How To Live More With Less | Rich Roll Podcast
Hey people welcome to the podcast Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, AKA The Minimalists, are in the house dropping truths on how to live better with less. I love these guys. I've known them for years. So much respect for their mission, their work, empowering millions of people all over the world. This conversation is stellar, potentially even life altering. So with that being said, hit the subscribe button and enjoy.
What's up, guys? What's up? This is a long time in the making. Yeah It's good to have you here. Great to see both of you.
Good to be had. Joshua's hair is looking perfect as always. Always. You know, Joshua gets a lot of attention for his hair and this whole Christopher Walken thing, but not enough attention is paid to your hair, Ryan. You have excellent hair I'm sort of between you guys My hair looks horrible today.
I cut my hair. I had long hair like yours. But you're looking fabulous today as well.
Thanks, man. You know, I felt like I was having a bad hair day today so that really uplifts my spirits. So thank you very much It's all good, man.
It's all good. People who've been on this podcast journey for a while will likely remember a podcast that I did with Joshua way back in the day. But Ryan, this is your first time here. I was boycotting you at the time.
Yeah, I don't know what was going on between us, but we worked it out. You guys have been gracious enough to host me on your show several times. And I'm delighted to have you here on the eve of your new documentary coming out.
That's exciting, man. Thanks so much Thanks for having us. Yeah, it's cool. I'm excited to be
here too, man. Your story is well told, but I think it would be good to at least contextualize everything we're gonna talk about by sharing your personal stories. And also in particular Ryan, since yours, you haven't had an opportunity to share yours here.
So how do we launch into that? What's the best place to start? Should we start at the beginning? Yeah, 1981. (all chuckle) Fifth grade, best friends. I think we should start with Josh.
Two pudgy kids sitting in the corner. Yeah, exactly. Plotting world domination. That's not far from the truth except the world domination part. It was more like the suburbs You were working your way towards it of Dayton domination.
Working our way towards it. How many kids from Dayton have documentaries on Netflix? I mean, the Wright brothers. Yeah. The Wright brothers, okay, all right So there's them.
Who's the other? Martin sheen, he is from. I don't think there's a doc though. No. He might be in a documentary. Here's where we start, I think.
I'll tee it up. So Ryan and I grew up really poor in Dayton, Ohio. We've known each other, as you said, since we were fat little fifth graders and literally I was the fattest kid in school.
Ryan was the second fattest kid It's so hard to believe, but when you watch the documentary, you're like, wow, he was telling the truth. Yeah, I mean, it was impressive or depressive. Anyway, we knew each other. We grew up really poor, dysfunctional homes, before that term dysfunctional was in vogue and we were pretty discontented growing up. And of course we thought, well, how do we become happy? And of course that was make money.
And so we climbed the corporate ladder throughout our twenties and had ostensibly successful careers. But of course we weren't successful. We were overwhelmed and stressed and sort of discontented by the lives we created. And you know, what's fascinating now, Ryan, is the the life we were living growing up, it was so chaotic. We traded that chaos just for a different type of chaos. Controlled chaos it's still chaos.
In fact, it's an oxymoron. And so yeah, we were working in corporate America making really good money, spending even better money. And so had massive amounts of debt and knew we needed to make a change. Well, yeah.
I mean, you both grew up in alcoholic households, essentially, right? Yeah. Yeah. Food stamps, poverty. So it's not surprising that you would seek out security and an upward kind of financially secure trajectory. I mean, that's what most people would do trying to emerge out of a situation like that. Yeah, I just, I remember working for my dad just out of high school. He just had like small painting and wallpaper company and he worked his butt off and he made nothing and now I was there working my butt off making nothing.
And I'm like, I know there's a way I can work just as hard but make more money. And that's when I went into Telecom with Josh. And yeah, like he said, I started making really awesome money. And I thought, oh, I figured it out.
I finally figured it out. I remember, 'cause even during high school I worked for my dad painting and hanging wallpaper. And I remember early on when I was working for him we were in this really nice house.
It wasn't like a mansion or anything, but it was like something nicer than my mom or dad had ever owned. And I looked at my dad, I'm like, "This is a really nice place, man. "Like how much do I need to make in order to live here?" And he's like, "If you can make $50,000 a year "you could probably afford a place like this." So for me, that was like, yeah, that was the number for happiness, $50 grand a year. And when I went to the Telecom company, I think that very first year I made like $52,000 or something. And I was really proud of myself and happy that I was making more money.
I went out and bought a new truck I guess it wasn't technically mine, 'cause you know, I got a loan, got a car payment basically, but I wasn't happy. And I realized why I wasn't happy. It was because I didn't adjust for inflation. The $50,000 number had grown a little bit. So I'm like, oh, maybe it's $60,000, maybe it's $80,000, maybe it's six figures or maybe just owning a bunch of stuff.
So yeah, that's what I pursued. But I mean, my story really with minimalism, it kind of starts with Josh because when we were in the corporate world, we were miserable. We had accumulated so many different burdens. Whether it's debt or whether it's an overabundance of clutter, whether it was chasing a job title. I mean it was very, very depressing.
