When Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus were in their twenties, both were making six-digit salaries in high-profile corporate jobs and enjoying an indulgent lifestyle. However, despite their wealth and status, both of them they were very unhappy, in fact, they were downright depressed. No matter how many toys, vacations, or other forms of entertainment they threw at their unhappiness, they found themselves sinking more and more into a deep and overwhelming funk.
To make a long story short, (to read more of it, click here), both of them decided to radically simplify their lives. Joshua was the first to give it a shot, and Ryan soon followed suit. To jumpstart Ryan’s new lifestyle, they spent eight hours packing all of his belongings into boxes, and over the course of several weeks took out only the things that he needed. After this trial period, 80% of his belongings were still in boxes! He sold or donated all of these remaining items, and then moved to Montana, where he and his friend Joshua both live simpler but much more fulfilling lives.
Joshua and Ryan have dedicated themselves to helping others live more simply and intensely by living minimalism, a lifestyle in which one owns the least amount of things possible, accepting only those that will truly enrich one’s life. They have written a fantastic book, The Minimalists, in which they share their story and lay out the steps to living minimally and happily. I highly recommend it.
Anyone Can be a Minimalist
Joshua and Ryan are part of a growing movement of minimalists, among whom are writers such as Colin Wright (a full-time traveler and writer) and Joshua Becker (a husband and father of two whose entire family has embraced minimalism). These and many others have realized that the life proposed by our consumeristic culture is not all that it is hyped up to be, and that happiness is actually found by living simply.
One of the things that they are quick to point out is that minimalism is lived according to each person’s situation in life and does not require living as a virtual monk. More than anything, it is a simplification of one’s own life that is done thoughtfully and calmly. A minimalist does not necessarily limit himself to the bare necessities of survival, but rather chooses to limit his possessions to those things that truly add to his quality of life.
My Christian Minimalism
As a seminarian en route to the Catholic priesthood, I have already embraced a Christian style of minimalism by committing myself to the service of others and by accepting the discipline of celibacy. Although minimalism is not connected with any particular religion, I have been highly impressed by how spiritually it actually is. It is proof that no matter one’s creed or lack thereof, the human heart still yearns for happiness that cannot be provided for with material goods.
Minimalism is highly compatible with Christianity. One need only read this paragraph from Pope Francis’ recent encyclical to see this:
Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession of consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more.” A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfilment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures. – #222, Praise be to You (emphasis added)
In this paragraph, Pope Francis touches on a theme that resonates with many people of our day, both Christian and non-Christian, who long for a life free from “the obsession of consumption.”
Give it a Shot!
Speaking from personal experience, I can say that the lifestyle that the Pope proposes (which is very similar to Joshua and Ryan’s minimalist lifestyle) brings nothing but peace. If you are looking for a way to slow down your life and live it more intensely, I highly suggest that you put these two items on your summer reading list: The Minimalists and Pope Francis’ encyclical Praise be to You, #222 – 227.
Living as a minimalist does not necessarily mean selling your house and living in the woods. It just means asking yourself a simple question before every new purchase or commitment that you make: “Will this really enrich my life, or will it distract me more?”
For more thoughts on living simply and intensely, check out my post Five Steps to Peace.