Why two hotshots ditched six-figure salaries for a life of less

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Posted: Sunday, April 20, 2014 12:00 am

Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus will sign “Everything That Remains” at 6 p.m. Monday at the Bookworm, 87th and Pacific Streets.

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What happens when two corporate hotshots with six-figure salaries and all the trapping of success decide to jettison most of what they own and seek out a simpler life?

According to “Everything That Remains,” they discover happiness and value in their lives — having shed not only a lot of stuff, but also debt, stress and other aggravations.

“When I was 27, my entire life was different,” said Joshua Millburn in a phone interview as he and Ryan Nicodemus made their way from Salt Lake City to Denver for a book signing. “I was living the American dream. I had it all.”

But he also was working 60 to 80 hours a week and was feeling overwhelmed and depressed. Then, in 2009, Millburn's marriage ended and his mother died within a month.

“I started to look at my life. ... It wasn't that I wasn't focused on what was important. I didn't know what was important.”

He was introduced to minimalism, and online he found a community of people who lived a variety of ways but “deliberately with less stuff.” He learned that there were varying minimalist lifestyles, everything from reducing possessions to what can be carried in a backpack to owning homes and having corporate careers.

Millburn thought he'd fall somewhere in the middle. He spent the next eight months paring down his life and found that 90 percent of what he owned didn't add value to his life.

Nicodemus had been a friend since they were in fifth grade in Dayton, Ohio. As adults, they worked for the same company and lived similar lives. “One day, he asked me the question: Why are you so happy?”

Millburn introduced his friend to the many faces of a minimalist lifestyle.

Nicodemus was interested but didn't want to spend eight months getting rid of stuff. They came up with the idea of a packing party. Nicodemus boxed up everything he owned, like he was getting ready to move. Then he unpacked things as he needed them over 21 days. At the end of those three weeks, he still had 80 percent of his possessions in boxes. “He sold and donated in all,” Millburn said.

Deciding that others might find value in living simpler lives, they became The Minimalists and started a blog three years ago. From 52 readers the first month, they now have more than 2 million. They wrote their first book, “Minimalism: Leading a Meaningful Life.”

During the tour for that book, they drove through Montana and really liked it. When they decided to work on a second book, that's where they went to write it. Now they live in Missoula.

The book tour for “Everything That Remains” will bring them to Omaha on Monday. “It resonates with people,” Millburn said, adding that diverse crowds attend their signings, everyone from CEOs to children.

Millburn describes the book as a “why to” book. It's not a primer on how to become a minimalist. It tells their story and wants readers to ask themselves: How would my life be better? What gives my life value? What am I passionate about?

“I've been fortunate to make my living at writing,” he said of the past few years. But having a career is OK. So is making money.

“There's nothing wrong with money. It's just not the primary driver in my life now.”

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