The Art of Letting Go | The Minimalists | TEDxFargo

Translator: Morgane Quilfen
Reviewer: Helena Bedalli Joshua: My name is Joshua Fields Millburn
and this is Ryan Nicodemus. Together, we run a website
called and we promise the folks
we’d kick things off this afternoon with something inspirational, (Laughter) something to get you all excited. (Cheers) So, I’d like to talk about
something uplifting. (Cheers) (Laughter) Let’s talk about death! If any of you are uncomfortable
talking about death, now might be a good time for you to leave. (Laughter) I have a feeling we will be
seeing him again in a minute. Anyway, yeah, we could talk about death. Let’s see, seven years ago, I was 28 years old,
and up until that point in my life, I had achieved everything I ever wanted: The six-figure salary, the luxury cars,
the closets full of expensive clothes, the big suburban house
with more toilets than people, and all of this stuff to filled every corner
of my consumer-driven lifestyle. Man, I was living the American Dream! And then my mom died.
And my marriage ended. Both in the same month. And these two events
forced me to look around and start to question
what had become my life’s focus. You know what I realized? I realized I was so focused
on so-called “success” and “achievement,” and especially,
on the accumulation of stuff. Yeah, I was living the American Dream, but it wasn’t my dream. And it took getting everything
I thought I wanted, to realize that everything I ever wanted
wasn’t actually what I wanted at all. You see, just a year earlier,
mom, she moved from Ohio down to Florida, to finally retire. Because that’s what you do
when you live in the Midwest. And, well a few months
after she moved down there, she found out she had lung cancer. And a few months after that, she was gone. I spent a lot of time with her
down in Florida that year, as she went through
her chemo and radiation. And when she passed, I realized
I needed to make one last trip, this time it was to deal with her stuff. So, I flew from Dayton, Ohio,
down to St. Pete Beach, Florida, and when I arrived, I found about
three apartments’ worth of stuff crammed in a mom’s tiny
one-bedroom apartment. But don’t get me wrong,
it’s not like mom was a hoarder, she wasn’t. I mean, I didn’t find
any dead cats in her freezer. (Laughter) But she owned a lot of stuff. 65 years worth of accumulation. Did you all know that the average American household
has more than 300,000 items in it? 300,000! But of course, most of us
aren’t hoarders, right? No, we just hold onto a lot of stuff. We hold onto a lifetime
of collected memories. I know mom certainly did. So, I did what any good son would do — I think that’s me on a bad hair day — I called U-Haul. I called U-Haul and I asked
for the largest truck they had. In fact, I needed one so large, I had to wait an extra-day,
until the 26-foot truck was available. And as I waited for that U-Haul to arrive, I invited some of mom’s friends over
to help me deal with her stuff. I mean, there was just
too much stuff to go at it alone. Her living room was stuffed
with big antique furniture, and old paintings, and more doilies that I could count. She loved doilies. And her kitchen was stuffed
with hundreds of plates, and cups, and bowls, and ill-assorted utensils. And her bathroom was stuffed with enough hygiene products
to start a small beauty supply business. And her linen closet, well, it looked like someone was running
a hotel out of her linen closet, which was stuffed with mismatched
bath towels, and beach towels, and bed sheets, and blankets, and quilts. And don’t even get me started
on her bedroom. Why did mom have 14 winter coats
stuffed in her bedroom closet? 14! Now, come on, she lived
in St. Pete Beach, Florida! Suffice it to say
mom owned a lot of stuff, and I had no idea
what to do with any of it. So, I did what any good son would do;
I rented a storage locker. When I called, I asked for
the largest storage unit they had. You what they asked me? “Do you want one
that’s climate-controlled?” Climate-controlled, just so mom’s stuff
could be comfortable? No, I don’t want one
that’s climate-controlled, just give me a big box
with a padlock on it! You see, I couldn’t co-mingle
mom’s stuff with my stuff, I already had a big house,
and a full basement full of stuff. But a storage locker?
Oh, yeah! A storage locker would let me
hold on to everything! Just in case I needed it someday,
in some non-existent, hypothetical future. You know, just in case. Just. In. Case. [Just. In. Case.] The three most dangerous words
in the English language. Anyway, so there I was,
attempting to finish packing mom’s stuff, when all of a sudden,
I noticed these four boxes. These old printer-paper boxes. Kind of heavy. Sealed with excessive amounts
of packing tape. So, I pulled them out one by one. I noticed that each box was labelled with just a number, written on the side,
in thick, black marker. All I saw was: one, two, three, four. I stood there, looking down, wondering what could possibly
be in those boxes. It looks like we’re out of time folks.
