Notes from Everything That Remains by The Minimalists

everything that remains review

Rating: 10/10 (life-changing!)
Finished: 2015, 07/2017 (I re-read it on a regular basis)
Related Books: Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life, Essential: Essays by the Minimalists, The More of Less, Act Accordingly.

Buy the book on Amazon here / See all my book summaries HERE.


The Short Summary of “Everything that Remains” by The Minimalists

Josh and Ryan “had it all”, were ostensibly successful, and lived “The American Dream”. Turns out, that wasn’t really their dream at all. In this book they share their story of transition from suit’n’tie corporate guys with priorities out of whack, towards living an intentional, well-curated life with less stuff and clutter.

This book led me down the life-changing path of minimalism a few years ago. Afterwards, I went to work on getting my own priorities in order. I started getting rid of the excess stuff to leave room for the important things in life, “everything that remains”. Suffice to say, I absolutely love this book and recommend it for just about everyone. It’s one of very few books that fundamentally changed my life for the better.

(Note: An excellent introduction to minimalism is Josh and Ryan’s 15-minute TED talk over here. Enjoy!)


Lessons Learned

Sacrifice. What an interesting word. What does it mean? I often ask myself whether I’m sacrificing enough, but I wonder whether I should ask myself better questions, like, Am I loving enough? Am I caring enough? Am I contributing enough? I don’t think I’d like the answers, so I dismiss the thought.

Our memories are not in our things. Our memories are in us.

Our memories are not in our things. Our memories are in us. Click To Tweet

In the midst of all the seventy-hour work weeks, all the time spent on so-called achieving, I didn’t forget what’s important; I simply don’t know what’s important anymore.

Don’t let Facebook fool you. There is one, and only one, accurate relationship status: It’s Complicated.

Don’t let Facebook fool you. There is one, and only one, accurate relationship status: It’s… Click To Tweet

Whenever I looked forward a little bit, whenever I peered into my future, I could see what lay down that path. I’m not clairvoyant, but I had seen other people be very successful entrepreneurs, people who were doing similar things. They all shared one thing in common: they never leave. Once you make a million dollars, a million is no longer enough. So then you have to make five million. And then fifty. And eventually you’ve spent more than half your life simply trying to earn money. But for what?

We tend to be afraid of bucking the status quo. But when you do take that first jump, it actually becomes terrifying to do ‘normal’ things, because you realize what a risk it is to give up your entire life just to be normal.

“I think I have a pretty simple message,” he says. “There is more joy and fulfillment in pursuing less than can be found in pursuing more.”

Simple is the new black.

Simple is the new black. Click To Tweet

Sadly, what we’re actually asking when we posit this question of “What do you do?”, albeit unknowingly, is: How do you earn a paycheck? How much money do you make? What is your socioeconomic status? And based on that status, where do I fall on the socioeconomic ladder compared to you? Am I a rung above you? Below you? How should I judge you? Are you even worth my time?

Excitement comes and goes; it wanes when times get hard, when the work gets tough, when creative flow turns into drudgery. True passion, however, arises after you’ve put in the long hours necessary to become a skilled craftsman, a skillset you can then leverage to have an impact, to gain autonomy and respect, to shape and control your destiny. Thus, passion isn’t followed, it’s cultivated.

Passion isn't followed, it's cultivated. Click To Tweet

For any dimension of life, for any skillset—be it exercise, ballroom dancing, or writing—a person must be willing to drudge through the drudgery to find the joy on the other side.

Most organizing is nothing more than well-planned hoarding.

Most organizing is nothing more than well-planned hoarding. Click To Tweet

No matter how organized we are, we must continue to care for the stuff we organize, sorting and cleaning our meticulously structured belongings.

When I got rid of the majority of my possessions, I was forced to confront my darker side, compelled to ask questions I wasn’t prepared for: When did I give so much meaning to material possessions? What is truly important in life? Why am I discontented? Who is the person I want to become? How will I define my own success?

As a minimalist, every possession serves a purpose or brings me joy.

“Does this add value to my life?” It’s not just material possessions at which I posit this question. Stuff was just the start. I ask it too in regard to relationships, Internet consumption, food, and any other potentially superfluous matters.

Ah, those three delicate words: just in case. I know them too well. For the longest time I had an intimate relationship with just in case. I held on to hundreds—maybe thousands—of things, just in case I needed them. Too often I didn’t let go because I might need some miscellaneous material possession in some distant hypothetical future.

“You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.”

We’re taught to work a soul-crushing job for like forty years so that one day we might actually be able to retire and enjoy our lives for like three years. We’re taught to work foolishly hard for a non-living entity, donating our most precious commodity—our time—for a paycheck. Living to work, instead of working to earn enough money to live

Careers are dangerous because people invest so much of themselves into their careers that they establish an identity and a social status based upon where they work and what they do for a living.

I’ve discovered that your life should be your real identity—all the things that interest you, not how you earn a paycheck.

Before I spend money I ask myself one question: Is this worth my freedom? Like: Is this coffee worth two dollars of my freedom? Is this shirt worth thirty dollars of my freedom? Is this car worth thirty thousand dollars of my freedom? In other words, am I going to get more value from the thing I’m about to purchase, or am I going to get more value from my freedom?

That’s a good question—what if? “What if?” has become disempowering, but it doesn’t have to be. We get to choose. So: What if I succeed?

We hold on to jobs we dislike because we believe there’s security in a paycheck. We stay in shitty relationships because we think there’s security in not being alone.

It turned out that my paychecks made me feel less secure, afraid I’d be deprived of the income I’d grown accustomed to and the lifestyle I’d blindly coveted. And my material possessions exposed countless twinges of insecurity, leaving me frightened that I’d suffer loss of personal property or that someone would take it from me.

