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The Minimalists travel — and blog — their way to a simpler life

Published April 12, 2014 1:01 am

Books • Bloggers and long-time friends stop in Salt Lake City to promote "Everything That Remains," their second book about living a pared-down life.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus have been best friends since they were "fat little fifth graders," as Millburn says.

Now 32, the pair are driving the country on a 100-city indie-book tour to promote their second book, "Everything That Remains," as well as filming a documentary about the minimal lifestyle.

Their tour bus is a 12-year-old Toyota Corolla — which clicked over to 193,000 miles as they drove outside of Hood River, Ore., during our phone conversation.

In 2010, the pair had branded themselves as The Minimalists, launching a blog and a website, which is expected to attract some 4.5 million page views this year. Along the way, they moved from Ohio to a cabin in Missoula, Mont., where they run an indie publishing company, Asymetrical Press.

Several years ago, the pair separately began embracing more simple lives. In 2009, Millburn started asking himself about his priorities when his mother died and his marriage fell apart in the same month. He was working 70-80 hours a week at a corporate job and making good money, but spending "even better money."

He spent eight months paring down about 90 percent of his possessions, and in 2011, he quit his job to become a writer. "I just sort of looked around at everything that had become my life's focus, everything that I was putting my energy into," he said. "I started off really slowly, because I had to get momentum. I had given so much value to these things, which took value because I had to take care of them. Now, everything I own either serves a purpose or brings me joy."

Nicodemus was nudged to begin paring down his life after he was laid off by his company, which he writes about on the website: "Being laid off from my 6-figure job is one of the best things that ever happened to me." Besides, he had noticed how much happier Millburn was.

On their couch-surfing tour, they've drawn diverse crowds, like the 11-year-old in Albuquerque who brought his grandfather to their reading, or the 83-year-old who brought her great-grandaughter in St. Louis. A CEO attended their event in Atlanta, which was also attended by Occupy movement protesters.

"They're all asking the same questions," Millburn said. "How do I find more contentment or meaning in life? The CEO talked about the anger he felt when the sixth TV in one of his houses blew out. He knew it was irrational, but he wanted to figure out why he had attached such meaning to it."

In Salt Lake City, they'll be introduced by Courtney Carver, whose blog is "Be More With Less," and whose Project 333 — about paring her closet down to 33 items for 3 months — was featured in the March issue of "O" magazine.

In advance of their Utah stopover, the 30th stop on a tour that also includes cities in Canada, England, Ireland and Australia, The Minimalists shared some first steps for anyone interested in living a more minimal life:

Ask yourself: How might your life be better if you owned less stuff?

"The how-to stuff is pretty easy, it's pretty intuitive, but it may be boring," Millburn says. "I'm much more interested in the why-to. Once we have the purpose, the why we want to do this, then we get the leverage." Once you figure out the benefits for you, it's easier to get rid of things you no longer need. For example, Millburn says he's reminded of how he's freed up his time everytime he cleans his entire apartment in 45 minutes.

Get momentum.

Millburn says he gave himself a challenge to get rid of one item a day for 30 days — and was able to beat this goal. Others might be interested in social support as they de-clutter their lives, and thousands of readers have played the minimalism game outlined on their website. Nicodemus wanted faster results, so he threw a packing party. After all of his belongings were packed in boxes, he allowed himself to only unpack the things he needed to use, such as his toothbrush or dishes or work clothes. After three weeks, he began giving away the 80 percent of his stuff that was still in boxes. "It wasn't doing its job, making him happy, like it was supposed to," Millburn said. On their book tour, a woman who lives in Washington DC offered to put up the pair for the night, if they would help her stage her own parking party.

Figure out what's important to you.

Getting stuff out of the way isn't the end result, it's the initial step. Now you'll need to figure out what's truly important in your life. Millburn and Nicodemus prioritized their health, their relationships, cultivating their passions, and then contributing. Borrowing from a time-worn cliche, Millburn said he appreciated the idea of "giving is living," but he didn't understand that lesson emotionally until he started doing it.


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Hitting the jackpot with a simpler life

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who have branded themselves as The Minimalists, will share their message — and read from their second book, "Everything That Remains" — in Salt Lake City.

When • Tuesday, April 15, 7 p.m.

Where • Weller Book Works, 607 Trolley Square, Salt Lake City; free

Info • On their website, theminimalists.com, the pair have published interviews with other kinds of minimalists and bloggers, including 20-something traveler/writer Colin Wright, whose book is "Exile Lifestyle": Joshua Berger, who is a minimalist with a family, and blogs at "Becoming Minimalist;" Leo Babauta, of "ZenHabits.net"; and Salt Lake City's Courtney Carver of "BeMoreWithLess."