Joshua Fields Millburn, who at age 27 became the youngest director of operations at a large telecom company in the Midwest, had been asked to craft a plan to close eight retail stores and terminate 41 workers. But when he handed the report to his boss in early 2011, it included 42 names. At the top of the list he’d written his own.
Two years before, Millburn had watched his mother die and his marriage dissolve in the span of a month. When he looked around at the life he’d built for himself — a six-figure salary, impressive title, and big house full of stuffed closets — he didn’t feel fulfilled. Instead, he felt weighed down by the things he’d accumulated. Working 80 hours a week trapped in a cycle of consumerism had ultimately ruined his relationship and left him with $100,000 of debt.
Then he came across the idea of minimalism, a lifestyle dedicated to clearing the clutter in your life and making room for the things that are truly important to you. Over a period of eight months, Millburn stopped buying things he didn’t need, gave away most of the stuff he had, and downsized to a one-bedroom apartment in Dayton, Ohio.
When his longtime friend and coworker Ryan Nicodemus finally asked, “Why the hell are you so happy lately?” he realized he was onto something. Millburn explained his new lifestyle, and Nicodemus was instantly hooked. Together they launched a website about their journey, TheMinimalists.com, and recently published a book, “Everything That Remains.”
“Once I shed the superfluous things I owned, it led to other parts of my life: my health, relationships, work,” Millburn tells Business Insider. “I had wrapped up my identity in my career and status, but started to realize that it wasn’t in line with my beliefs.”
Since walking away from the corporate world and dedicating himself to his writing, Millburn, now age 32, says he’s paid off all his debt, lost 80 pounds, and moved to a small town in Montana, where he surrounds himself only with things that are functional and bring him joy.
On his website and in talks, Millburn shares his strategies for paring down, and he insists that embracing minimalism doesn’t have to be as dramatic or life altering as his experience. For some, it may be as simple as thinking more carefully about what you buy or how you spend your time. He suggests these three steps for getting started today:
1. Ask yourself how your life might be better if you owned fewer material possessions. "A lot of people might want to declutter their closets," says Millburn. "But without understanding the purpose behind it, they will just get cluttered again."
2. Get rid of one thing each day for a month."This will help you build momentum," he says. At the end of the 30 days, you'll likely end up tossing a lot more than 30 items, since you've devoted that time to really looking.
3. Recruit a friend to help. "The act of decluttering is fairly boring," Millburn says. "If you can have an accountability buddy that’s helping you, it can make it fun." Plus, if you motivate each other, ultimately you both win.