The Minimalists

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The Minimalists
Millburn (left) and Nicodemus speaking in 2014
Millburn (left) and Nicodemus speaking in 2014
Background information
OriginDayton, Ohio, U.S.
GenresMinimalism, simple living, memoir, self-help
OccupationsAuthors, podcasters, filmmakers, public speakers
Websitetheminimalists.com
Members

The Minimalists are American authors, podcasters, filmmakers, and public speakers Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who promote a minimalist lifestyle. They are known for their Netflix documentaries, Minimalism (2016) and the Emmy-nominated Netflix Original Less Is Now (2021); their memoir, Everything That Remains (2014); their New York Times Best Seller, Love People, Use Things (2021); their podcast; and their minimalism blog, which has as many as five million readers according to the Washington Post.[1] GQ estimated the Minimalists have a following of around 20 million people.[2]

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called the duo "dogma-free exemplars of a less-is-more lifestyle that actually sounds sane as they explain it."[3] Owing to the "charm of their buddy-act, the Minimalists have become the [minimalist] movement's American ringleaders," according to New York Magazine.[4] They have, however, been accused of being “elitists” whose message is “aesthetically crafted from a place of privilege.”[5]

Together, Millburn and Nicodemus have co-authored four books: a self-help book, Minimalism (2011); a memoir, Everything That Remains (2014); an essay collection, Essential (2015); and their relationship book, Love People, Use Things, published 13 July 2021 by Celadon (Macmillan Publishers Ltd) in the United States and Canada, and Hachette in the United Kingdom and Australia.[6][7][8][9][10][11] Millburn also published a semi-autobiographical novel about a struggling singer-songwriter, As a Decade Fades, in 2012 (republished by Asymmetrical Press in 2013).[12]

Early life and corporate careers[edit]

Millburn was born June 29, 1981, in Dayton, Ohio. Nicodemus was born October 23, 1981, in Knoxville, Tennessee; his family moved around when he was a child, eventually settling in Ohio when he was eight years old.[13]

Both men grew up near Dayton, Ohio. Millburn's family often lived on food stamps; Nicodemus was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, and his parents separated when he was seven. Both experienced alcohol and drug abuse in their childhood homes. They became close friends as elementary school students.[14][15][16]

By age 28, both Millburn and Nicodemus held managerial positions at a regional telecommunications company. Millburn was the director of operations in charge of 150 retail stores; Nicodemus handled sales and marketing.[17] "I was spending so much time working to buy shit I didn't need," Millburn told the Huffington Post. During this time, Nicodemus used drugs and alcohol, and Millburn was in debt.[18] A reporter for the Birmingham News called them "the embodiment of upwardly mobile, busy, fashionable, unhealthy, wasteful young professionals."[19] "I had everything I ever wanted," Millburn told Time magazine. "But it took getting everything I ever wanted to realize I wasn't happy."[20]

Embracing minimalism[edit]

Millburn's mother unexpectedly died of lung cancer in October 2009. In the same month, his marriage ended. "I got to a point in my life where I didn't even know what was important," he told the Miami New Times.[21] Rather than renting a storage unit, Millburn chose to donate his mother's possessions.[22] He then discovered Colin Wright, a self-proclaimed minimalist who was traveling around the world.[20] Millburn connected with others who described themselves as "minimalists"—Leo Babauta, Courtney Carver, and Joshua Becker, among others—and began to adopt a minimalist lifestyle.[23] He moved into a smaller home and soon persuaded Nicodemus to do the same.[20][19]

"There was this gaping void in my life," Nicodemus told PopSugar. "So, I tried to fill that void the same way many people do: with stuff, lots of stuff."[24] Nicodemus adopted a similar philosophy to Millburn, organizing a "packing party" and disposing of most items he owned in a few days.[25] "I just [unpacked] the things that I needed to use," Nicodemus told the San Jose Mercury News. "After twenty-one days, eighty percent of my stuff was still packed." This realization prompted him to join Millburn as a self-professed minimalist.[26]

Career as the Minimalists[edit]

Millburn and Nicodemus launched their website in 2010.[14][27] They have since published books, launched a podcast, and shot a feature-length documentary about minimalists around the world, Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, which was acquired by Netflix in 2016.[28][29] Represented by the William Morris Endeavor talent agency, they have spoken at Harvard, Apple, and Google, and they have given two TEDx Talks: "A Rich Life with Less"[30] and "The Art of Letting Go."[31]

