Americans tend to have a lot of stuff—closets full of shoes, garages cluttered with gear, basements stacked with boxes of who knows what. But for about as long as Americans have been stocking up on the latest gadgets and styles, there's also been a vocal band of dissenters, arguing for the merits of a simpler, less materialist life.
I recently spoke with two members of that band, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who are advocates for what they call "minimalism"—an approach to life that focuses on owning fewer things and prioritizing spiritual and personal growth. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Why don’t we just begin with the basics: Who are you guys and how did you get started down this minimalist path?
Joshua Fields Millburn: By age 27 (I’m 33 now), I was living the American dream. I was the youngest director in my company's 140-year history (a large, regional telecom) and had all the trappings of success: a six-figure salary, a big house in the suburbs with more bedrooms than inhabitants, and all the stuff to fill it. Everyone around me said I was successful, but I was only ostensibly successful. You see, I also had a bunch of things that were hard to see from the outside: My life was filled with stress and anxiety and discontent. And even though I earned good money, I had a ton of debt because I spent even better money—all in the pursuit of the American dream, all in the pursuit of this elusive thing called happiness.