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.