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Is “Minimalism” the Next Trend for Austin?

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For the Austin BookPeople SXSW reading of Everything That Remains, a memoir by “The Minimalists,” you might expect a simple setting, a smaller crowd—maybe scattered with those who forsook all their possessions during the 1960s to travel the world in a Volkswagen van. Yet, on the first Sunday evening of #SXSW2014, the second-floor of BookPeople is filled.

More than 30 people are seated with still more standing, and the audience is not simply dressed, either. Scattered amongst people of all ages you can see the smatterings of Louis Vuitton logos and Kendra Scott jewelry.

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus were dubbed “The Minimalists” by their, now, more than two million blog followers. Both— as you would expect— were dressed simply: no logos, no expensive watches. Millburn wore a sky-blue, button-up T-Shirt, and the only pair of blue- jeans he owns. Nicodemus, who was never far from his best friend and co-author, sported a black leather jacket over a plain black T-Shirt, and dark-grey jeans.

Once a BookPeople employee quieted the room, Nicodemus began to speak. “I want you to imagine your lives in five years, 10 years,” he said, “then I want you to imagine them with less. Lives with fewer distractions— richer! What does ‘rich’ mean to you?”  From there, Nicodemus related his and Millburn’s story to the crowd: in their late 20s, they had high-ranking corporate jobs, six-figure salaries, and spent more than they earned; they thought they were living the American Dream.

“Chasing the American Dream cost more than money, however, “Nicodemus said. “It cost our happiness, and led to discontent.”

When they learned about minimalism through a friend, together they quit their corporate jobs in pursuit of this new life. “Minimalism” Millburn explains on their blog, “is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives.” Both pursued minimalism by cleansing themselves of the material possessions they did not “need,” to help them focus on the things that gave them “true” meaning: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.

During the reading, Nicodemus explained that, in their former lives, they were climbing the corporate ladder but weren’t growing personally, or contributing to others. In other words, they were living for things they did not love. That, Millburn joked, was the difference between being tidy and being a minimalist. Being a minimalist isn’t just about throwing away all your possessions, it’s about changing your focus from being “possessed by your possessions”, and money, to living “deliberate and meaningful lives”.

However, “Minimalism looks different for everyone,” he continued. “It is possible to be miserable with nothing.”

Everything That Remains is their fourth book produced through their publishing company, Asymmetrical Press. When they reached a whopping 50 followers on their blog, Millburn noted that if 50 people were interested in their story, maybe others would be interested, too. Now in their 30s, they are traveling the country on a 100-city book tour— Austin is only No. 18 in the lineup. In each city, their goal is to leave their message and to take one lesson away. When asked what that lesson might be for Austin, Nicodemus responded humorously.

“Overstimulation. Could it be bad to have too many options?”

After the reading, Milburn left the crowd with a departing message: “Love people, and use things, because the opposite never works.”

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