“Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.”
It is a motto coined by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who are collectively known as The Minimalists.
The duo, who are based in California, have inspired millions around the world with their lifestyle – they have forgone high-flying corporate careers with six-figure salaries in favour of downsizing and living a more conscious and happier life.
There have been many incarnations of minimalism, from the extremes of those who literally keep a cap on the number of possessions they can own, like technology mogul Andrew Hyde who claims to own only 15 items, to people like Japan’s Marie Kondo, who encourages people to de-clutter and surround themselves with items that bring them joy.
The Minimalists, which formed in 2010 when the long-time friends decided to take their leap of faith into counter-culture, are preparing to connect with Australian audiences as they bring their Less is Now tour to Brisbane Showgrounds on March 11 before heading off to Perth, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne.
Speaking to My Weekly Preview from California, Mr Fields Millburn says the average American household has 300,000 items in it and after his first visit to Australia in 2014, he thinks we are quickly catching up on the consumerism front.
In fact, the Australian Retailers Association predicted consumers nationwide would spend $50 billion in retail stores from November 15 to December 24, 2017 and Roy Morgan Research showed the biggest growing retail category according to spend was electrical goods, with a 9.49 per cent year-on-year increase as households scramble to get their hands on the latest gadgets.
Mr Fields Millburn says although Australians are big consumers, the minimalist message is resonating with more people per capita here than anywhere else in the world.
The Minimalists’ 2014 tour ended with events in Sydney and Melbourne and they ended up attracting the largest audiences of any of the 100 cities and 119 events they had visited that year. Their podcast has also been in the top 100 on Australian playlists for more than 500 days.
“I think part of that is because the American dream of the fancy house, 2.5 kids and 1.45 pets and all of the luxury items you can have in the home has permeated your borders. But we are learning that the American dream is a bit flawed and it’s not a one-size-fits-all template, so maybe you don’t want to emulate it,” he says.
Mr Fields Millburn owns 288 things and one of them is the California home he shares with his wife and four-year-old daughter.
He doesn’t make a habit of counting his items, but it’s a question he gets asked regularly. What he can do is testify that every single one of those items serves a purpose and none of them is in his home ‘just because’.
“I want to own things that are appropriate for my life, and that’s why I don’t own just 15 things,” he says. “I like having a coffee table, I like having a vase to put flowers in, but everything we do own serves a purpose and brings me joy.
“The truth is, many of the things I own augment my experience of life, but when I got rid of the stuff that didn’t matter, I realised that they had been getting in the way and had been keeping me from pursuing what a meaningful life is, so I can now make room for what is important.”
The Minimalists have different backgrounds, but for Mr Fields Millburn, his move towards a minimalist lifestyle began after his mother passed away from lung cancer and his first marriage broke down in the same year.
When he flew to Florida to pack up his mother’s home, he found 65 years’ worth of accumulated possessions.
“I already had a big house full of stuff, so I was going to rent a storage locker for her things. I was prepared to spend $120 a month in perpetuity to keep her things just in case,” he tells My Weekly Preview.
“There were stacks of old boxes and I found four that had my elementary school paperwork in it and when I went through it, all these memories came rushing back. I wondered why she was holding onto these things, then I realised she was holding onto a piece of me. Only, these boxes had obviously been sealed up for two decades, so she hadn’t been accessing the memories in those boxes.
“It made me realise that our memories aren’t in our things, they are in us. It was a reset moment for me and I realised I had been focused on the wrong stuff – material things.”
Realising that he was relocating those boxed memories into a “bigger box with a padlock on it”, Mr Fields Millburn decided to select a handful of things from his mother’s home and sell or donate the rest.
“I have got much more from those things over time than I would have from keeping the hundreds of items,” he says.
Mr Fields Millburn says once he started to downsize his lifestyle, his stress levels decreased, and he began to enjoy a happier life by spending time and money having experiences and going on adventures with the people he cared about.
Co-authoring the book Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life was a life-changing moment for Mr Fields Millburn and Mr Nicodemus and the release of Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things on Netflix in December 2016 made them the poster boys of the minimalist movement.
Mr Fields Millburn says they don’t have a “grandiose vision of changing the world”.
“What we do want is to be able to help people by sharing a recipe that has worked well for me and Ryan, and they can squeeze out a few ingredients and apply them to their own lives,” he says.
