There's a famous George Carlin routine where the late comic mocks our obsession with stuff — clothing and cars and accessories that we buy in an effort to fit in, to make ourselves feel better, to feed the American nature of consumerism until these items rule our lives.
Now, four years after Carlin's death, the idea of doing more with left continues to grow in popularity — in part, because of Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Calling themselves the Minimalists, the two high school friends quit their well-paying, but unfullfilling, corporate jobs and now preach the benefits of less is more on their blog and through a series of books. For them, this includes less shopping sprees, but also things like maintaining a healthy dietary lifestyle (both are pescatarians) and interacting with a close-knit group of people who motivate them. They also don't like defining people by job titles and will find creative ways to answer the ever-popular question of “What do you do?”
Although the Minimalist guys spend most of their time living quiet, low-stress lives in Montana — “We wanted to go and do the Thoreau thing with Wi-Fi and 'typical writer in a cabin' thing” says Nicodemus — they will be promoting their work December 18 at downtown's the Last Bookstore.
Before they make the trip to Los Angeles, a city whose inhabitants are not necessarily known for sharing similar values, Nicodemus offered some more insight into his and Fields Millburn's message.
What are some of the misconceptions about being a Minimalist? What have some of your critics said?
Usually it's people that I'll run into who want to talk about me having electricity [which I do use]. Most of the time it's silly stuff. It's not that we sit here and say we're 100 percent right. It's more that we appeal to the crowd that doesn't make their lives about accumulating things.
I had an interview this morning … where the guy asked what does a minimalist's life look like and I didn't know what to tell him because it's really not that different from anybody else's life. It's just more deliberate. If you were to walk into my home, you wouldn't think oh something's wrong with this guy. You'd just think he's tidy.
Do you think yours and similar movements have grown in recent years because of our increased awareness of the environment and our carbon footprints?
It certainly seems as if there's a [connection] there, but we don't write a lot of stuff about the environment. I think popularity-wise, it's grown because more and more people are out there who aren't satisfied with falling into the typical culture of consumerism or the culture of consumption. I think we're finding more and more people along those lines.
So it's also people who are frustrated with their jobs?
Certainly. It's not that we advocate for people to just quit their jobs and start blogs. But we do talk about people being happy with what they do. A lot of people just need a different perspective of what they have and that's why they come to our website.
Do you think that the idea of the American Dream is changing, then?
I think the desire for the American Dream is changing. I wouldn't say that the American Dream itself is changing. I'd say that people are looking beyond the three-bedroom, one-and-half baths, three kids. I think people are looking to do more for their community and even outside their community. It's not to say that these people will never have families, it's to say that the people we draw in are in a period of their lives where they're looking beyond that.
You mention in your book that possessions didn't make you happy, but you couldn't stop yourself from buying things and ended up in debt. Now that you've scaled back, what are some of the possessions you can't live without?
I gotta have a car where I live. I live in Montana, so for my situation, going without a car isn't ideal. I definitely need a laptop.
It's not that we're opposed to things … it's more about living deliberately and more about asking what adds value in your life and cutting out the superfluous stuff. There's nothing wrong with buying things at a stretch, but when you make that your sole purpose, that is when it can get overwhelming and that's what you can speak to.
The things we promote through media and the interactions we have with people [are important to us]. Even email — we're certainly not minimal with that. But it's not about deprivation. It's not about cutting back your life for the sake of cutting it out. It's asking does this add value? And it's definitely a value adding thing when we can help people who are stuck and need a different perspective.
In your book, you talk about adhering to strict diets and exercising a lot. And you state that you did not quit your jobs to travel around the world. So, you don't eat interesting foods, you don't take crazy trips and you don't buy lots of fancy toys. What do you do with your spare time? What do you do for fun?
[Laughs] I went to a movie yesterday with my grandmother. I went to the local bar and watched a band last weekend. Just pretty normal stuff. Just hanging out with family. What I try to do with my time is build relationships around me.
It's also the holiday season, which is all about giving people stuff they may or may not need. I have to say that you might be the worst people to draw for a gift exchange. What do people get you for gifts?
[Laughs] If someone absolutely has to get me something, I'd ask them to get me something consumable like coffee or a gift card. If I absolutely don't need anything, I'd just ask that someone would spend some time with me.