But I noticed Josh who started being a little bit less depressed and that's when I went to him and I asked him like, "Hey man, what are you doing that's making you so happy? "Why the hell are you so happy?" And that's when he introduced this thing called minimalism into my life. Well, walk me up to the point of this epiphany Joshua. 'Cause I think it's important to understand the inflection point that introduced you to this new way of living. Sure, yeah.
My mom died and my marriage ended both in the same month. And so it was like sort of this double car crash. It's like you get hit by one thing and then it swerves you into this other thing.
And at the same time, my corporate career, I was really discontented by it. I was managing 150 retail stores, which I know is ironic with the whole minimalism thing now, but maybe it took that in a way for me to recalibrate. But these two big events happened to me and I started questioning everything. And literally every thing, the things in my life, especially because I had spent the last dozen years, I was 30 at the time, and as I began questioning those things in my life I realized that I had worked so hard to buy a bunch of things to make me happy and those things aren't doing their job. And so they had become my priority though. And so of course my priorities were totally out of whack, achievement, success.
Now it's not that Ryan and I are against material possessions, and we don't think it's morally wrong to own things. We own stuff. I got here in a car today. I have a bed and a couch. Wearing a nice jacket.
Yeah, thank you. A lot of money spent on hair products. (all laughing) But the thing is I had such an attachment to the things but also the perception of other people and a lot of that had to do with ego.
And so ultimately what I figured out at the time was, oh, my priorities are really out of whack. And thankfully I stumbled across minimalism, thanks to the internet at the time. Someone tweeted Colin Wright, a friend of ours, who was in our first minimalism documentary. And he lived with 52 items.
And I didn't aspire to that, but it made me realize there was a relatively normal person doing very abnormal things. And I didn't want to live his life but that exposed me to a bunch of other minimalists, people like Leo Babauta, Courtney Carver, and Joshua Becker, more normal people who had like families and houses. Leo's got like five kids or something like that. Six Six.
Yeah. He didn't even have the condoms, he was so minimalist What's interesting about this to me is you could have, given a different set of circumstances, ended up at a Buddhist monastery or joining the Peace Corps. Clearly you were having an existential crisis about how you were living.
You had premised your entire life on this idea that this very traditional upward corporate trajectory would deliver on its promise of making you happy. You achieve those things. You're lacking that sense of connection that you thought it would deliver and you go searching, and you stumble upon minimalism.
But what if it had been some other thing? There are other paths to sort of finding a little bit more fulfillment and purpose, but you, for whatever reason, minimalism was the thing that you connected with. Yeah and by the way, I think that I connected with it because there wasn't a particular dogma among the people that I saw. There wasn't a 12 step thing. And I look at a lot of the stuff now on Don't you dare talk bad on the 12 step thing.
No, no, no, no. Go ahead. No, I know I'm just kidding. I'm not talking about 12 steps But like the five steps to declutter your closet.
And so it wasn't, the how to side of things wasn't that appealing to me, it was the why to side of things that really made me scrutinize what I was doing. Even now you won't see me and Ryan talk about the 17 ways to declutter your kitchen. We're not gonna do a video about that. If someone else wants to do that, that's fine. I don't think that actually addresses the problem. I think those types of solutions, they often cause new problems because we begin to focus on, we turn those things into the main focus and it removes our focus from whatever the underlying problem is.
And so I was fascinated by what these people were doing and how they were doing it, but I was much more focused on the why. That's why the new film, Less Is Now, it really starts with that question. How might your life be better with less? Now that's a how question, but it's a disguised question. It's actually a why question. You see that in the anecdotes and the stories of the kind of everyday people that have undergone this process and how it's emotionally changed their lives or their perspective on how they live day to day. But it is true.
And we've talked about this before that on a surface level it's about getting rid of your stuff but it's really not about that at all. And I think a lot of the focus or the kind of news narrative around it is around decluttering, but the process of decluttering is really just a way to clear space so you can marshal your awareness onto the things that are important that you want to focus on. Is that fair or accurate? Yeah, no, I think that is totally fair. It's interesting though. It makes me think how the media wants to sell a solution to a symptom rather than address the problem. I mean, that doesn't really speak to what you're asking.
Well, the problem is so massive and we're all living amidst this grand delusion. Our entire society is founded upon the idea that you played out in your own life and had to figure out for yourselves, wasn't delivering on the promise. This idea that we should be seeking security, and comfort, and salary increases, and the new car, and all the messages that bombard us everywhere we turn our head reinforces that. And yet what it doesn't do, and the movie does a beautiful job of illustrating this, is remind us about what's most important which is community and the connection to the people that we love and pursuing your life with some level of intentionality. Yeah, absolutely. Well, I mean, Annie Leonard talks about this in the documentary about deficit advertising.
So advertisers, big corporations, whatever, they go out of their way to make you feel like you're missing something in your life. So that's why we chase the bigger paycheck. So we can go out and buy those things that subconsciously we're like, oh man, if I just had like a little bit of a nicer car I'd have a better ride to work, and I'd enjoy my commute a little bit more. And if I just a little bit bigger of a house, I could have that Pilates studio.
And I mean, yeah. You just notch it up, and then you get there. And then you're like, well, I don't feel that way yet, but it's because there's a guy who's living a little bit higher up on the Hill than I am. Yeah, by the way I don't want to moralize any of this either.
