minimalists are not constantly obsessed with having less for their entire lives.
To replace the tangible things they get rid of, they fill the ‘emptiness’ with intangibles by exploring themselves and understanding themselves better through meaningful conversations with others. This interview demonstrated how you can go about having conversations that are more meaningful in your life. Remember, minimalism is, certainly, about how you can acquire less, but it is also about figuring out how to replace this ‘space’ with meaningful conversations and experiences.
Nicodemus did not suffer from divorce or death in the family; rather, he had been a mentor for people in the corporate world for over a decade. He loves to lead people, so when he was laid off from his corporate job, he took it as an opportunity to make a change in his life. Becoming a proponent of minimalism was ultimately what he decided to do.
On their website, Nicodemus claims to be the more extroverted member of his and Millburn’s duo. Of course, Nicodemus agrees with Millburn and thinks that people could benefit from owning less and filling this void with more meaningful alternatives.
However, his interview on a website known as Delicious Day revealed that he also sees something inherently wrong with the notion of the American Dream. Nicodemus was asked the following question: “How do you think the economy is helping the minimalist movement?” Instead of answering the question, Nicodemus seemed to sidestep it. He stated, “I always tell Josh, ‘People better become minimalists now before they have to.’ I think people are starting to realize that the American Dream is broken”[ 7]. Of course, these words can be considered rather harsh. No one wants to think that the American Dream has recently become a lofty pipedream rather than a reality. The 2008 economic crisis serves as a testament to the fact that having your cake and being able to eat it too can have far-reaching consequences, especially when spending is unsustainable and greedy.
The crisis brought with it the highest rates of unemployment, thousands of foreclosed homes, and evidence that the United States’ banking industry far less responsible than it may have appeared to be twenty or thirty years ago. Nicodemus’ assertion that the American Dream is broken may seem blunt, it also seems to reinforce an idea that can be largely credited to recent events in history.
His statement also revealed something that more broadly represents the young people who now make up a majority of the American working population. Yes, I am referring to millennials.