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All things to all people
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The simple truth
by Andrew Kiraly | posted March 20, 2014
Two living rooms. Ryan Nicodemus’ condo had two living rooms. Who needs two living rooms? Not Ryan — after all, he lived by himself. (Which raises the question: Why did he have two bedrooms as well?) On the cusp of his thirtieth birthday, the young telecom executive realized he had a lot of things — fat salary, spacious condo, expensive clothes, a new car, the latest gadgets and gear — but little happiness. He was stressed out, overworked, in debt and empty inside. Like a modern-day Buddha, he realized that his attachment to material things was causing him misery. He wised up, pared down and — like a modern-day Buddhapreneur — launched a business dedicated to preaching the minimalist lifestyle gospel. Today his motto is: “Love people and use things — but the opposite never works.”
Billed as The Minimalists, Ryan Nicodemus (pictured left) and longtime friend and co-minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn (right) stop in Las Vegas 7p March 22 at The Arts Factory as part of their tour promoting their latest book, Everything That Remains. We had a brief chat with Ryan from the road.
How does your average person get started on the path toward a simpler lifestyle?
I had the same question when I started: Great, I’m a minimalist, now what do I do? I don’t want to spent eight months paring down items. So, we came up with the idea of a packing party. The idea is you pack all of your belongings as if you’re moving — everything. When I did it, I boxed up my clothes, towels, TVs, frames, even furniture. Then, for the next 21 days, I unpacked only the items I needed right then — so, say, my toothbrush, my bed and bedsheets, furniture that I actually used. After 21 days, I had 80 percent of my stuff still sitting in those boxes. I couldn’t even remember what was in most of them! I donated or sold just about all of it.
Was there anything you found it tough to part with?
The thing that was difficult for me to get over was “just in case” syndrome — keeping things just in case you need them. For me, it was cables. I wanted to hold on to all my cables in case one broke. But I got rid of them, because I realized that stuff I was holding on to “just in case” was stuff I could replace for less than 20 dollars in under 20 minutes — and that rule has really worked for me.
What about sentimental stuff, like photo albums? We don't "use" those but they're nice to have, right?
When I was packing, I came across this shoebox filled with high school mementos — pictures of me and my date at homecoming, cuff links from senior prom, letters from my mother. It was really difficult to let go of that, but what I did was make myself a deal. I told myself I’d pick one letter out of the shoebox and throw it out, and see how it feels — would I feel horrible? I woke up the next morning and felt fine. I walked over to the box and threw it all away, even the cuff links. I did scan some of them, but most of them, I threw out. I realized the memories weren't in those photos; the memories are inside me.
How many pairs of pants do you own? Are your walls in your house totally bare?
I can answer that, but I want to be clear that this is never about deprivation. It’s not about starving ourselves to see what happens. I have one pair of jeans, a couple pairs of shorts. I snowboard, so I have gloves, a hat, snowpants. And I do have pictures and paintings. The point is that everything I have adds value to my life or brings me joy. Our second book, All That Remains, talks about this. Instead of focusing on money, accumulating stuff, the next promotion or the next new car, now I’m focused on five things: health, my relationships, cultivating something I’m passionate about, growth, and contribution.
Do you feel there are emotional, perhaps spiritual, benefits to embracing this lifestyle?
Josh and I have radically different beliefs, but I feel I’ve definitely changed spiritually. It’s funny, at every event, there’s always someone who’ll say, “It’s so nice to see two young Christians spreading the message of Jesus!” and then three people later, it’s, “It’s so nice to see young Buddhists spreading the message of Buddhism!” We got an email the other day from someone who said Mohammed is the original minimalist. It’s great we can connect to people from so many walks of life. At our events, we’ve had Occupy Wall Street people and the CEOs of major corporations asking the same questions. It's really struck a chord.
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