I don't want to say it's better or worse to own fewer possessions. I'm not saying that it's good that Ryan and I own less than we used to own. I'm not saying it's bad either. It is probably more appropriate for us, given the constraints.
But to the point you were asking about, Rich, our material possessions are sort of this physical manifestation of what's going on inside us. That's that existential crisis you talked about. And so the external clutter is a way that we sort of visualize the mental clutter, or the psychological clutter, or the emotional clutter the spiritual clutter, this internal clutter.
And we found that like with minimalism, yeah, we could have been Buddhism or Christianity or anything else that we would have stumbled into but stumbling into minimalism allowed us to deal with the thing that had become this priority in our lives. Stuff had become this priority. And so it started with the stuff but that's sort of the initial bite at the apple.
And then it goes to simplifying all other areas of life. But there's this moment that you experienced and that you see in the people profiled in the film where the lights kind of go on, as they begin this process, there's like an and enervating that occurs in their lives. Like they become very emotionally involved in the process of decluttering their lives and it becomes exciting, and there's a momentum that kind of occurs.
Yeah, you're talking about the everyday minimalists that we have in our film. Yeah, no, it is encouraging. There's one gentleman in there who talks about how once he started simplifying and got to where he felt like he wasn't living in a bunch of clutter, he kind of realized, oh, I've had everything I ever needed this whole time.
He gets emotional. And he's an older guy, he's not like a millennial. Yeah, absolutely. No, I love having those kind of everyday minimalists in there to kind of talk about their own personal experiences, especially because Josh and I, we can tell her stories all day long, but you need other people to resonate with than just two dudes with really great hair. It is really great though. We didn't want it to be the Josh and Ryan story.
Like the first film, Minimalism, it was sort of exposing people to different ideas of intentional living and different areas of minimalism. There were minimalist architects and there are Buddhists, et cetera. In this film, we didn't want it to just be, oh, Josh and Ryan tell their story but it sort of circled around that initial story of us.
But we brought in some experts but then we also had 30 of those everyday minimalist. So we wanted all these different perspectives. You probably noticed the diversity in the film but it's not just like an ethnic diversity. It's like we have a 17 year old and a 70 year old in the film. And all we did was we put a call out and said, hey, does anyone have a story about how they've been affected by our first film, and they've simplified their lives? And how did that work out for you? And we just started bringing those people into the film. So taking it back, you have this experience in the wake of your marriage dissolving and your mother's passing, where you decide that you're gonna basically change your lifestyle top to bottom.
You get rid of all this stuff, you have that light's going on experience. You seem lighter in your shoes. I assume you're still at the job at that point but you were just showing up with a little bit of a bigger smile. Yeah, I was also doing a better job setting expectations. So we were on call like doctors, but I wasn't saving anyone. I couldn't even save myself.
And yet I had to answer the phone at 10:00 PM if my boss' boss wanted to know something about the sales transactions for any of the stores that day. So it was a regular occurrence. The last thing I did when my head hit the pillow was check my Blackberry. The first thing when I got up in the morning was check my Blackberry. And throughout the day, all throughout the day, I was checking and I started setting expectations.
And that was sacrilegious where we worked. I called my boss, said, "I'm not gonna take phone calls in the evening anymore." And I could audibly hear his jaw drop on the phone because, what do you mean? You realized that he didn't realize that was an option, even for himself. I got a call from our boss.
We had the same boss. And he was like, "Is Josh, like, is he depressed? "Like maybe planning on killing himself or something?" 'Cause I'm giving away my stuff. Giving away his stuff.
He's saying, hey, I don't care what you think. I'm not taking phone calls at six. But isn't that kind of sad that that's the reaction though.
Yeah. As opposed to, wow, is he doing something that changes his life so that he experiences more peace or more contentment? Like I said, I don't think this is an indictment on stuff or even on corporate America. It's an indictment on chasing, on craving, on attachment. Well, also on your relationship to externalities. Yeah. Yeah.
So, Ryan, at some point you began to cotton on to this, like what's going on with Joshua, right? Yeah, I mean, it was after him setting boundaries. It was after that phone call from our boss because I did not see a depressed Josh. I saw someone who was taking control of something that he had no control over. And it wasn't until, so he moved into a new place after he split up with his wife. And it was like a two bedroom, one bath or maybe two baths, but it was only half full. But the one thing that was missing that really stood out to me was the TV.
And every time I'd go over, I'd be like, dude when are you getting a TV? What kind of TV are you gonna get? Because that's how we compared success in the corporate world. What kind of TV you got at your house? How many TVs do you have? How big is that TV? I wonder what Freud would say about this. So at a certain point, he's like, "I don't think I'm gonna get a TV." I'm like, interesting.
And yeah, eventually I wanted whatever he was doing. And when he said minimalism, I don't know, you asked that in the beginning about would it have been a different path, could it have been a different path if we didn't find minimalism. Well, if he shaved his head and disappeared to a monastery for a while and came back, maybe you wouldn't have been so. Yeah, probably not.
