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  • Translator: Morgane Quilfen Reviewer: Helena Bedalli

  • Joshua: My name is Joshua Fields Millburn and this is Ryan Nicodemus.

  • Together, we run a website called theminimalists.com

  • 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 than 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 know 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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,

  • 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,

  • rummaging 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