Everything That Remains

How do you feel about your stuff? It’s a key question in the conversion narrative Everything That Remains by Joshua Fields Millburn, with endnotes by his best friend, Ryan Nicodemus. The authors were in a New Orleans bookstore last month, one stop on their 100-city promotional tour. They’re touting much more than the new book, though. Essentially, they’re spokesmen for the liberating power of minimalism.

The lifestyle movement of minimalism is the hero of this memoir. Millburn discovered it on the Internet—where it has spread like wildfire—at a pivotal moment in late 2009. Reeling from the death of his mother and the end of his marriage, the 28-year-old telecommunications executive was awash with a sense of loss and discontent. Through Twitter he happened upon an interview of Colin Wright, a world traveler who owns exactly 51 things. Intrigued, Millburn researched stories of “less extreme minimalists”: men and women, some with families, committed to shedding material possessions so as to focus more on what they’re passionate about. All live out their “own flavor of minimalism.”

The chapters that detail the process of boxing up and giving away things owned by the authors are fascinating. While Millburn aimed initially to remove one thing a day from his home, Nicodemus (with his buddy) boxed up everything in his condo at once, retrieving only what’s needed. Both found they actually need very little. Their sole criterion now for buying anything: “Does this thing add value to my life?” Reading about their deliberate reductions makes one wonder, Could I do that? Why would I try? What would be the result?

Unburdened of excess, Millburn and Nicodemus made big changes in their lives as they came to understand themselves anew. They left their corporate jobs and started a popular website and publishing company. “The purpose of embracing minimalism has to do with the benefits we each experience once we’re on the other side of decluttering,” says Millburn.