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TMCNet:  Paring down, looking up: Minimalists explain how reassessing stuff improves how we live

[January 07, 2013]

Paring down, looking up: Minimalists explain how reassessing stuff improves how we live

Jan 07, 2013 (Chicago Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune News Service via COMTEX) -- They call themselves "the minimalists," but a more apt title might be "the meaningfulists." Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who chucked their corporate jobs and six-figure salaries in favor of simpler yet richer lives, don't preach about eliminating all but six items from your wardrobe or squeezing your family into a 300-square-foot home. They're not above smartphones or ordering an overpriced mango bubble tea.


Theirs is a more holistic minimalism that challenges people to weed out the superfluous and spend more time on what's important, to look critically at their health, relationships, careers and stuff, and ask: What value does this cupcake/happy hour/promotion/new pair of shoes really add to my life "It isn't about depriving ourselves," Nicodemus said. "It's about living more intentionally." The goal here, the one for which most us strive, is happiness. Fields Millburn and Nicodemus, who greet every new acquaintance with a warm hug, believe they've found it, or at least are hot on its trail. The childhood friends from Ohio, both 31, write thoughtful essays about their transformations at theminimalists.com, and in 2011 they self-published the book, "Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life" (Asymmetrical Press).

The friends, both former telecom professionals, spent their 20s chasing the conventional trappings of success _ high salaries, suburban homes, nice cars, exotic vacations _ but were left feeling empty. To fill that void they would work harder so they could earn more so they could achieve the freedom and security that eluded them.

Only after Fields Millburn's mom died, and suddenly life felt short and precious, did the friends resolve to yank themselves off the hamster wheel. They made a list of all the "anchors" holding them back _ everything from unhealthy relationships to debt to cable bills _ and started eliminating them so they could focus on the pursuits and people each felt most passionate about.

For Nicodemus, that meant holding a "packing party" in his 2,000-square-foot condo. He packed everything as if he were moving, and over the next three weeks unpacked only those things he needed. At the end, 80 percent of his stuff remained in boxes, all of which he donated, sold or trashed.

For Fields Millburn, who struggled to find the momentum to begin, it helped to tackle the most difficult things first. He confronted his unhappy marriage and saw a counselor with his wife in hopes of repairing the relationship. The couple mutually decided to split up. He also realized he couldn't hold onto his mother by storing all of her possessions, so he donated them instead, and took photos of the most sentimental items to turn to when he needed comfort.

Slowly, each man moved out of his home and into a cheaper apartment. Nicodemus traded in his car for an older model, Fields Millburn scrapped TV, and they both eventually quit their jobs to pursue interests in writing and mentoring. Those are moves many people supporting families can't afford, but Nicodemus and Fields Millburn believe that anybody can create his or her own style of minimalism _ even if that means cleaning out the hall closet.

"We are stuck in a culture of mass consumption," Nicodemus said. "This was a way for me to get back control." Overcoming the emotional attachment people develop for things continues to be challenging. Nicodemus said the hardest possessions to let go were five old BlackBerrys he kept around "just in case." And he had to catch himself and resist the impulse to upgrade when the iPhone 5 came out.

Now indulging the ultimate minimalist fantasy and living temporarily in a cabin in Montana, the friends say they feel more in control of their lives than ever before, because their identities are not defined by income, status or stuff.

"I make less money now than I did when I was 19," Fields Millburn said, "and I've never felt more happy and secure." ___ (c)2013 Chicago Tribune Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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