Hope you enjoy the rest of the conference! (Laughter) No, it was my old
elementary school paperwork, grades one through four. You know, as I opened those boxes,
my curiosity ran wild, and I thought to myself, “Why was mom holding onto
all that stupid paperwork?” But then, all those memories
came rushing back, and I realized she had been
holding onto a piece of me, she was holding onto all those memories
in those boxes, right? Wait a minute! Those boxes had been sealed
for more than two decades, which made me realize something important
for the first time in my life: Our memories are not inside our things. [Memories} Our memories are inside us. See, mom didn’t need to hold on to
those boxes to hold on to a piece of me, I was never in those boxes. But then, I looked around
at her apartment, I looked around at all her stuff, and I realized I was getting ready
to do the same thing. Except instead of storing
her memories in a box in my home, I was getting ready to cram it all
into a big box with a padlock on it. So, I did what any good son would do, I called U-Haul
and I cancelled that truck. And then I called and I cancelled
the storage locker. And I spent the next 12 days
selling, or donating, almost everything. And I learned a bunch
of really important lessons along the way. Not only did I learn that our memories
aren’t in our things, they’re in us; but I also learned about
value, real value. You see, if I’m honest with myself, I was just going to selfishly
cling to mom’s stuff, but of course, I wasn’t going
to get any value from it, as it sat there,
locked away in perpetuity. But the truth is that by letting go,
I could add value to other people’s lives. So, I donated much of her stuff
to her friends, and local charities, giving the stuff a new home. And the things I was able to sell,
I was able to take that money and give it to the charities that helped her through
her chemo and radiation. And when I finally returned to Ohio, I returned with just a handful
of sentimental items: an old painting, a few photographs,
maybe even a doily or two. And the final lesson I learned,
well, it was a practical one. While it’s true that sometimes,
our memories are in our things, it’s also true that sometimes, the things that we have
can trigger the memories that are inside us. So, while I was still in Florida, I took photos of many
of mom’s possessions. When I went back to Ohio, I went back with just
a few boxes of photographs, which I was able to scan,
and store digitally. And those photos made it easier
for me to let go, because I realized I wasn’t letting go
of any of my memories. [Let go, move on] Ultimately, I had to let go
of what was weighing me down before I was able to move on, and to move on, well,
I had to look in the mirror, and take an inventory of my own life. It turns out I had an organized life, [Organized] but really, I was just
a well-organized hoarder. I mean, everything looked great, sure,
but it was just a facade, and I knew I needed to simplify things. That’s where this beautiful thing
called “minimalism” entered my life. For me, it all started with one question: How might your life be better with less? You see, by answering this question, I was able to understand
the purpose of minimalism, not just the how-to, but the why-to. I learned that if I simplified my life,
I’d have time for my health, for my relationships,
my finances, my passions, and I could contribute beyond myself
in a meaningful way. See, I was able to understand
the benefits of minimalism well before I ever cleaned out
a walk-in closet. And so, when it came time for me
to actually declutter my life, I started small, I asked myself
another question: What if you remove one material possession
from your life each day, for a month? Just one. What would happen? The end result: Well, I unloaded way more
than 30 items in the first 30 days, like way, way more. It became this kind of personal challenge,
discovering what I could get rid of, so I searched my rooms and closets,
cabinets and hallways, car and office, rumaging for items to part with, retaining only the things
that added value to my life, pondering each artifact in my home, I’d ask, “Does this thing
add value to my life?” The more I asked this question,
the more I gained momentum. And embracing minimalism
got easier by the day. I mean, the more you do it, the freer,
and happier, and lighter you feel, and the more you want to throw overboard. For me, a few shirts led to half a closet, a few DVDs led to deep-sixing
almost an entire library of discs. A few decorative items led to junk drawers
who shed their adjective; it’s a beautiful cycle. I mean, the more action you take,
the more you want to take action. Ultimately though,
the purpose of minimalism has to do with the benefits we experience once we’re on the other side
of decluttering. Hence, removing the clutter
is not the end result, it is merely the first step. I mean, it’s possible to go home, get rid of everything you own
and be absolutely miserable, to come home to an empty house and sulk,
