I was prompted to read this book while reading an article in TIME magazine called “The Joy of Less.” The article highlighted statistics that demonstrated the extent to which large swaths of our society is engaged in consumerism. For example:

  • U.S. children make up 3.1 percent of the world’s population of children, but U.S. families purchase more than 40 percent of all toys purchased globally.
  • Most household moves outside the U.S. weigh between 2,500 lb. and 7,500 lb. The average move in the U.S. is 8,000 lb.
  • The average U.S. household purchases 64 pieces of clothing and seven pairs of shoes annually.
  • In 2013 the self-storage industry raked in$24 billion in revenue.

Such overwhelming consumption has given rise to a pushback trend called minimalism. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus shed almost everything they owned and have written two books about their experiences. Everything that Remains is one of these books.

Joshua is the main voice in the book. He grew up in a dysfunctional and impoverished household. He skipped college in pursuit of earning a living, and became quite successful. He achieved success working his way up in a retail organization where he became a regional manager responsible for a number of store locations. His goal was to live the American Dream. But what is the American Dream? Is it working 70+ hours a week, climbing the corporate ladder, making a lot of money, and owning lots of cool things? If so, he achieved it. By the age of 22, he owned his first house and began filling it with things, frequently financed with debt.

The death of his mother and a divorce marked the beginning of his journey into reevaluating and redefining what the American Dream meant to him. “In the midst of seventy hour work weeks…I didn’t forget what was important: I simply didn’t know what was important anymore.”

Shortly after getting a Twitter account, he received a tweet about someone who became a minimalist. He clicked on the link and began his journey to discover what is important and where his passion lies.

One minimalist website leads to others including Project 333 that invites people to dress with 33 items or less for three months. One might think that minimalist lifestyle only works for someone like Joshua who is a divorced, well-paid professional with no kids.

Eight months after embracing a minimalist lifestyle, Joshua jettisoned most of his possessions, was living a healthier life, pursing his passion of writing, and was paying off large amounts of debt. Oh yes, and he was happier too. In deciding which possessions to shed, Joshua asked himself whether or not the item added value to his life? This thought process led him to think about the value of money. The more he valued money and the things it could buy, the more hours he worked so that he could buy more things.

As his value system changed, his material needs were less, which meant he didn’t need to bring in as much income. Shedding material possessions and even things like a television and internet service, allowed him to develop habits he enjoyed while limiting distractions. Needing less income and spending much less time shopping gave him the freedom to pursue a vocation he loved—writing.

In time, he and his writing partner, Ryan Nicodemus, began speaking to packed venues. People are looking for answers and new ways to look at our consumer driven culture.

The idea of cutting down on consumption is a most appropriate topic within financial counseling. Not everyone in difficult financial straits is in that position because of unforeseeable events.

Joshua wants to be successful. He now defines success as a simple equation:

Happiness + Growth + Contributions = Success


Reviewed by Rick Zwelling, AFC®. He can be reached at rickzwelling@yahoo.com.

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