Probably not. But he introduced the term minimalism to me and to be honest, if it was someone else I don't know how seriously I would have taken it, but him and I have very, it's weird, we have like exact opposite Myers-Briggs personalities but we have very similar personalities in other ways. So I was like, if this works for him I'll at least give it a shot and look at it and see if it'll work for me. So the first video he sent me was Colin Wright with the 50 things that he owned. And I'm like, oh okay, this is a little weird. But then I got into other minimalists, Courtney, Carver, Leo Babauta, Joshua Becker.
And you know, what I saw is common sense. I saw a lot of people talking about all these common sense things that I knew internally but for some reason I never listened to. And minimalism for me, it was an opportunity for me to start over. It was an opportunity for me to, well, do what Josh did and gain control of what I had lost control over.
So I got really excited. I'm like, dude, I want to be a minimalist. This is awesome. I get it, what should I do? So you do this packing party thing, basically. Yeah, exactly.
So in the excitement, he was like, "Well, what if we pack up all your stuff "and then unpack it as you need it." And I'm like, "That's a great idea" Especially 'cause I'm a very extreme person when it comes to things. Like Josh had pared down over several months.
He made some very slow changes over months time. But for me, like I needed faster results. So the packing party was perfect for me.
I think probably most of your listeners right now I don't know if the packing party would be the best option for them, especially if they've got families and stuff. Although we have totally seen families do. Well, yeah, I'll say this.
Everyone's at home thinking of interesting things to do. There's a lot of people rearranging the furniture in their houses right now, losing their minds. That's a really good idea. This is like the perfect time for them to confront all this stuff. The one time you're really confronted with everything, like truly confronted, is when you move to a new house. And so that was sort of the impetus of the packing party idea, was like, when you move, you actually have to go through everything you own and do something with it, whether it's store it, box it up, whatever, it doesn't matter. You have to do something with that stuff.
And now is sort of the second time where this has happened where people have been in their homes for way more than they anticipated. And we thought at the beginning of this like people were reaching out to us like, hey, you guys, you're probably upset that you got rid of all that stuff, aren't you, now that we're stuck at home? And I'm like, yeah, the broken waffle iron is really, I'm missing that right now. The third bread maker that I got as a wedding gift. And so anyway that packing party, we've had dozens of people do it. In fact, we have a book coming out next year, called Love People, Use Things.
It's like the whole sort of synopsis of our message. And in that book we had 47 different families do a packing party. So it may seem radical, but it's not so radical that, I mean, we've had a lot of people do it.
The idea being, you pack everything up and then you slowly unpack and deliberately decide which items you actually need to use and the rest gets donated or sold. Right, yeah, I mean, Josh had asked me, he's like, "What if you unpacked things as you needed it? "that would really help." And I'm like, "Yeah, that's a great idea.
"That's what we should do." And so you can imagine, yeah, my clothes for work, bed and bed sheets, toothbrush, so forth and so on. But I'll tell you, the packing party, it was something to like change my state. But I honestly didn't realize how powerful that was going to be until it was over and I was confronted with all my things. And the biggest revelation was I had this dream of retiring early, but I had like very little in my retirement accounts. But here I saw tens of thousands of dollars that I wasn't using worth of stuff.
And I'm like, hmm, that could probably be sitting in my retirement account right now. But I remember going to Josh, I'm like, "Dude, we have to do a website "and talk about this packing party. "'Cause this is something."
So that was the original impetus to start the blog. Yeah. Yeah. It started 10 years ago yesterday. I know. I saw an Instagram, your 10 year, you guys have been doing this for 10 years.
It's wild. 10 years, yeah. That's unbelievable, man. What's the difference between your relationship to minimalism then in the early days to now? Like how has it evolved or changed? I think it's changed quite a bit recently.
I've become more allergic to the sort of how to side of things. I've never been a giant fan of it, but I've realized that it's actually, before I was somewhat neutral on it. It just wasn't for me. But now I think it's often a problem. And I think it's an opiate in a way because it helps, as Ryan alluded to earlier, the sort of the symptoms. Like if I show you how to declutter your kitchen but you don't know why you're doing it, it's gonna be re cluttered a month from now.
And so getting a deep understanding, if you understand the why, truly understand the why, the how will take care of itself. And so we'll talk about some of the how stuff that we've done, that may not be applicable for everyone, by the way. My why looks different from Ryan's why and that's why starting out with that question, how might your life be better with less is really the the foundation of it. Then we can talk about the how to. But it's the process, it's the how that opens the portal to the why.
Like if you're living your life in a certain way with blinders on and just moving in a particular direction, it's very hard to answer that question of why. You got to shake things up and do something different in order to kind of confront that. Short of you doing the packing party, would you have been, if confronted with the why question, how are you gonna answer that? So it's almost like there needs to be a deconstruction of your life a little bit and there's some practicalities that get baked into that. I'm all for that It's interesting.
It's almost like the why was so much in my face at the time of how miserable I was. It was like But also you're holding onto it so hard because your whole life was invested in that. Oh 100%. Yeah, but if it wasn't for that amount of, or that level of stress and discontent and depression, I don't know if I would have. 'Cause the problem is sometimes. Pain is the lever. Yeah and comfort is like, I don't know, comfort to me is, don't get me wrong, I like being comfortable, but It's fuel for denial.
