Everything That Remains: A Memoir by the Minimalists [Book Review]

I love reading about minimalism! I think it infuses us with a thought process that helps us be happier and mindful. It makes us think outside the box. And this book is very authentic. As Joshua F. Millburn says on The Minimalists podcast, this is a book about the big “WHY”. The “what” is just the easy part, it is the action of getting rid of our stuff, but:

“Minimalism doesn’t work like that. By simply embracing the what without the why, a person gets nowhere. It is possible to get rid of everything you own and still be utterly miserable, to come home to your empty house and sulk after removing all your pacifiers.” — Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists. Kindle Edition. pg. 70, loc. 848–850

The book is written in a kind of memoir format telling the story of how the founders of “The minimalists” blog began living more deliberately.

After reading the first chapter of the book I was already hooked. I loved the writing style and the way footnotes were used. The narrator of the story is J.F. Milburn and throughout the chapters there are footnotes by R. Nicodemus, adding some (at times funny) comments or minor details of what is being told. I enjoyed the tone of the book: it is conversational, light and objective.

It brings an interesting discussion: is consumerism consuming us? Are our memories is our things? Is the so-called American Dream actually a nightmare? Can we have a life passion? What is success?

It invites us to reflect on our life choices, our purchases, our dreams. We are so integrated in a culture that tells us that a shining new car, a big house or some other material possession are the bringers of happiness and success that we don’t stop to question this way of living.

J.F. Milburn tells us how he escalated the corporate ladder and when he reached the top he questioned himself:

“Did it take getting everything I ever wanted to realize that everything I ever wanted wasn’t what I actually wanted at all?” — Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists. Kindle Edition. pg. 39, loc. 465–466

He realized that being at the top of the corporate ladder, earning a six-figure salary and working nearly 80 hours a week wasn’t making him happy. He was miserable.

The important question: Does it add value?

One of the most precious lessons from this book is this question: “Does it add value to my life?”. This is a question we rarely use when we make a new purchase or bring something new to our lives. The catch here is that we have to be mindful of our actions and take decisions consciously. For me the beauty of this question is that it applies to all areas of our lives: material possessions, health, relationships, social media, collections, entertainment, professional choices. And the authors discusses these points, showing us how he managed to apply minimalist principles to all of them.

When he talks about career, he points out that the innocent and conversational question “What do you do?” is actually filled with a hidden judgment. The person wants to know how we make money and will probably judge our social status, rather than being interested on our true self:

“I’ve discovered that your life should be your real identity — all the things that interest you, not how you earn a paycheck.” — Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists. Kindle Edition. pg. 104, loc. 1285–1285

There is also an insight about the importance we give to money. Although we need money to pay the rent, to buy our food and to clothe ourselves, that doesn’t mean we have to give it disproportional value. We stop thriving to earn more money in order to be happier, have a safer future or accumulate. We can get rid of the “just in case”:

“I stopped assigning as much importance to money. Sure, I need money to pay for the basics, but I don’t need to struggle to earn money to buy crap I don’t need anymore. This thing called minimalism has allowed me to get rid of life’s excess so I can focus on what’s essential.” — Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists. Kindle Edition. pg. 105, loc. 1302–1304

Do you work or do you have a mission?

The book also discusses the relation between work and mission. For the author, people who do what they like for a living call it a “mission” rather than “work”. That is powerful because it brings meaning to our professional lives. And the mission is cultivated with hours of dedication. When the authors started their blog they had one goal in mind:

“So instead of Going Viral, I focus on one thing: Adding Value. These two words regularly pop their beautiful little heads into my daily conversations. Habitually, before every tweet, every status update, every essay I write, I ask myself, Am I Adding Value? — Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists. Kindle Edition. pg. 137, loc. 1660–1662”

The discussion about mission leads to another conclusion: when we have a mission our motivation is intrinsic. And the mission feeds our need to contribute even more. We strive for long-term rewards, such as personal satisfaction and happiness. Not money. Not material possessions. And so the focus on what is more important becomes natural.

Consume less, create more

Another insight that has touched me and made me rethink how I spend my hours was this: It is better to consume less and create more.

It seems embracing minimalism makes us realize how much content we consume daily and thus helps us to streamline what are the things we really care about. We change from mindlessly consuming to consuming only what we choose to consume. We make better decisions. We curate. We become less passive. We look for quality. With the available technology that enables us to access unlimited amount of information with a finger slide it is easy to consume idly. We can spend hours scrolling through a feed timeline or zapping channels on TV without consciously enjoying it. We can buy unnecessary stuff mindlessly driven by advertisement. I think the minimalism movement challenges this behavior. It helps create a more conscious society.

With minimalism we don’t take things or people for granted. Minimalism is a tool to enhance the awareness of what is part of our lives and how we live our lives. We start to question our actions and desires. We are capable of seeing the world with different eyes, taking in the details and nuances. We start paying attention on our surroundings.

This book is full of provocative ideas and I exposed here my favorite ones. It is fun and inspiring at the same time! I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand minimalism and maybe start out on their own :)

And, as final message I quote an amazing phrase The Minimalists constantly use on their talks and podcast:

“Love people, use things. The opposite doesn’t work” — Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists. Kindle Edition. pg. 204, loc. 2586–2586

Thanks for reading!

#books #bookreview #reading #minimalism

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.