Minimalists turn away from objects, toward relationships

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus left their corporate jobs in 2011 to pursue an experiment in minimalism.

The average American house size has more than doubled since 1950, according to the National Association of Home Builders. But some people are reportedly finding more fulfillment in life by turning away from material possessions and toward a greater focus on health, relationships, personal growth and helping others.

Authors, speakers and filmmakers Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus call this concept of purposeful living without a focus on material items “minimalism.”

Millburn and Nicodemus authored their first book, “Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life,” in 2011 after adopting a minimalistic lifestyle for themselves. Now, more than 20 million people are living meaningful lives with fewer physical items, according to their website.

“Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important — so you can find happiness, fulfillment and freedom,” according to The Minimalists website.

Tanner Rozier rock climbs in the Uinta Mountains. Rozier said he finds joy in having less and focusing on the things he’s passionate about. (Tanner Rozier)

Tanner Rozier, a rock climber and senior engineering student at BYU, said he’s always thought like a minimalist, but he’s only recently started to see it as a lifestyle.

“Minimalism is getting the most out of the least amount of material things,” Rozier said. “Living this way, you can own and do the things that are most important to you. You can minimize your negative impact on your surroundings by avoiding waste, and you can maximize your positive impact by putting more effort into relationships and passionate pursuits.”

Nick Stubler graduated from the University of Denver in 2016 with a degree in political economy and currently serves in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua. Stubler said the practice of minimalism is foundational to his life. He said he’s happier with fewer things, and living more simply has brought clarity into his life regarding what’s important.

Nick Stubler poses for a picture with a young Bedouin boy during his trip to Palestine. (Nick Stubler)

Stubler also said he believes minimalism is essential to preserve the planet for future generations to enjoy.

“The world’s population cannot live how Americans live today,” Stubler said. “We all need to cut back — return to our roots and what is really important.”

Stubler said the concept of minimalism reminds him of a quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.”

Tommaso Cardullo is a businessman, a fashion designer and a bishop for a young single adult ward in Utah. He said focusing on material items can be a problem for some people.

“Even though material things can enhance the quality of experiences of people, the excess accumulation and drive towards material things can become an obsession and an addictive quest,” Cardullo said. 

Cardullo said he advises students who struggle with this obsession to identify their talents and to focus on strengthening and sharing those talents.

“Happiness comes from within and not from what is out,” Cardullo said. “Material things are like garnishing that can make our lives nicer and prettier. However, the true nourishment and satisfaction comes from giving and sharing and not accumulating material things.”

BYU alumnus Russell Ochoa said he’s noticed people tend to hold onto material objects, which slowly starts to take over their available space. He said clutter can be distracting for a productive lifestyle.

Ochoa sells his extra items on eBay to reduce clutter.

“If I don’t use it anymore, I take a picture with eBay and someone buys it,” Ochoa said. “It literally takes 5 minutes or less.”

BYU special education major Gretchen Larson said she’s recently been experimenting with the idea of minimalism, especially with valuing relationships over material things.

Larson said several months ago she found a brand-new pair of hiking boots in a brand that she wanted for years at a thrift store. Larson’s roommate was looking for some boots at the time because she worked on a farm, and when Larson saw the boots on the shelf, she immediately thought of her. Still, Larson said she bought the boots for herself, even though she knew she didn’t need them.

Larson said she was learning about the law of consecration in an LDS Institute class when she looked down at her feet and knew what she needed to do.

She said she tied a bow around the boots and gave them to her roommate, which helped her let go of pride and “things.”

“The only reason I wanted those boots was to satisfy an identify and image I wanted for myself — that of the outdoorsy ‘Patagonia’ girl,” Larson said. “But really, do those identities and images we want to portray really matter that much in the long run?”

Larson said her decision to give her boots to her roommate has strengthened their relationship. She said she doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with having things or enjoying a certain style or image, as long as people aren’t consumed by it.

“All I know is that I have found a lot of freedom in letting go of stuff in favor of humans, because they love me back,” Larson said.

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