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A Rich Life With Less Stuff by The Minimalists (Full Transcript)

The Minimalists, (Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus) on A Rich Life With Less Stuff at TEDxWhitefish…

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: MP3 – A rich life with less stuff by The Minimalists at TEDxWhitefish


Ryan Nicodemus: My name is Ryan Nicodemus and this is Joshua Fields Millburn, and the two of us run a website called The Minimalists.com and today we want to talk to you about what it means to be part of a community. But first, I want to share a story with you about how I became rich.

Imagine your life a year from now. Two years from now. Five years from now. What’s it going to look like? Imagine a life with less. Less stuff, less clutter. Less stress and debt and discontent. A life with fewer distractions.

You’re joking right now, right? Dude we’re trying to give a talk. Sorry about that.

Now imagine a life with more. More time, more meaningful relationships. More growth and contribution. A life of passion unencumbered by the trappings of the chaotic world around you.

Well, what you’re imagining is an intentional life. It’s not a perfect life, it’s not even an easy life, but a simple one. What you’re imagining is a rich life. The kind of rich that has nothing to do with wealth. You know, I used to think rich was earning $50,000 a year. Then when I started climbing the corporate ladder in my 20’s I quickly began earning $50,000, but I didn’t feel rich. So I tried to adjust for inflation. Maybe $70,000 a year was rich. Maybe $90,000, maybe six figures or maybe owning a bunch of stuff. Maybe that was rich.

Well, whatever rich was, I knew that once I got there, I would finally be happy. So as I made more money I spent more money all in the pursuit of the American Dream. All in the pursuit of happiness. But the closer I got, the farther away happiness was.

Five years ago, my entire life was different from what it is today. Radically different. I had everything I ever wanted. I had everything I was supposed to have. I had an impressive job title with a respectable corporation, a successful career managing hundreds of employees. I earned a six figure income. I bought a fancy new car every couple of years. I owned a huge three bedroom condo, it even had two living rooms. I have no idea why a single guy needs two living rooms. I was living the American Dream.

Everyone around me said I was successful, but I was only ostensibly successful. You see I also had a bunch of things that were hard to see from the outside. Even though I earned a lot of money, I had heaps of debt. But chasing the American Dream, it cost me a lot more than money. My life was filled with stress, anxiety, and discontent. I was miserable. I may have looked successful, but I certainly didn’t feel successful.

And I got to a point in my life where I didn’t know what was important anymore, but one thing was clear, there was this gaping void in my life. So I tried to fill that void the same way many people do, with stuff, lots of stuff. I was filling the void with consumer purchases, I bought new cars and electronics and closets full of expensive clothes. I bought furniture and expensive home decorations and I always made sure to have all the latest gadgets.

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Oh, and when I didn’t have enough cash in the bank I paid for expensive meals, rounds of drinks, and frivolous vacations with credit cards. I was spending money faster than I earned it, attempting to buy my way to happiness and I thought I’d get there one day, eventually. I mean, happiness had to be somewhere just around the corner right? But the stuff didn’t fill the void, it widened it. And because I didn’t know what was important, I continued to fill the void with stuff. Going further into debt, working hard to buy things that weren’t making me happy.

This went on for years, a terrible cycle. Lather, rinse, repeat. By my late 20’s my life on the outside looked great, but on the inside I was a wreck. I was several years divorced, I was unhealthy. I was stuck. I drank, a lot. I did drugs a lot. I used as many pacifiers as I could.  And I continued to work 60, 70, sometimes 80 hours a week and I forsook some of the most important aspects of my life.

I barely ever thought about my health, my relationships, my passions, and worst of all I felt stagnant. I certainly wasn’t contributing to others and I wasn’t growing. My life lacked meaning, purpose, passion. If you would have asked me what I was passionate about I would have looked at you like a deer in headlights. “What am I passionate about?” I had no idea. I was living paycheck to paycheck. Living for a paycheck. Living for stuff. Living for a career that I didn’t love, but I wasn’t really living at all.

I was depressed. Then, as I was approaching my 30’s I noticed something different about my best friend of 20 something years. Josh seemed happy for the first time in a really long time, like truly happy, ecstatic, but I didn’t understand why. We worked side by side at the same corporation throughout our 20’s, both climbing the ranks, and he had been just as miserable as me.

