Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
Live a Meaningful Life
By Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
June 2017, ISBN: 9780733639081, RRP A$22.99
Though it always feels like working against the natural tide of entropy, something in me wants simplicity, order, white walls, and no clutter. Clearly I’m not the only one. Minimalism as a philosophy of living is on the rise, and Milburn and Nicodemus’ book, which has rapidly become a worldwide bestseller, practises what it preaches and presents minimalism in a simple, minimalist way. The key premise of Minimalism is that the way in which society treats extrinsic rewards like money, possessions, and status as primary is flawed, driven by commercial interests that do not serve the average person. Millburn and Nicodemus used their own discontent as a springboard to identifying the things that were ‘anchoring’ them or holding them back from finding meaning in their lives. This included the big mortgage payments that came with the expensive houses, unhealthy relationships, car payments, debts, continual spending and the high pressure careers with long hours that were required to keep the cycle going. Minimalism is all about encouraging people to reclaim their time and meaning by getting rid of excess stuff and focusing on what’s important. It’s not terribly different from most self-help philosophies but the nice thing about Minimalism is that it’s simple, actionable, and can be done slowly and incrementally – with little daily actions combined with a holistic approach that’s more about living well than about giving away stuff (though the latter leads to the former).
The book is attractively presented in hardcover, thin and easily portable. Millburn and Nicodemus write in easy prose that covers a reasonable amount of ground without appearing dense. The book is divided into five sections, aligned with the author’s five key values. They include Health, Relationships, Passions, Growth, and Contribution. Though each value is “the most important”, the ordering does somewhat align with the order in which the authors suggest you tackle change. Health is primary because without health you won’t have the energy to make any other changes.
Everything in Minimalism is common sense: eat well and lightly, sleep enough, get daily exercise and don’t waste your energy on relationships that don’t serve you. There’s nothing faddish here, nor is there anything that most people don’t know, however, parcelled into an overall journey towards living better that involves simplifying, it can be pretty effective. The concluding idea of cultivating a passion is not simple, but Millburn and Nicodemus get to the heart of it pretty quickly:
Once you acknowledge your vocation is who you are, it’s extraordinarily difficult to do something else. This is one of the reasons people stay in the same industry when they change jobs…People gt so wrapped up in their vocation as their identity that it’s hard for them to realize they are so much more—they are beautiful in so many ways. (79)
Despite the title, there’s not a tremendous amount of information about Minimalism as a philosophy, nor are there chapters on how to tidy your cupboards, fold your shirts, or reduce your clothing cupboard to a certain number of monotone items (though there are plenty of other guides or online information to assist with that). Mostly the book focuses on the notions that underpin Minimalism: that of focusing your time, money, and energy only on the things that matter and of letting the rest go. The book is not prescriptive (though there are plenty of suggestions). Instead it uses Millburn and Nicodemus’ anecdotal examples to provide a sample 21 day journey to “strip away the superfluous so we can focus on what’s important”. These aren’t hard rules. Instead they are tips for small changes you can make on the road to the kind of freedom that comes with owning and owing little except your finances, your time, and your life. It’s an enticing prospect, even if every advertiser, and most of the people around you, are pushing for the opposite.