Absolutely. The thing I look at with what Ryan I think Ryan is actually the perfect example of if you understand the why, the how it takes care of itself. No one gave him a how to, there was not a prescription for a packing party ever. It didn't exist. What did exist were a bunch of decluttering tips and other things that we had seen for decades and never paid any attention to, because that's not that compelling.
It's compelling in the moment at the checkout line, the same way candy is appealing at the checkout line. But it's not nutritious in any way. And so when Ryan truly understood the why, like, oh, I don't feel at peace, I feel chaos, let me sort through this. Let me not fix it because nothing is fixed.
There's always change. It's not about fixing something, it's about addressing the problem. I think that's what the packing party did.
It was the impetus. Now, yeah, we talk about the how, but Ryan always talk about how what we share is like a recipe and you can sort of tweeze out your own ingredients and create your own version of it, adjust for taste. So how long after this packing party and this decision to write about these things before you guys are no longer working at the corporation? Like I know you got laid off. I got laid off, yeah, months after Josh.
Josh technically got laid off too. I laid myself off. He did. It was, well, they came to me.
So this was 10 years ago as well. And they came to me right before Christmas said, as soon as we finish out the holiday shopping season, which by the way, we've turned the holiday season into a shopping season. Think about that for a moment. But they said, as soon as we do this, I need you to close eight stores and lay off 42 employees. I had done this a bunch of times. It was never fun, but it got easier over time.
So I laid off a bunch of people and fired people. It wasn't that big of a deal. But then with this new perspective I had been simplifying my life that entire year. They said you got two weeks to put together this plan, give us the 42 names that you're going to lay off. And so I went home and within two days I was putting the spreadsheets together. But looking at the spreadsheet was like looking at a rainbow in black and white and gray scale.
Because these were just names and statistics. And I get that's how you're going to make a decision like this. But these weren't just names. These were husbands and fathers and daughters and mothers.
And these were people. And you know, my livelihood was in their hands. And I knew that like there was some sort of discontent but at that point I realized the corporation we were at no longer aligned with my personal values. And so I turned the plan in, my name was the first name on the list. So you really did lay yourself off. Yeah.
Wow. And I didn't really, I didn't have a plan. I just had reduced my bills so significantly living in Dayton Ohio, $500 a month apartment. And I was like, you know what? I'm gonna try this writing thing out for a while. There was a coffee shop in my neighborhood, they actually ended up in the documentary. Press.
Press, yeah. And I said, I'll just work there and I'll have enough money to pay my bills. And I'll write for the rest of the time. I wanted to write fiction initially. Thanks to Ryan, this was a beautiful accident in a different direction. So you guys start meeting at Press, you start working on this blog.
I mean, that's what we did for the first year. We just wrote on the blog and yeah, put our thoughts out there. Was there a moment, like a tipping point moment with the blog where you're like, wow, this could be a thing. We could actually craft a vocation around this? What is the tipping point.
I think for me, it's the San Francisco event. For me, it was before that. It was before that? Yeah, for me it was Leo Babauta shared something that we did.
I was reading his blog back then too. That was like, everyone was reading his stuff. And we had like more people show up in one day.
And it wasn't a lot of people, it was like 9,000 people or something. For me, it was like, oh, we haven't seen, so we talk about this in the film, how like 52 readers that first month turned into 500, which turned into 5 million or whatever. And so there was a moment there, but around that same time, it was like, hey, you guys are The Minimalists, aren't you? Did you write a book about minimalism? And it's like, oh, I guess we should do that, huh? We are the minimalists.
And so we did, we put out a book. At the time we just self published a book at the end of our first year. And we went on tour, but it was really just, we went around the country to coffee shops. And it made me realize like, oh, if we can get eight people to show up and buy a book. Most stops were like two to eight people.
Yeah. If we sell 10 books When you're living minimally, you don't need much. No exactly. If we could sell 10 books. Then we have a place to stay for the night.
If not, then we'd just sleep in Ryan's Toyota Corolla. And that's how it worked out for us. Well, the first movie did such a great job at spinning that yarn of you guys going on the road and showing up at places and three people would show up. And then slowly a few more, a few more, and you see the build. But it's the grittiness of the early days that was so fun. I'm just thinking about that South by event in that minimalism documentary because I remember being so excited for that South by Southwest event, like, we made it.
We finally, we finally. It's a buddy movie road trip on like a wizard of Oz movie with South by Southwest being you guys going to meet Oz. And I was thinking, this was like the apex of our journey. Like we were at South by Southwest, this is, and then like, yeah, three people showed up to it. And they're like on their phones, by the way, it's 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning, Ryan is trying to talk about living with less.
I'm like, hi everybody. Yeah, that was great. Lanyards. This big room with like three people in it. Well, that movie is so well done. And I have to imagine that that had to be life-changing in some regard.
I think it's most people's introduction to your work because Netflix put it right out front. And so many people watched it. The first question I have about that first movie is how did you connect with Matt D'Avella? 'Cause Matt D'Avella, he's had his own crazy trajectory blowing up on YouTube and being this massive creator on that platform.