Something had to have changed. To boot, he had just gone through two of the most difficult events of his life. His mother had just passed away and his marriage ended, both in the same month. He wasn’t supposed to be happy. He certainly wasn’t supposed to be happier than me. So I did what any best friend would do, I took Josh out to lunch. I sat him down, and I asked him a question. “Why the hell are you so happy?”

He spent the next 20 minutes telling me about something called minimalism. He talked about how he spent the last few months simplifying his life, getting the clutter out of the way, to make room for what was truly important. And then he introduced me to an entire community of people who had done the same thing. He introduced me to a guy named Colin Wright a 24 year old entrepreneur who travels to a new country every four months carrying with him everything that he owns.

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Then there was Joshua Becker. A 36 year old husband and father of two with a full time job and a car and a house in suburban Vermont. And then he showed me Courtney Carver, a 40 year old wife and mother to a teenage daughter in Salt Lake City. And there was Leo Babauta a 38 year old husband and father of six in San Francisco.

Although all these people were living considerably different lives, people from different backgrounds with children and families and different work situations, they all shared at least two things in common:

First, they were living deliberate, meaningful lives. They were passionate and purpose driven. They seemed richer than any of the so-called rich guys I worked with in the corporate world.

And second, they attributed their meaningful lives to this thing called minimalism.

So me being the problem solving guy that I am, I decided to become a minimalist right there on the spot. I looked up at Josh, I excitedly declared “All right man, I’m going to do it, I’m in, I’m going to be a minmalist! Now what?” You see I didn’t want to spend months paring down items like he had, that was great for him, but I wanted faster results.

So we came up with this idea of a packing party. We decided to pack all of my belongings as if I were moving. And then I would unpack only the items I needed over the next three weeks. Josh literally helped me box up everything. My clothes, my kitchenware, my towels, my TV’s, my electronics, my framed photographs and paintings, my toiletries, even my furniture. Everything.

After nine hours, and a couple of pizza deliveries, everything was packed. So there Josh and I were, sitting in my second living room. Feeling exhausted. Staring at boxes stacked half way to my 12 foot ceiling. My condo was empty and everything smelled like cardboard. Everything I owned, everything single thing I had worked hard for over the last decade was sitting there in that room. Just boxes, stacked on top of boxes, stacked on top of boxes.

Now each box was labeled. So I’d know where to go when I needed a particular item. Labels like “living room” “junk drawer #1” “kitchenware” “bedroom closet” “junk drawer #9”. So forth and so on. I spent the next 21 days unpacking only the items I needed. My toothbrush, my bed and bedsheets. The furniture I actually used. Some kitchenware, a toolset. Just the things that added value to my life. After three weeks 80% of my stuff was still sitting in those boxes. Just sitting there, unaccessed.

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All those things that were supposed to make me happy, they weren’t doing their job. So I decided to donate and sell all of it. You know what? I started to feel rich for the first time. I started to feel rich once I got everything out of the way and made room for everything that remains.

A month later, my entire perspective had changed. And then I thought to myself, maybe some people might find value in my story, in our story.

Joshua Fields Millburn: So Ryan and I did I guess what anyone would do. We started a blog. We called it The Minimalists. That was three years ago. Then something amazing happened. 52 people visited our website in the first month. 52! I realize that might sound unremarkable at first, but that meant that our story was resonating with dozens of people. And then other amazing things started happening. 52 readers turned into 500. 500 became 5,000. Now, more than 2 million people a year read our words.

It turns out that when you add value to people’s lives, they’re pretty eager to share the message with their friends and their family to add value to their lives. Adding value is a basic human instinct. In fact, that’s why we’re here today. A couple years ago, Ryan and I moved from Ohio to Montana and what we discovered here was an entire community of people. People who weren’t traditionally wealthy, but who were rich in a different way. We discovered so many people who were willing to contribute beyond themselves and that’s what makes a real community. Contribution.

And so, we’d like to encourage everyone to take a look at your day-to-day lives. Take a look at whatever eats up the majority of your time. Is it checking email or Facebook? Or watching TV? Is it shopping online or at retail stores? Is it working hard for a paycheck to buy stuff you don’t need? Things that won’t make you happy.

Now it’s not that we think that there’s anything inherently wrong with material possessions or working a 9 to 5. There’s not — we all need some stuff. We all have to pay the bills, right? It’s just that when we put those things first we tend to lose sight of our real priorities. We lose sight of life’s purpose. So maybe getting some of the excess stuff out of the way, clearing the clutter from our lives can help us all focus on everything that remains. Things like health, relationships, growth, contribution, community. Thank you.