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Our complicated relationship with the things in our lives

A new book works as a guide to embracing minimalism as a lifestyle but less as a holistic solution that takes the environment into account  

The book makes the minimalist life look extremely attractive 
The book makes the minimalist life look extremely attractive  (Samantha Gades/Unsplash)

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are the founders of the digital platform The Minimalists, which comprises a blog, a podcast, videos, speaking engagements and several books—Love People, Use Things is the latest. To say that they have made a career out of minimalism wouldn’t be an exaggeration—calling them the male American Marie Kondos wouldn’t be too off either.

If this sounds cynical, it’s only because it feels a bit counter-intuitive to have to pay people money to learn something—minimalism—that is not an isolated end-goal but, surely, part of a holistic process of growth. Nevertheless, the overtly simplistic connection between decluttering one’s surroundings and one’s mind is not the sole domain of Millburn and Nicodemus, and as such things go, this book is a readable guide, albeit peppered with pop philosophy that’s a little difficult to digest.

Also read: Why influencers are moving towards minimalist fashion

Interspersed with the how-to chapters is Millburn’s life history—growing up poor with an abusive father and alcoholic mother, being ambitious enough to aim for the American Dream through corporate success but finding it empty, and turning to minimalism—and his “minimalist rules for living with less”, like the “no junk rule”.

Unlike the KonMari question of “does this spark joy?”, the authors ask us to separate possessions into three categories—essential, non-essential and junk—and steadily get rid of the last. So, while essentials are basics like food, clothing and shelter (and even within that, of course, some things are junk), non-essentials are the things you could potentially do without but which add significantly to your quality of life—a work desk, a comfortable couch, a good laptop.

“In an ideal world, the majority of your stuff would fit in the non-essential pile,” say the authors. The rest is pure junk.

The authors do a good job of making the minimalist life seem attractive—who hasn’t longed for a clutter-free home or basked in that intense, cleansing feeling of self-denial while removing stuff from their online shopping cart? But they fail to note that there is a cost to minimalism, too.

There are anecdotes galore of people throwing out everything, but far less is said of what happens to those things. Minimalism surely cannot be devoid of responsibility for the environment. Maybe that’s for another book.

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