“We’re either living or we’re dying, and there is no compensation for approaching death,”

At age thirty, I earn less money than I did at nineteen, and yet I’ve never been happier. My happiness is derived from my experiences, from my relationships, from my health—not from my income.

I used to be the Goal Guy in the corporate world. I had financial goals, health goals, sales goals, vacation goals, even consumer-purchase goals. Spreadsheets of goals, precisely tracking and measuring and readjusting my plans accordingly. These days, life is different; I no longer have goals. Instead of an arbitrary target, I prefer to have a direction in which I travel. If you’re searching for a sunrise, it’s important to head east. For a sunset, head west. Once I got out of my craters, I didn’t need goals to enjoy life. My daily habits helped me do that. Plus, I discovered that it’s OK to wander. And if you get lost, so what? I mean, really, would that be so bad? Once you’re out of the crater, you need simply to stay out of other craters.

We have moved past the Information Age and stumbled face-first into the Overcommunication Era. In the past, we all wanted to be liked; now we just want to be “Liked.”

In the past, we all wanted to be liked; now we just want to be “Liked.” Click To Tweet

My first experiment shocked many of my Midwestern friends: I got rid of my television. Why? Because I watched it. A lot.

When I had the opportunity to meet Leo Babauta four months ago during a trip to San Francisco, he said there were three things that significantly changed his life: establishing habits he enjoyed, simplifying his life, and living with no goals.

First, I asked myself, Why do I have these goals? I had goals so I could tell whether I was “accomplishing” what I was “supposed” to accomplish. If I met a goal, I was allowed to be happy—right? Then I thought: Wait a minute, why must I achieve a specific result toward an arbitrary goal to be happy? Why don’t I just allow myself to be happy now?

Doesn’t a life with no goals make you complacent? Well, if by “complacent” you mean “content,” then yes. But, otherwise, no. In fact, the opposite was true: after removing the stress from my life, I partook in exciting new endeavors that I likely wouldn’t’ve attempted under goal’s regime.

Doesn’t a life with no goals prevent you from growing? No. I’ve grown considerably in the last hundred days. I’ve gotten into the best shape of my life, strengthened my personal relationships, established new relationships, and written more than ever. I’ve grown more than any other hundred-day period. You still have goals: You say you have no goals, but don’t you still have some goals, like finishing your new novel or “being happy” or “living in the moment”? It’s important to make a distinction here: Yes, I want to “be happy” and “live in the moment” and “live a healthy life,” but these are choices, not goals. I choose to be happy. I choose to live in the moment. I choose to live a healthy life. I don’t need to measure these events; I simply live this way. As for the novel I’ve been working on, I intend to finish writing it. I’ve never worked harder on anything in my life, but I’m enjoying the process of writing it, and if I never finish, that’s OK too. I’m not stressed about it anymore.

Living goal-less has changed my life, adding layers of happiness I didn’t realize were possible. I don’t see any reason to retreat back to a goal-oriented life. No more goals for me. My life is better without them.

If I absolutely dislike a task, I’ll hire someone to do it for me, while I move on to something new. Life is too short to do shit you dislike.

The truth is, you can skip the pursuit of happiness altogether and just be happy.

The truth is, you can skip the pursuit of happiness altogether and just be happy. Click To Tweet

I wasn’t contributing—I wasn’t focused on the relationship like I had been during all those magnificent days together, back when everything felt so effortless. Turns out that it takes immense effort to make something feel that effortless.

Loneliness and aloneness are not the same thing: a crowded room can be the loneliest place on the planet.

She was living the life she was supposed to want, but it wasn’t her life; she felt like she was living someone else’s dream.

When your work becomes your life’s mission, you no longer need a work-life balance.

The stuff wasn’t doing its job; it wasn’t making me happy.

Now I’d like for you to imagine your life a year from now. Two years. Five. Imagine living a healthier life, one in which you don’t just look better, you feel better. Imagine a life with higher standards. Imagine a life with less clutter, less stuff, fewer distractions. What would it look like? Imagine your life with less—less stress, less debt, less discontent. What would it feel like? Now imagine your life with more—more time, more contribution, more elation. Imagine better, more interesting relationships. Imagine sharing meals and conversations and experiences and smiles with people who have similar interests and values and beliefs as you. Imagine growing with your peer group and your loved ones. Now imagine cultivating your passion until you can’t imagine a day without pursuing it. Imagine creating more than you consume. Imagine giving more than you take. Imagine a consistent commitment to growth. Imagine growing toward your limits and then past your limits and waving back with a smile. Imagine still having problems, but better problems, problems that fuel your growth and excitement, problems you want to face. Imagine getting everything out of the way so you can love the people closest to you. Imagine the myriad ways you can show your love, not just say it, but really show it. Imagine holding hands and exchanging hugs. Imagine making love with the man or woman you love, unencumbered by the trappings of the noisy world around you, fully in the moment, two bodies, flesh and hearts as one. Imagine making your priorities your Real Priorities. Imagine real success. Imagine feeling lighter, freer, happier. What you’re imagining is a meaningful life. Not a perfect life, not even an easy life, but a simple one.

As soon as I earned my first commission check I knew I was on my way to making six figures, and I told myself that once I reached that point everything would be OK. I believed everything would be OK. And I believed this for the last seven years just to realize that unless I’m happy with what I have in the present, no amount of money will make me happy.

Being content with mediocrity makes us compromise what we really want out of life, so we settle, opting instead for what’s “safe.” But settling should be viewed as a bad thing: sea creatures settle to the bottom of the ocean when they die, where they stay, settled, dead among all the other dead things.


Also published on Medium.

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