“It starts with each individual person choosing to live more deliberately and being more selective about the things they surround themselves with. You don’t even have to call yourself a minimalist. In fact, when you walk into my home, you wouldn’t think ‘Oh my God, this guy’s a minimalist’, you would just think ‘he’s pretty tidy’.
The Minimalists are now working on another documentary, Less is Now, which will focus on the 45-minute talk they have taken around the world as well as tell the duo’s backgrounds and how they were inspired to transform their lifestyles to show their pre- and post-minimalist lives.
Minimalism doesn’t mean you can’t have nice things
Caloundra mother-of-two Carly Willoughby-Rolls had a fairly simple upbringing, but once she found independence and a high-paying job in her twenties, she made the most of her disposable income.
“I bought all of the best brands, which is what everyone did before fast fashion arrived… I was getting into the best nightclubs and it all relied on looking good, buying the right clothes and shopping in the right places, which got you connected to the right people,” she says.
“When I saved up for my first house, I filled up every room with furniture and other things. But the crux for me came when I got pregnant and started to settle down and I realised I had a house full of stuff I really didn’t need anymore.”
Ms Willoughby-Rolls says stepping back from being career-driven six years ago brought a new perspective to her life and she started learning “how to make house” and was immediately drawn into the expansive world of baby products. It was while scrolling through blogs about being a stay-at-home mum that she stumbled on a blog post about minimalism and dismissed it at first.“I still loved shopping and the finer things in life, so I decided it was not for me,” she admits.
“But then I started to read about how becoming minimalists and consuming and buying less meant people were able to buy better-quality things that they did need and obviously that appealed to my reforming shopaholic, former designer self.”
Ms Willoughby-Rolls says she can now walk through a department store without spending a cent on a number of products if it means she can later walk into a designer store and buy one high-quality item.
She took a further step in her transition to a minimalist lifestyle when she came across Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and began to further “de-clutter and de-own”.
She started sharing her lifestyle on social media and found people were asking her how to begin their foray into minimalism. It was then that Minimalista was born.
“The process of de-owning and learning to live with less was really a huge mindshift, but it means I have less cleaning and organising to do, so I have more time to spend with the family and my friends and enjoy the Sunshine Coast lifestyle, because I am not worried about accumulating things and working so hard to earn money only to be in debt after buying more things.”
Ms Willoughby-Rolls admits it can be an extra challenge for families to adopt a minimalist lifestyle because children are already expert consumers thanks to the amount of advertising they are exposed to from birth. But she says it is simply a matter of being on the same page as your partner, or any other adults in the house, and setting the example for children to follow.
And she says minimalism is not an “all or nothing” lifestyle.
“It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process and every person’s goal is different,” she says. “It comes back to the definition of minimalism, which for me is living more consciously and intentionally. Every cent you spend has come from you giving up part of your life to earn it, so it’s about becoming conscious of that cycle and who we are giving our money to.”
When all you own fits in a suitcase
Coolum filmmaker Peter John hasn’t had a fixed place of residence for two years, and he couldn’t be happier.
The 37-year-old underwent a huge lifestyle shift when he moved from Melbourne to the Coast six years ago. He downsized his possessions so he could fit everything into his Troopcarrier while making the journey north and he has been progressively shedding possessions ever since.
With his business, Epik Films, attracting clients from around the globe, Mr John spends as much as nine months of the year abroad or interstate, so he decided two years ago he would no longer rent and downsized even further, to literally the contents of one suitcase and a backpack for his filming gear.
“Technology has revolutionised what I do and I realised I could do my job anywhere if I had a bit of WiFi and some power,” he says. “I can go anywhere, anytime without having to go back home and pick stuff up or drop stuff off.
Mr John lives in hotels or rented homes when he is on location and stays with friends when he is home on the Coast. “When life is simpler, you get to enjoy the time you have in the present.”
Where to start?
• Take small steps – nobody can clear out 60 per cent of their household in one fell swoop. Start with one drawer or cupboard at a time until you build momentum.
• Scan all of your photos and store them in the cloud. This way you will declutter photo albums and safeguard your photos from flood or fire.
• Use the six-month rule. If you haven’t used it in the past six months and don’t plan to use it for the next six months, consider selling or donating it.
• When preparing for a minimalist Christmas, consider the saying, ‘One thing they want, one thing they need, one thing they’ll wear, one thing they’ll read.’
• When it comes to buying new toys for the kids, limit bringing new things into the house to birthdays and Christmas.