In 2011, still working corporately, Millburn was asked to craft a plan to close eight retail stores and terminate 41 workers. Millburn chose to resign in protest.[32] Shortly after, Nicodemus was laid off.[33] Later in 2011, they self-published their first book, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life, and went on a 33-city book tour.[15][34]

In 2012, Millburn and Nicodemus left Dayton and moved to Philipsburg, Montana, where they wrote the first draft of their memoir, Everything That Remains.[35] The Boston Globe referred to this experiment as living "like Henry David Thoreau, but with Wi-Fi."[36]

In 2013, they moved to Missoula, Montana and founded a publishing company, Asymmetrical Press, with minimalist Colin Wright.[37] Also in 2013, Nicodemus, Millburn, and Wright went on two speaking tours: March's "Spring into Minimalism Tour" in the United States, and June's "Alberta Mini-Tour" in Calgary and Edmonton.[38][39]

In 2014, the Minimalists published their memoir, Everything That Remains (Asymmetrical). Of the memoir, NPR host Doug Fabrizio said, "If you stripped your life of 'stuff'—the toys, the electronics, the furniture, even the house—what would be left? That's the question at the heart of Everything That Remains, a memoir by the Minimalists. At an existential crossroads, they left behind their careers and compulsive consumption to figure out what really adds value to their lives."[40] To support the book, they went on a ten-month, 119-event bookstore tour.[41][42]

In 2015, they published Essential (Asymmetrical), an essay collection promoted as "the best of the Minimalists." The book included many of their most popular online writings plus some new essays. That spring they were joined by several authors from Asymmetrical Press, as well as the musician Skye Steele, for their "Wordtasting Tour," visiting 42 cities across the western United States and Canada.[43] At the end of the year, they started The Minimalists Podcast, an audio and video show in which they discuss minimalism, decluttering, and simple living.[44]

In 2016, the Minimalists released their first feature-length film, Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, directed by Matt D'Avella. The film features interviews with ABC journalist and bestselling author Dan Harris, sociology professor Juliet Schor, and neuroscientist Sam Harris, among others, and follows Millburn and Nicodemus during their 2014 tour. Before its theatrical release, the Minimalists visited fourteen U.S. and Canadian cities on their "Documentary Tour" to premiere the film in front of live audiences.[45][46] Originally released by Gathr Films on May 24 in roughly 400 theaters in the United States, Canada, and Australia, Minimalism experienced the highest grossing box-office opening weekend of any independent documentary of 2016.[47][48][49] After its theatrical run, the documentary was released by Netflix in 190 countries.[50][51]

In 2017, the Minimalists set out on their 50-city "Less Is Now Tour," presented by Live Nation, across America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.[14] Also in 2017, they moved to Los Angeles, California.[52]

In 2018, Millburn and Nicodemus traveled to the U.S. South with a team of financial experts from Ramsey Solutions for their “Simply Southern Tour,” the theme of which was “money and minimalism.”[53]

In 2019, they started production on their second feature-length film, The Minimalists: Less Is Now, also directed by Matt D'Avella. The documentary was released worldwide by Netflix on January 1, 2021, and features interviews with radio host Dave Ramsey; Greenpeace USA’s executive director, Annie Leonard; pastor and futurist Erwin McManus; child-development expert Denaye Barahona, Ph.D.; and Foundation for Economic Education’s director of entrepreneurial education, T.K. Coleman; as well as dozens of “everyday minimalists.”[54]Less Is Now challenges viewers to live with less stuff,” according to Architectural Digest, which summarized the film as “the story of the Minimalists—the duo of Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn—who lead the viewer through decluttering to make room for ‘life’s most important things,’ which they say aren’t things at all.”[55] In January 2021, The Today Show selected Less Is Now for “Hoda and Jenna’s Documentary of the Month Club.”[56]

In 2020, the Minimalists finished writing their fourth book, Love People, Use Things: Because the Opposite Never Works, a relationship book that was written to “move past simple decluttering [and] show how minimalism makes room to reevaluate and heal the seven essential relationships in our lives.” Love People, Use Things was published on July 13, 2021, by Celadon (Macmillan Publishers Ltd) in the United States and Canada, and Hachette in the United Kingdom and Australia.[7][57][58]

