Book review: ‘Everything that Remains,’ by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
September 11, 2016
You are a rare person if, at some point in your life, you haven't looked in your closet and contemplated throwing it all away. Or perhaps you have gazed longingly at photos of those tiny houses that are all the rage and imagined yourself happily ensconced within the minuscule parameters of one with only your dog for company, dreaming of a life as uncluttered as your new mini stoop.
For most well-intentioned people, one donated bag of clothes is as far as any organizational or downsizing planning goes. For authors and bloggers Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, though, they did not stop at simply purging items from their sock drawers; they chose to attach the notion of minimalism to their entire daily routines, and in doing so, change their lives for the better.
Millburn was the driving force behind the metamorphosis undertaken by the two friends, and he shares the ups and downs of the fascinating and inspiring process in their collaborative memoir, "Everything that Remains."
A young man who had escaped a challenging and dysfunctional childhood of poverty, Millburn jumped into adulthood with both feet, getting his first job as soon as he turned 18 and could leave home, convinced that earning as much money as possible — as quickly as possible — was the key to being happy. He eagerly put himself on the corporate treadmill, making money at a healthy pace and spending it even more quickly.
It took the death of his mother and being confronted with her household of stuff to prompt him to ponder the point of it all. The death of a loved one can be transformative, akin to tectonic plates shifting, and the uncomfortable new tilt to Millburn's life forced him to step back and take a real look at the choices he had embraced from such a young age. He saw that his office was populated with miserable people in ill-health, all of whom seemed locked into a "Groundhog Day" cycle of endless meetings and spreadsheets.
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Adding fodder to the fire of his discontent, shortly after the jarring death of his mother, his marriage ended and he found himself feeling empty. All the possessions he had acquired so feverishly after escaping the poverty of his childhood had done nothing to truly make his life richer.
The lure of minimalism
It was a random tweet about minimalism that caught his eye, and the further he researched and pondered the concept, the more deeply he felt compelled to immerse himself. In a society that is more concerned with answering the question, "what do you do?" instead of "what do you love to do?" choosing to live a deliberate life pursuing a passion can make one feel like a salmon swimming upstream.
Having spent his adulthood focused on the acquisition of money and stuff, Millburn faced some real questions, namely determining what he really felt passionate about, which became his first step in living deliberately. When he really searched within, Millburn determined that writing was what he loved most, and he resolved to prioritize, which meant first dealing with the epic challenge of making space for it in the clutter of his life.
Of course, it is possible to still be discontented and unhappy even after purging, if the reason behind of it all is not addressed. As Millburn puts it, "ultimately, the purpose of embracing minimalism has to do with the benefits we each experience once we are on the other side of de-cluttering." Mindfulness needed to emerge, and step by step, Millburn focused on clearing the space in his life for more meaningful connections, which ultimately meant leaving behind his career.
For Millburn, handing in the layoff list with his own name on it was his eureka moment. "I was sprinting east looking for a sunset, when all I really had to do was turn around and walk — not run, just walk — in the other direction."