Minimalists find happiness living with less


If you are feeling like your garage looks more like a storage unit than a place to park your car, you are not alone. Americans love to buy "stuff." We spend $380 billion each year on clothes, shoes, cars, gadgets, and odds and ends. To pay for it all, we work long hours, and by big houses to store it all.

But is all that stuff making you happy? Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Millburn don't think so.

"I had all this stuff in my life -- I was living the American dream," laments Nicodemus. "We had both climbed the corporate ladder together -- we were both miserable"

Millburn chimes in that he had, "Everything I could have ever wanted. The six figure salary, the big house, with more bedrooms than inhabitants."

Millburn and Nicodemus left their suit and tie jobs in the telecom industry looking for more simple life. They moved from Dayton, Ohio to a cabin in Missoula, Montana.

The childhood friends are now leaders of the growing "minimalist movement." They are encouraging other people to get rid of all that stuff in their lives that isn't making them happy.

More than 1,400 people RSVP'd to see the two speak at the Booksmith bookstore on Haight Street in San Francisco. They are currently touring 100 cities to promote their fourth book, "Everything That Remains."

A young woman in a Stanford sweatshirt sums up the feeling in the room. "You guys are like my heroes! Thank you!" Dozens of people like her, lined up to thank Nicodemus and Millburn for introducing them to minimalism.

"My sister saw them in Texas and she told me you have to do this," said Robbin Yeh of Oakland.

"It doesn't really matter how much stuff you have -- it's the passion and how you live your life. I thought it was profound," said Madison Kane who came from Marin to see the Nicodemus and Millburn speak.

So just how did this all get started? Millburn discovered minimalism in 2008, when his mother died. That same month his marriage ended.

"I sort of looked around at what had becomes my life's focus, and I realized I didn't know what was important anymore," he said.

So he started to purge.

"I spent about eight months really paring down my life, shedding about 80 percent, 90 percent of my material possessions," said Millburn. "I started to feel freer, happier and lighter."

Nicodemus saw the difference, and pared down his life. He packed everything in his apartment into boxes and only took things out as he needed them.

"I did this for 21 days," said Nicodemus, "At the end of this experiment, I still had 80 percent of my stuff still packed in boxes. Just sitting there, unaccessed."

What he didn't need he sold or gave away. The two men started blogging their experiences at They were blown away by the response.

"Fifty-two readers turned in to 500," said Millburn, "then 500 became 5,000, last year we had more than 2 million people that have visited the website."

Jesse Jacobs is one of them. He is a minimalist.

"We don't have much furniture. We have a couch a table and a chair"

Jacobs showed ABC7 News how he lives minimally in his Sonoma County house.

"Minimalism isn't just about taking up physical space," said Jacobs, "It's about the people we surround ourselves with, the information we subject ourselves to and the emotional baggage that we cling to."

In the house, music played off records provide entertainment, books replace gadgets, and simple toys spark a child's imagination.

Jacobs says he applying minimalism to his business as well. He owns Samovar Tea. At a new shop he's opening in the Mission District, he'll just sell a handful of teas. He says, giving customers fewer choices will help them declutter their lives.

Millburn and Nicodemus are excited about the huge response. As the minimalists movement grows, they hope others will find happiness from letting go of stuff.

"If we could convey one message to everyone who comes to our events, said Nicodemus, "We really want to leave this behind. To love people, and use things, because the opposite never works."

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

Copyright © 2024 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.