100%. He's all grown up. We connected with him on Twitter when he was a wedding videographer.
And I saw this video he made called Most Wedding Videographers Suck. And I still bring that up to him constantly but he was doing that and he was doing like other commercial work for like Toyota or Subaru or something. And we hired him to do the trailer for our second book, Everything That Remains. And we did an event out in New York to sort of celebrate this. And he filmed that event and made a trailer for that book that we put up on YouTube. And that was sort of it.
And then a few months later, I said, "Hey, we're getting ready to go on the road." 2014, we did a hundred city tour. And said, "Hey, do you want to come "on the road with us and try to make a documentary?" And he had been wanting to do something with his creative skills other than commercial work.
And so he's like, "Yeah, I'll give it a shot." At the end of the tour it was like, he just had a few hard drives with like a thousand hours of footage. It was like, hey, good luck with that.
So he just went away and came back with a cut for you guys? Yeah. I remember dropping him off at the airport and I just remember thinking to myself, I don't think this is a movie. I'm like, I have no idea how he's gonna pull this together. There was no budget for it. I mean, we were just passionate about it, so it's not like we had a lot to lose but then he sent that first cut, and yeah, I was instantly like, oh wow. Matt knows what he's doing.
And I always make sure and tell people that because people will come up to me and they'll be like, "Oh, you're the guy from the minimalism documentary. "Great doc. "You did such a good job." And I'm like, I wish I could say it was me but it's really Matt D'Avella who did that whole documentary. He did an unbelievable job and all the accolades and success that he's he's enjoying on YouTube are well-deserved. Oh yeah, Heck yeah.
What he does is amazing on YouTube. And he has built up this amazing following, especially if young people, who really, he's brought the message of minimalism to a crowd that that maybe Ryan and I weren't ever going to reach either. Yeah absolutely. He makes these like mini documentaries.
I know every one of his videos is like, should enjoy a theatrical release. I'm going to tell him that compliment next time I see him. Yeah, and he's a guy who walks the talk, like he just this past week gave away all his stuff yet again. And him and his wife are on the road and now in Sydney, like they're just gonna travel.
They literally, everything they own is in like little carry on suitcases. It's a beautiful example of how you can turn your life around on a dime when you have the power to let go of anything in your life. And I mean, that's exactly what he displayed with that. 'Cause minimalism is not about owning nothing.
It's just about breaking free from that attachment, breaking free from that, I don't know another word for it. Just that attraction that we all have for stuff. There's a sense that, oh, if you're going to be a minimalist, that you're self-flagellating or you're some kind of martyr, when in truth you're just purchasing freedom for yourself. Absolutely, absolutely. And choices.
To be able to, you know, self-employment is such a gift, but it gives him with the things that he does, the ability to just pack it up and go wherever he wants, which is unbelievable. And when you see him work, it's amazing. You wouldn't think he's able to, he has the strangest sort of, he's like hiding under the table, looking up with the camera. You're like, what is he doing? Is that a crotch shot? I'm not sure what's going on here.
But somehow he just And a total one man show. When I did his, I was one of the early guests on his podcast and he's got all these cameras, and he's doing it all himself. He's manning the cameras, he's asking the questions. He's got the monitor there. I'm like, this looks stressful. Like, get a little help.
But he's like, no, he knows what he's doing. He's like a master of his domain. His hidden secret is his skill at editing.
So we had some help on this film, Angus wall, I don't know if you know Angus wall, Uh uh. But he's David Fincher's editor. Oh wow. So he edited Fight club, he edited The Social Network. He won some Academy award for that.
He edited, what's the one with, what's the other big one he did? I know it's on the tip of my tongue too. Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. He did the opening sequence to that.
Anyway, his company did the animation in Less Is Now. And he was actually, we were gonna bring him and that team on to edit the film. But Matt was just like, "No, I'm good. "I got it covered." And that's the thing, the weird thing about it is I don't think Matt likes editing at all but that is his hidden, he's the Mozart of editing.
And he, even when we went from fourth cut to fifth cut, Angus saw it and he was like, "This looks like it went through 60 different "cuts of the film." Yeah, kudos to him. So the movie explodes and you guys kind of ride this wave. You have the books and you started the podcast. You're now 10 years into this thing. You've got millions of people all over the world that care deeply about the things that you talk about.
And what's really cool and compelling about this platform that you now manage is that it's completely audience supported. You start all your podcasts, advertisements suck. And you have this population of people that adore you and basically are willing to subscribe to your wisdom. And you've been able to craft out making a living off of this for a decade. Most of what we do is free and available to the public.
And there's a small portion where we sort of dive deeper. And our private podcast is on Patreon. And yeah, we do have an audience that supports us there but that's also, it's almost like when you go to, well, back when we could go to the Comedy Store or places like that where people sort of work out ideas. We work out things.
And sometimes Ryan and I just argue on the private podcast about things because we don't agree about something or we bring a guest on and we argue with them about it. I like to think of it as talking things out. (all laugh) But most of what we do is, whether it's the blog or the main podcast, it's accessible to anyone. When you were touring, how many cities did you do? I mean, you guys invited me to come when you did the Fillmore in San Francisco, which was like, so cool, man. You guys were filling theaters all across the country. Yeah, you were at the Fillmore with us.
