Social Survey: Five questions with 'The Minimalists'

The Social

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus – better known as The Minimalists – stopped by The Social to share the movement that changed their lives with the hosts and the resulting book they wrote, Everything That Remains. We snagged a few extra questions in the green room with them on shock, splurging and whether their minimalism extends to pizza toppings.

Q: We had Arianna Huffington on the show to talk about her book Thrive, which deals with a lot of same themes, though it focuses on prizing well-being in our society's definition of “success.” Are minimalism and the well-being “revolution” related?
Joshua Fields Millburn: I think there's a lot of overlap there. If you were to put the two on a diagram, there would be a huge intersection. What minimalism did for me was allowed me to get the excess stuff out of my life so that I could figure out what was important. The first thing I realized is that I was not focused on my health like I needed to be. At one point, I weighed 80 pounds more than I do now. I wasn't just fat, I felt like crap. There was no well-being there. I was foresaking that so that I could work more hours – I was working 70 to 80 hours a week and I wasn't paying much attention to the well-being side of things. By re-prioritizing our lives, that's what minimalism allows us to do, and that's one of the areas we focus on.
Q: Getting rid of your stuff doesn't automatically make you a minimalist, especially if you just replace it with other stuff. Is minimalism a process of shocking realization or resisting consumer temptation, or is it more personal than that?
Ryan Nicodemus: Certainly, that can be a piece of it. I do think it's personal, though. Each person is going to have a different experience with minimalism. For me, it was shocking. I got to a point in my life where I didn't know what was important. I knew that what I had been living for wasn't making me happy. I felt the opposite. When I entered into minimalism, I did this thing called a “Packing Party.” I packed up all my stuff and then unpacked it day by day as I needed it. I did that for 21 days and at the end of those 21 days, I had 80 per cent of my stuff left in boxes. I did go extreme with it. I sold and donated everything.  
People always ask us “What is minimalism?” What we talk about at is our recipe for minimalism, how we were able to get the clutter out of the way to make room for life's important things. I think it's too often that people get caught in saying what their priorities are, but not actually doing what their priorities are. Minimalism really helped me to re-prioritize. We all intuitively know that our health is important, our relationships are important, doing things for ourselves and not just giving all the time, growing, contributing – we all know that those things are important, but I found myself giving those things a lot of lip service. Minimalism did shock me in a way, but I don't think it has to be a shock to everyone.
Q: Have you become more minimalist in aesthetic taste? By that I mean, are you more likely to buy a neutral t-shirt or a colourful, patterned one?
JFM: I think there's a certain elegance in minimalism, it's the reason you see minimalist architecture or design. It's stripped down to the bones, where the beauty is. I think that applies to the clothes I wear and the furniture in my house. I tend to go with simpler things, but I love to have a splash of colour, I just don't go overboard with it. By getting down to the basics, and having one really colourful thing or one thing that really stands out, that's all you really need because the basics are already there. I don't need my space to be overgrown with decor when I can have one or two things that are really meaninful and look great. 
RN: When I go and buy a piece of clothing or artwork, it's something that I really am going to love. That's the only reason I'm going to buy it, if it's going to bring me joy, or add value or serve a purpose. We certainly don't forsake quality for quantity. I've screwed up before where I've bought something and it broke three months later, and I go, “Man, I should've just spent the extra $20 and it would've lasted me longer!”
Q: Is there an area in which you still splurge?
JFM: I think it depends on how you view “splurge.” I'm like Ryan in that anything I buy now is an investment. I tend to think of splurging as a non-deliberate activity, like, “I'll just get that because I want it!” But I'm a lot more thoughtful and intentional when I buy something. I will spend a lot more on something for quality. We're on a 100-city book tour right now, but Ryan always jokes that we're on a 100-coffee-shop tour. We go out of our way to find great coffee. I'll spend more on things like coffee and even food, if the quality is there, as opposed to just buying something because it's convenient or it's right there. 
RN: Any purchase that I make, I'll decide if it adds value or if it brings me joy, the first thing I think about is whether it'll fit into my budget – can I afford that? If I can, I won't ever buy the lesser of the two just because it's less. If I want to get something, because I don't spend a lot of money on things, I make sure to enjoy it.
JFM: I tend to avoid the sale price. It sounds counterintuitive because you think of minimalism and you think frugal, and it is frugal because I'm consuming less so I'm spending less money, but I'm not seeking the sale. Sure, something might be 40 per cent off if I buy it, but it's 100 per cent off if I don't buy it. I'm happy to pay full price. I tend to call sale price “fool price,” because I think we get tricked into buying these things. Marketing does a great job of creating a solution to a problem that doesn't really exist. We fall for it, all of us do, we see 3,000 marketing messages a day, and none of them are inherently bad, but we're steeped in that and we need to be very conscious about what we're bringing into our lives. I'm happy to pay full price if I feel like I'm really going to get the value.
Q: How minimalist are you in your pizza toppings? What's on your favourite pie?
RN: My favourite pizza has to be the margherita pizza with mozzarella, some spinach, too and a little garlic. Pretty simple. I am not opposed to plenty of pizza toppings, but that's my favourite.
JFM: Goat cheese. As long as there's goat cheese, I'm happy. 
RN: And as long as it's gluten-free!
JFM: Oh, yeah, it has to be gluten-free for me. But I love goat cheese.
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