What brings you joy?

This is the question that Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn claim will change your life.

These two men, known as The Minimalists, have made their names helping others  live more meaningfully with less, a lesson that lies in stark contrast against the consumerist vision of the American Dream—accumulating as much stuff as possible.

In recent decades, many have found that this mindset of more is not a dream at all, but a nightmare of debt, wasted time, and lost opportunities. It is a lingering feeling that something is missing, that there must be something more to our lives that what we’re experiencing.

That’s exactly where Nicodemus and Millburn once were—only a few years ago, they had six-figure jobs, huge houses, and all the stuff a human being can collect.

But it wasn’t enough. All the money, power, and status in the world cannot fill that all-too-familiar void in the human heart.

Fortunately, in 2010, they changed all of that, leaving their careers and embarking on a journey to live minimally, and to help others do so. In this, they’ve become incredibly successful, and their wisdom has been sought after at places as varied as Harvard Business School to the World Domination Summit

We were fortunate enough to speak with Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists—read on to find a brief introduction to minimalism, how to get started, and why these two men’s mission is so incredibly important.

Everyone seems to have a different idea of what minimalism is. What is your particular brand of minimalism?

“You know, minimalism, for me, helps us get past the things in our lives to help make room for life’s most important things—which aren’t things at all. I would say that minimalism is living deliberately.”

How do we live deliberately when we’re constantly being told what to want? How do people differentiate their own decisions from those decisions that have been imposed on them from the outside?

“First, I think everyone should, to start their journey with minimalism, ask the question: ‘How would my life be better with less?’ And everyone is going to have different answers to that. Some people will say, ‘Oh, well I’ll finally be able to see my bedroom floor,’ or ‘I’ll finally be able to get rid of that $200 a  month storage unit,’ or ‘I can clean my house faster,’ or ‘I would enjoy my home much more if it was clutter-free’.

"It’s really hard to differentiate between what’s actually going to make our lives better and what’s being sold to us."

However minimalism adds benefit, I think that’s really where people should start—with asking that question. Because it’s too often we just jump into things without asking the ‘why’. And I think this question really helps us get down to that ‘why’.

And once we get there, once we realize that minimalism is something that is going to add value to our lives, well, from there, I ask a question with everything I do with my resources, whether it’s my time, my attention, or my money—and I would argue that time and attention are the two most valuable resources we have. The question I’m constantly asking myself is ‘Is this thing—this product or this person or this relationship that I’m bringing into my life—is this going to add value to my life?’ For me, adding value means ‘is it going to serve a purpose or bring me joy?’

That is really, I think, where minimalism helps people differentiate between the million advertisements they see a year vs. actually what is going to bring them happiness and bring them joy. Minimalism certainly helps us filter through all that.

It’s unbelievable—I saw statistics about a couple years ago in the New York Times that said we see over a million advertisements a year. It’s really hard to differentiate between what’s actually going to make our lives better and what’s being sold to us.”

Once people have that "why" behind minimalism, what’s a good starting point? How can people begin sorting out their lives?

“Again, I’d start with that question of how my life could be better with less just to get behind the ‘why’—that’s really what motivates us to do anything.

Let’s say you had a frozen lake in your back yard, and I said ‘Hey, go test that ice out for me and see if it’s thick enough for us to walk on, you probably would be a little bit hesitant. But if I told you, ‘Hey, your dog fell through the ice back there and you might want to go save him,’ you would run back there and probably jump into the ice without even thinking about it. That’s why the ‘why’ is so important.