Super fun. That was great. I mean the most we've ever done was 100 cities, 119 events in one year. Wow. We canceled a tour last this year, 2020, because of 2020. For obvious reasons.
And yeah, we've done what nine tours in 10 years. So anywhere from a few cities like the Simply Southern Tour was three cities. We went with Dave Ramsey's team and did a small tour in the South. To 100 cities everywhere in between.
But yeah, it just became a part of, and by the way, all those tours were different as well. Sometimes it's a podcast tour. Sometimes we do a talk. Sometimes we'll do book readings and book signings.
It kind of just depends on what's going on. So Dave Ramsey features pretty prominently in the new movie. So how did that relationship develop? How does he fit into the minimalist ecosystem? His daughter really likes us.
Is that what it is? Yeah. His daughter works for him. She's a very talented author. Her name is Rachel Cruz and she has a great YouTube show. And she invited us to come on her YouTube show. It's in Nashville and it's a whole production.
They have a whole studio set up there. He has 1,000 employees at his compound. It's a really impressive setup. And they work really hard to teach financial literacy. They're now being taught in 25% of the high schools around the country, the Dave Ramsey curriculum. He has a whole team, like 100 people on that team.
His whole thing is about living fiscally responsible, like not living outside of your means and making sure that you're making prudent financial, essentially conservative prudent financial disease. Yeah, I feel like he's like a minimalist finance guy basically, because you know, minimalism, it's funny when I first heard it and heard about it and looked into it, I kind of thought like it was this niche type thing. And then once I got into it, I'm like, oh, this can be applied to anything.
And I think Dave Ramsey essentially applies minimalism to finances. He's got some great financial advice. His whole team though, they're great. Anthony O'Neil, Chris Hogan.
The whole lot of them. John Delony Yeah, Ken. So we're well into this pandemic cycle, fraying at the edges pandemic cycle as we crawl towards 2021. And I'm interested in how you're thinking about the relationship between consumerism and minimalism with this very specific moment, the way that I'm kind of thinking about it is that on the one hand, nobody's going to the mall, they're not shopping, they're at home. So it's forcing people to perhaps be a little bit more reflective about those habits on some level, yet at the same time, we're all empowered by these tools. And we're spending, these technological tools, we're all in front of our screens way too much.
And that habituation to shopping has just migrated to the devices. I don't know what the statistics are but I suspect, I'm certain that online shopping has skyrocketed but has consumerism overall increased during this moment? How are you thinking about people's habits? What does that look like right now? It depends what we mean by consumerism. So I do think consumerism is the right way to frame it. That is one of the problems. Consumption isn't the problem. We talk about this in Less Is Now because we all need to consume some stuff.
Consumerism, which is what we could just identify as compulsory consumption in a way as though we feel that we must buy this in order to either be complete, Ryan talked about the deficit advertising earlier, or the what else is Annie call it in the film? The vertical integration. And so no longer are you just competing with your next door neighbor. Yeah, talk about that. That's a really fascinating, important idea, I think. So here's the new problem.
Consumerism is one problem when we relate that to stuff, materialism is really that, the other side of consumerism is distraction, I think. And so the thing that Ryan and I will say is scrolling is the new smoking. And this epiphany hit me when I was walking outside of like a Chipotle or something. I see someone outside in the cold, like in the Midwest, scrolling on their phone, cigarette in hand at the same time. And it's not to judge that person, it's to see myself in that person. I don't smoke, but I could see, my habits are showing.
And it's not just the smoking. Now, 50 years ago everyone sort of casually puffed cigarettes. We'd be at this table right now, just smoking, talking.
It'd be a cloud. But you did that now, it would seem nutty. If I just lit up a cigarette right now, you wouldn't know how to respond to that. The only person who could do that is Dave Chappelle, by the way, but besides him, it would seem nutty. And yet it doesn't seem that strange if I, it would because of the three of us, but at your average setting if I were to pull out a phone and just check it really quick, but it's just as bothersome in many ways. It's secondhand distraction.
And so I think over the last decade in particular, what we've seen is a lot of new ways to distract ourselves. Ryan and I distracted ourselves back in the aughties and in the late '90s with stuff. But now the distractions are digital and they're right there. And they're more enticing than ever. The same thing happens. In the material world, it was high paid demographers, statisticians, marketers, aggregating your eyeballs onto their product or service.
Now, since you're the product, it's aggregating your eyeballs onto the product and service to sell you products and services. And so in a weird way, a dystopian way, it elevates the problem. It amplifies the problem.
I mean, without a doubt, and this is subject matter and terrain that movies like the Social Dilemma go into at length. It's not just enticing, it's truly addictive. And it's designed to be that way. The revelatory idea that I had not thought about before until I saw your movie was this idea of the kind of exponential expansion of keeping up with the Joneses, this consumerist impulse originally derived from perhaps something genetic within us to try to keep pace with our neighbors.
