Simplicity in Action: Joshua Millburn

Editor’s Note: This is a post in the series, Simplicity in Action. If you’d like to submit your story of how simplicity has worked in your life, please read more here. You can write about anything from decluttering a junk drawer to simplifying your diet. Let your small and big changes inspire others.


I had it all figured out. At least that’s what everyone told me.

By age 28 I had achieved everything I was supposed to achieve, everything that was supposed to make me happy: my business card showcased an impressive job title; my paycheck touted a six figure salary; my garage bore two—yes two—luxury cars; my large, suburban home contained more bedrooms than inhabitants; and my basement and spare bedrooms brimmed with all the trappings of our consumer culture. What’s worse, I didn’t even know what was important anymore.

Then toward the end of 2009, my mother died and my marriage ended within the same month.

I looked around, peering at my ostensible success, and I knew I wasn’t happy. I was forced to look at everything I had supposedly accomplished, and ask myself, “Is this what you’ve been waiting for your entire life?”

It clearly wasn’t.

You see, amidst the accumulation I had forsaken the most important areas of my life. I was in debt (massive debt from drunken spending). I was overweight (not only was I fat, but I felt like crap). My closest relationships were crumbling all around me (I hadn’t dedicated the time necessary foster meaningful relationships). My passion for writing was something I hadn’t pursued in years because, well, I just didn’t have the time (I had been working 70–80 hours a week at that “impressive” job, and who has time to write silly little words on a page when you’re working that much).

Because I forsook these areas of my life, I wasn’t growing, and because I wasn’t growing, I wasn’t contributing beyond myself (if you’re not growing, you don’t have much of yourself to give to others). And so I felt dead inside. I knew things needed to change, but what? And how?

And then, as my life was spiraling downward in ever-diminishing circles, I discovered this lifestyle called “minimalism” (via Twitter of all places). It was a beacon in the night. I lingered curiously on the limbic portions of its perimeter, scouring feverishly through internet page after internet page looking for more information and guidance and enlightenment, watching and learning and attempting to understand what this whole “simple living” thing was all about.

Through months of research I traveled farther and farther down the rabbit hole, and I discovered all different types of “minimalists”—from suburban families and married couples to city folks and young people who traveled the world—who all shared a few important commonalities: they were happy and passionate and free. I, too, yearned for this happy, passionate freedom they enjoyed.

Eventually I embraced a simpler life; I embraced minimalism as a way of life and discovered that I too could be happy, but it wasn’t through owning more stuff; it wasn’t through accumulation. I took back control of my life so I could focus on whatʼs important, so I could focus on life’s deeper meaning, so I could focus on finding true and lasting happiness.

Happiness, as far as I’m concerned, is achieved through living a meaningful life—a life that is filled with passion and freedom, a life in which we grow as individuals and contribute to other people in meaningful ways. Growth and contribution, these are the bedrocks of happiness. Not stuff.

Joshua Fields Millburn and his co-author Ryan Nicodemus write essays about living a meaningful life with less stuff at The Minimalists. Follow him on Twitter.


  1. says

    I’m sorry that you had to go through that rough patch to get where you are today. Happily you found that having less is more. We also traveled down the rabbit hole towards minimalism. We ended up selling our house and renting a smaller place closer to work. In addition to getting rid of stuff, we have also freed up time and money. I bet your journey has done the same for you. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. says


    I am sorry this all happened to you, but if it didn’t, I would never have bought your book, read your essays, or followed your blog. I would not have begun to write my own story either (after all, I fell on my face just about as much as you). Thank you for all you do for all of us.

  3. says

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, Joshua. I think that by sharing stories others can see the possibilities in their own life.

    This line really resonated wtih me: if you’re not growing, you don’t have much of yourself to give to others

    I was there once – about five years back. Working, couching, working, couching. Since my husband and I decided to take back our lives, we are experiencing happiness and growth we never could have imagined. Growth has been the key.

  4. says

    Thanks for sharing a story that I find is becoming way too common in our world. Too many people fortunately are discovering that they are not living the life that they want and are correcting their path. The good thing is that we have so many resources online that we can refer to, when we feel that we are the only ones trying to live a different life. Sometimes living the different path can be lonely and unforgiving.

  5. says

    Thanks for sharing Joshua. I can certainly relate to your story, and, unfortunately, the desire to feel better by living in the consumer culture (and doing so with some drunken spending). Stories like yours are very motivation and part of the reason that I am starting to move in the direction of a simpler and happier life. Thanks.

  6. says

    Joshua, at least you were able to figure out what was really important to you while still young in life. So many people do not realize that they were misguided until it is too late. Minimalism and simplicity create freedom.


  7. says

    It seems to always be in the falling apart that we find ourselves. Knowing that, I’m sometimes preemptively sad for my little brother, who hasn’t quite fallen apart yet.