In a world of excess, friends Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus decided to see what their life would be like with less. Known as The Minimalists, they have now helped more than 20 million people live more meaningful lives through their website, books, podcast and films.
This is an extract from their new book: Love People, Use Things
Our physical possessions are a physical manifestation of our
internal lives. Take a look around: angst, distress, restlessness –
all visible right there in our homes. The average American household contains more than 300,000 items. With all that stuff you’d think we’d be beside ourselves with joy. Yet study after study shows the opposite: we’re anxious, overwhelmed, and miserable. Unhappier than ever,
we pacify ourselves with even more accumulation, ignoring the real cost of
The price tag dangling from each new widget tells only a fraction of the story. The true cost of a thing extends well beyond its price. There’s the cost of: Storing the thing. Maintaining the thing. Cleaning the thing. Watering the thing. Charging the thing. Accessorizing the thing. Refuelling the thing. Changing the oil in the thing. Replacing batteries in the thing. Fixing the thing. Repainting the thing. Taking care of the thing. Protecting the thing. And, of course, when it’s all said and done, replacing the thing. (Not to mention the emotional and psychological costs of our things, which are even more difficult to quantify.) When you add it all up, the actual cost of owning a thing is immeasurable. So we better choose carefully what things we bring into our lives, because we can’t afford every thing.
Seriously, we can’t afford it – literally and figuratively. But instead of delaying gratification and temporarily going without, we go into debt. The average American carries approximately three credit cards in their wallet. One in ten of us has more than ten active credit cards. And the average credit card debt is more than $16,000.
And yet we keep on spending, consuming, growing. The size of the average new home is rapidly approaching 3,000 square feet.
Even with our bigger houses and our storage units teeming with stuff, we still don’t have enough room to park our cars in our garages, because those garages are brimming with stuff, too. Unused sporting goods. Exercise equipment. Camping gear. Magazines. DVDs. Compact discs. Old clothes and electronics and furniture. Boxes and bins stretch from floor to ceiling, stuffed with discarded things.
And don’t forget about the kids’ toys. Despite making up just over 3 percent of the world’s population of children, American kids consume 40 percent of the world’s toys. Did you know the average child own more than 200 toys, but plays with only 12 of those toys each day? And yet a recent study has shown what we already know: children who have too many toys are more easily distracted and don’t enjoy quality playtime. As adults, we have our own toys that distract us, don’t we? Unquestionably. The popular maxim ‘the things we own end up owning us’ seems truer now than ever.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
There are many things that once brought joy to our lives but no longer serve a purpose in today’s world: rotary phones, floppy disks, disposable cameras, cassette tapes, fax machines, LaserDisc players, pagers, PalmPilots, Chia Pets, the Furby. Most of us cling to our artifacts well into their obsolescence, often out of a pious sense of nostalgia. The hallmarks of the past have a strange way of leaving claw marks on the present.
So we hold a death grip on our VHS collections, our unused flip phones, our oversize Bugle Boy jeans – not repairing or recycling these items, but storing them with the rest of our untouched hoard. As our collections grow, our basements, closets, and attics become purgatories of stuff – overflowing with unemployed miscellanea.
So many of our things have fallen into disuse, and maybe this lack of use
is the final sign that we need to let go. You see, as our needs, desires, and technologies change, so does the world around us. The objects that add value to our lives today may not add value tomorrow, which means we must be willing to let go of everything, even the tools that serve a purpose today. Bcause if we let go, we can find temporary new homes for our neglected belongings and allow them to serve a purpose in someone else’s life instead
of collecting dust in our homegrown mausoleums.
On a long enough timeline, everything becomes obsolete. A hundred years from now the world will be filled with new humans, and they will have long abandoned their USB cables, iPhones, and flat-screen televisions, letting go of
the past to make room for the future. This means we must be careful with the new material possessions we bring into our lives today. And we must be equally careful when those things become obsolete, because a willingness to let go is one of life’s most mature virtues.
How might your life be better with less? The simple life starts with this question.
An extract from Love People, Use Things by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus (Headline Home, £20)