after removing all your pacifiers. Because consumption is not the problem. Compulsory consumption is the problem. And we can change that by being more deliberate
with the decisions we make each day. Over the course of eight months,
I deliberately jettisoned more than 90 per cent
of my material possessions. Although, if you visited my home today,
you probably wouldn’t walk in and yell, “Oh my God! This guy is a minimalist!” No. You’d probably just say,
“Wow, he’s tidy.” You’d ask how I keep things so organized, and I’d simply grin and tell you
that I don’t own much, but everything I do own
adds real value to my life. Each of my belongings, my car, my clothes,
my kitchenware, my furniture, has a function. As a minimalist, every possession
serves a purpose or brings me joy, and everything else is out of the way. With the clutter cleared, I felt compelled
to start asking deeper questions, questions like: Why did I give
so much meaning to my stuff? What is truly important in my life? When did I become so discontented? Who is the person I want to become? And how am I going to define
my own success? These are tough questions,
with difficult answers, but they’ve proven to be
much more important than just trashing my excess stuff. And if we don’t answer these questions
carefully, rigorously, then the closet we just decluttered
will be brimming with new purchases in the not too distant future. So, as I let go, and as I started facing
life’s tougher questions, things got simpler, and the people around me noticed
something was different too. People at work started saying things like, “You seem less stressed!”
“You seem so much calmer!” “What is going on?
You seem so much nicer!” And then my best friend,
a guy named Ryan Nicodemus, whom I’ve known since
we were fat little fifth graders, he came to me one day,
and he said he noticed how happy I was. And that opened him up in time to the concepts of minimalism
and living a meaningful life with less. As he simplified his life, that made room
for these deeper conversations, conversations about
how our unchecked consumption wasn’t just affecting our lives,
it was infecting our entire society. Ryan: You see, the more we consume,
the more waste we produce. But then of course,
the opposite is also true. If we consume less stuff,
we produce less waste. As you all might know, if the entire world
consumed like the United States, we would need over four Earths
to maintain our unchecked consumption. How can we, as consumer-driven Americans,
keep consuming like this? It’s pretty simple;
we go deeper into debt! That’s how. [Debt] Did you know the average American
carries four credit cards in their wallet? And one in ten Americans
has ten or more active credit cards. And the average credit card debt
is over $16,000. The total consumer debt
of the United States is nearly 12 trillion dollars. 12 trillion dollars! Let me just put that
into perspective for a minute. If you went out and spent one dollar
every single second, it would take you more than 31,000 years
to spend a trillion dollars. In fact, if you went out
and spent a million dollars a day, ever since the birth of the Buddha, you still wouldn’t have spent
a trillion dollars by now. And we have nearly
12 trillion dollars in debt. And the only way out is to let go. When we let go, our actions,
it encourages others to let go, too. Six years ago, Josh and I,
we let go of our stuff, so we could start living a life
that aligned with our values. We started consuming less,
so we could start living more. And when our lives became our message, we started a blog, so we could share
that message with others. We called it “” Since then, we’ve written
books about simple living, we started a podcast about intentionality, and we released a documentary
called “Minimalism.” All in an effort to add value
to other people’s lives. And that’s really why we’re here today, we really, really hope that we can add value
to all of your lives. So, if you leave here
with just one message, we really hope it’s this: Love people and use things,
because the opposite never works. [Love people, use things] (Applause)


  • Anthony L

    If you don't need the berries then don't shake the bush.

  • Ruby Nee


  • Mariano Tirado Alonso

    This guys are not letting go a thing… as soon as tech improve they will buy new fancy tech. They are choosing, they are not letting go. They have what they want. They should have what they can.

  • Belle P

    I need help changing to minimalist. My house has things i "inherited" from every member of the family. But then i have arts crafts and habberdashery items i don't want to let go because i use them "occasionally" only occasionally because i have no free time

  • Michelle Layton

    taking photos of the sentimental "things" is a game-changer!!!!


    Brilliant! Just Brilliant! Luv your Work *Josh & Ryan* ❤❤❤

  • TIG2MAN0

    where can I find your podcast?

  • Silvia Fittipaldi

    Taking pictures of old stuff as memory´s trigger is a great idea! It really works to decluttering.


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