In 2022, their Netflix Original documentary, The Minimalists: Less Is Now, was nominated for a Daytime Emmy award for “Outstanding Directing Team for a Single Camera Daytime Nonfiction Program.”[59] That same year, the Minimalists completed their 20-city Love People, Use Things book tour in North America.[60]

Podcast[edit]

Millburn and Nicodemus released the first episode of The Minimalists Podcast in December 2015. Originally recorded in a conference room at the University of Montana, it has been recorded at the Minimalists' studio in Hollywood, California, since 2018.[61] On the podcast, Millburn and Nicodemus bring a guest into their studio to answer audience questions and to discuss "what it means to live a meaningful life with less." Previous guests include 2020 United States presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg, iCarly star Jennette McCurdy, former megachurch pastor Rob Bell, Momastery founder Glennon Doyle, sex-advice columnist Dan Savage, and MIT scientist Andrew McAfee, among others.[44]

Anti-advertising stance[edit]

The Minimalists refuse to sell advertising on their website or podcast, believing it would be hypocritical to write about minimalism while advertising material products. As a result, their podcast is listener-supported.[62]

They sometimes begin episodes of their podcast with the phrase, "This episode of the Minimalists is brought to you by nobody because advertisements suck."[44] Millburn expanded on this stance in an essay entitled "Can We Have an Honest Conversation About Advertisements?", writing, "I want to live a life that’s congruent with my values, and thus I don’t want money to be the primary driver of my creations."[63]

Philanthropy[edit]

With the support of their followers, the Minimalists contributed to various philanthropic projects throughout the 2010s. During that decade, they built two orphanages, provided relief to the victims of Hurricane Harvey, supported the survivors of the Orlando and Las Vegas mass shootings, funded a high school for a year in Kenya, installed clean-water wells in three countries, constructed an elementary school in Laos, and purchased thousands of mosquito nets to fight malaria in Africa.[64]

In 2020, they raised money to help build Gem City Market, a nonprofit grocery co-op in their hometown, Dayton, Ohio, which has one of the largest food deserts in the United States.[65][66]

In 2022, the Minimalists partnered with Ramsey Education to “teach personal finance to every middle- and high-school student in Dayton.”[67] Their efforts provided the Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum to many schools in Ohio.[68]

Other projects[edit]

Asymmetrical Press[edit]

Millburn and Nicodemus teamed up with Colin Wright in 2013 to found Asymmetrical Press, "a publishing house for the indie at heart." The company has published more than 30 fiction and nonfiction titles for nine authors.[37][69]

Minimalist Meetup Groups[edit]

During their 2014 tour, Millburn and Nicodemus established Minimalist.org, a website with 100 free local meetup groups in eight countries.[70] Groups meet monthly to discuss minimalism, decluttering, careers, finances, relationships, and more.[14][71][72]

Bandit Coffee Co.[edit]

Alongside Sarah and Joshua Weaver, a married couple from the Tampa Bay area, Millburn and Nicodemus opened Bandit Coffee Co., a coffeehouse and cafe in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2016.[73][74] The shop roasts coffee, serves gourmet casual food, and employs more than a dozen people.[75][76]

Minimalism Life[edit]

Millburn and Nicodemus partnered with Minimalissimo magazine and online publication 5 Style in 2016 to create Minimalism Life, a project that curates minimalist design, travel, and well-being in one place. The project's tagline is "live more with less." Its website houses community journal articles, minimalist wallpapers, and a series of letters called Inside Minimalism.[77]

Personal life[edit]

They both live in Los Angeles, California: Millburn with his wife, Rebecca, and their daughter, Ella; Nicodemus with his wife, Mariah.

Bibliography[edit]

Nonfiction[edit]

  1. Minimalism (Asymmetrical), self-help, 2011
  2. Everything That Remains (Asymmetrical), memoir, 2014
  3. Essential (Asymmetrical), essays, 2015
  4. Love People, Use Things (Celadon/Macmillan), relationships, 2021

Fiction[edit]

  1. As a Decade Fades (Asymmetrical), novel, 2012

Filmography[edit]

  1. Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things (Netflix), 2016
  2. The Minimalists: Less Is Now (Netflix), 2021

Critical reception[edit]

The Minimalists have been covered broadly by the media. They have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Forbes, Time, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, and they have been featured on the Today show, CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, Nightline, and many other outlets.[78][79][80][81][15][20][82][14][83][84][85]

