'Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life' (Book Review)

©. The Minimalists

Published by The Minimalists in 2016, this book focuses on Five Values that, surprisingly, have nothing to do with material possessions.

When I first picked up a copy of “Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life,” written by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists fame, I expected a basic ‘how-to’ guide to minimalism. I thought it would have step-by-step lists for how to get rid of my stuff, quell the urge to shop, and downsize effectively. What I did not expect was a deep, probing discussion of values, with almost no mention of material belongings.

It turns out that getting rid of stuff is only the first step toward minimalism. Decluttering alone will not solve anyone’s problems, but it creates the necessary space for addressing other emotional and physical baggage. It scrapes away the consumer culture façade that often hides our issues and insecurities.

This slim book, as the authors explain in their introduction, is more a book of advice than a book of instruction. It guides readers through the Five Values that are the foundation of a meaningful life, each one playing an equal role in achieving success. These values are health, relationships, passions, growth, and contribution. The book dedicates a chapter to each value, then wraps up with a conclusion on how to balance these values in your life, since most people will gravitate strongly toward two or three out of the five.

In the health chapter, the authors write about the importance of striving always to be the healthiest version of yourself. This looks different for different people. For example, Millburn broke his back playing basketball in eighth grade, which means his range of exercises is limited, but this injury is not an excuse to do nothing physical:

“[It] doesn’t mean he should feel defeated, broke, broken. No, it means he must take care of the vehicle he has, providing it with regular tune-ups (daily stretching, regular exercise, and occasional chiropractic visits, as well as a good diet, adequate sleep, and daily meditation), which will help him better enjoy the journey ahead.”

The section on relationships walks readers through the uncomfortable task of assessing the quality of current relationships by creating a detailed list. The goal of the exercise is to make one realize which relationships require more attention and which should be ended because they add little value. Some good advice:

“The only person you can change is yourself. When you lead by example, often the people closest to you will follow suit. If you improve your diet, start exercising, begin paying close attention to your important relationships, and set higher relationship standards, then you’ll notice other people doing the same thing.”

Next comes the chapter on passion, where the authors delve into the sticky differences between work, career, and passion, and the problem with people becoming defined by their jobs, making it challenging for them to change roles. Our society attributes great status to certain jobs, which can be destructive to creativity and alternative ways of thinking.

“Turn down the volume. For the two of us, this meant placing less value on what people thought about our jobs, and showing them why they should give more credence to our new identities, which were transferable to virtually anything we did, not just our careers.”

The value of growth is emphasized because it’s dangerous to allow oneself to stagnate. Not growing means dying, and that means you’re not living a meaningful life. There are different kinds of growth – daily incremental changes (a.k.a. baby steps) and giant leaps, that must be made at strategic times.

Finally, contribution is a sort of extension to growth. As you grow, you’ll find yourself with more to give, which helps you to grow in return. The authors encourage readers to make time for volunteer work within one’s community, which is more meaningful than writing a cheque to support a distant overseas charity. This is a way to add value to the world.

“When you think in terms of adding value, you’ll start to notice everything you do begins to add value in various ways. That’s because over time you’ll begin to weed out anything that doesn’t add value to your own life or to other people’s lives.”

“Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life” is a quick read, but it’s meant to be absorbed slowly. It’s a workbook of sorts, a reference for gradual personal transformation with a totally different feel from the short, concise articles on The Minimalists’ website.

You can order "Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life" (Montana: Assymetrical Press, 2016) online.