Millburn and Nicodemus notoriously greet fans with a hug, often enough that they have been labeled "huggers" by certain media outlets.[52][86][87][20] "The Minimalists are profligate with the hugs," San Antonio Express-News said.[88]

The Chicago Tribune said, "They call themselves 'the minimalists,' but a more apt title might be 'the meaningfulists.'"[89] Slate referred to the Minimalists as "the country's leading evangelists on the virtues of living with less."[90] And the Orlando Sentinel claimed that "Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus—The Minimalists—made minimalism cool."[91]

The Atlantic acknowledged "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, [including] 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."[82]

Criticism and controversy[edit]

Over the years the Minimalists and their movement have been the subject of occasional criticism and controversy. After attending one of the Minimalists' live talks in Cincinnati in 2017, Kyle Chayka, a writer for New York Magazine said the event was "halfway between a TED Talk and a hipster-megachurch sermon—the crowd [was there] for easy answers delivered in familiar patterns...[T]hough, on the surface, their message is more or less positive, there's a tacit pessimism to Millburn and Nicodemus's movement. Rather than trying to change this mindset of austerity (whether through therapy, politics, or protest), they advocate making do with the lack." Chayka also criticizes the Minimalists' "relentless self-promotion" in the same article.[92]

Critiquing the privileged background of the Minimalists in the New Yorker, Jia Tolentino writes, "It is rarely acknowledged, by either the life-hack-minded authors or the proponents of minimalist design, that many people have minimalism forced upon them by circumstances that render impossible a serene, jewel-box lifestyle. Nor do they mention that poverty and trauma can make frivolous possessions seem like a lifeline rather than a burden."[93] Like Tolentino, various critics see "minimalism as a lifestyle that smacks of privilege—a form of conspicuous un-consumption," according to the Star Tribune in Minnesota. "People who are poor have no choice but to get by with less....Indeed, images of curated spaces on Pinterest showing off white bedspreads and sparse furniture suggest that minimalism can become just another version of keeping up with the Joneses."[94]

In a New York Times op-ed, Stephanie Land called into question the class politics of decluttering. "Suddenly, decluttering is everywhere," she wrote. "But minimalism is a virtue only when it's a choice, and it's telling that its fan base is clustered in the well-off middle class. For people who are not so well off, the idea of opting to have even less is not really an option." She then accuses Millburn and Nicodemus's anti-consumerism movement of being "just another form of social shaming."[95]

Jillian Steinhauer, in New Republic, opined that the Minimalists overlook systemic causes of consumerism, writing, "Millburn and Nicodemus's 2016 film Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things combines footage of people storming big-box stores for sales with social scientists talking about how advertising drives us to consume, but the word 'capitalism' is never uttered during its 78 minutes. I caught one mention of 'inequality.' Instead of digging into systemic problems like poverty or exploring ideas of wealth redistribution, the film frames having less as an individual, moral choice with no political strings or implications."[96]

In the Globe and Mail, Joy Pecknold writes, "the market for advice about decluttering is becoming, well, cluttered." Her piece suggests that the problem with minimalism's ethos is "its suggestion of a generic, universal solution," claiming that minimalism has "very little character."[97]

Another Globe and Mail article, "Consumerism Is Good for the Soul," by Margaret Wente, outlines what she perceives as the Minimalists' hypocrisy: "[Millburn] bought a lot of stuff, but it didn't make him happy. So he ditched his job, his house, his car and his wife and moved to a cabin in Montana with his best friend, Ryan, who was also sick and tired of empty material success. 'Less is more,' he says. Now the two have launched a cottage (or cabin) industry advising other people on how to live minimally, which includes a book you can buy for $14.83 on Amazon."[98]

In an article titled "Your 'Minimalist' Lifestyle Is Quasi-Religious Anti-Poor Bullshit," Vice (magazine) condemned the Minimalists as "glowing examples of asceticism-as-solution," ascribing "deeply religious" motives to their movement and noting that they "just happen to be close friends with evangelical legend Rob Bell." The article goes on to claim that "'slow' and 'simple' stuff tends to be considerably more expensive and time-consuming than buying [things at] Walmart or Tim Hortons."[99]

NOW Magazine called The Minimalists: Less Is Now “a cluttered and messy documentary that feels much longer than its running time.” The article compared the Minimalists unfavorably with organizing consultant Marie Kondo, claiming that "Kondo’s revolutionary Tidying Up series (also on Netflix) is more entertaining—and useful.”[100]

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