So-and-so's got that refrigerator or that car, I've got to get that too. But now by dint of these technological tools, everybody's our neighbor. So it's not just the person living next door, but it's the celebrity on Instagram and you get to peek into their world, or now on Zoom, you get to see what everybody's study and living room looks like. And it's almost impossible to not run that comparison against what you have or don't have. And how does that impact your consumer choices or your sense of innate discontent when you attempt to measure yourself against that impossible standard? Yeah, I think comparison is the killer of joy, regardless of how you're comparing yourself or what you have to other people.
It is interesting, like with the whole social media, it's like, my sister, when I was in Ohio a year ago, you know, back when we were traveling without any fear. She was like, "Do you feel cool, "'cause you got, you know, X amount "of subscribers on Instagram?" And I'm like, "No." I was like, "Do you think I'm cool "because I have that many subscribers?" And she's like, "Yeah, I think it's pretty cool." And I'm like, "If you're looking at subscribers, "I don't even know what I have. "I know it's not a million", but I'm like, "If you got to where I'm at "with however many subscribers, "then you'd be looking at a million, "and then once you had a million "you'd be looking at 3 million."
It's like a never ending comparison wheel that we put ourselves on. It's failure. In a weird way, all success is failure. So what are the tactics that you deploy to prevent yourself from indulging in that kind of fruitless mental exercise.
'Cause it's hard, right? Yeah, it is. I mean, I don't look at specific numbers. That's one way.
Because I think, I'm a numbers guy in general. I love math, I love spreadsheets. So I could very easily get wrapped up into it just to like make a game out of it. But I try to not gamify it as much as possible but I'll be honest, because of, man, this is gonna sound like some Buddhist hybrid thing, but because of how destructive my ego was in the corporate world, anytime I start to feel the ego kicking in, which it kicks in all the time, but when I start to feel it kicking in with like, oh, how many subscribers that I gained today? Or how many? 'Cause I did feel that in the early days, I try not to stroke that ego. And by practicing that over the last 10 years, I am able to just kind of still feel like I felt 10 years ago.
I don't feel any more popular or successful. I mean, even, it's funny, you were talking about us having a lot of people who adore us, I think is what you said, and they're willing to support us. And I appreciate those people so much but like hearing you say it, my ego is like, oh wow, that is amazing. We do have all these people who adore us and who will support us. So I guess just to reiterate, when my ego starts to get out of control I will try to like put it in check a little bit because ultimately, I know if I ever start to play that game, it'll never be enough.
Yeah. I don't have any tactics. You guys aren't getting into Twitter spats and things like that.
You seem to just, I can tell by the way that you share your content online that it's kind of at an arms length. You make sure that your stuff is being shared but you're not in there going back and forth with people and stuff like that A healthy detachment. I'm not the Buddha. The Buddha would be non-attachment right. But not needing the outcome and not needing any of it, by the way. By being attached detached you realize that, this is gonna sound like a value judgment, but it's not, it's all a scam, man.
Who cares? It's all ego. Even by the way, what have I changed my mind about recently? Helping people. I don't want to help people. Let's be honest, helping people, that's just my ego saying I want to help people.
Now, I feel it's still viscerally because I've programmed myself. You will be externally validated if you say that out loud Right, right, it's my, no, no, no, no, no. But maybe the truth behind that is I want peace. I want to speak the truth. And if that helps some people, that's wonderful.
If it doesn't, it can still be wonderful. I don't need that. Because once I become attached to needing to help someone, it's a different type of prison.
It's a well decorated prison cell but it's still a prison cell. You can help people for selfish reasons though too, 'cause it makes you feel good. It actually makes you 100%. It gives your life a little bit more meaning and it it builds self-esteem. So even if your impetus, your impulse is selfish, it's still a good thing to follow through on.
By the way, I'm not saying that helping people is good or bad. And also not helping people is not good or bad by default then. I don't want to throw that judgment out there. I'm simply saying that I have to be honest with myself that it's my ego that's involved or where I'm like, it is what Ryan said.
If I have 10 million Instagram followers, I'm helping more people. Well, is that the truth or is that just a statistic? I feel like there's two interesting things happening right now, which is the undeniable rise of popularity around minimalism and related ideas. There is a groundswell of people who are feeling disconnected and dissatisfied in a way and are discovering this way of living that is giving their lives greater meaning and purpose. But in tandem with that, we're also seeing this acceleration of our materialistic consumer culture.
You see it in the film too, the kind of rapidisation of home delivery, and Amazon, and the drones and you know how everything just seems like it's on steroids right now, almost like this war of ideas that are bumping up against each other. Well, you also see the sort of corporatization of simplicity as well. When Marie Kondo is selling things at the Container Store. It could be co-opted And yeah, exactly. The container store is actually one of the biggest problems. The container store allows us to hide our hoards.
And this isn't an indictment on Marie Kondo. I think she really does get to the why in her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She obviously discusses the how to stuff.
That's her shtick, but she gets to the why. But when I see tuning forks for several hundred dollars and crystals and the commodification of simplicity, well, you don't need anything to simplify. Organizing is just well-planned hoarding. And the thing we talked about the film is the average American household has 300,000 items in it.
Now, I had a really organized version of that. I had a basement full of bins and boxes and ordinal alphabetized system of CDs and DVDs. But it was just well, planned hoarding.
The easiest way to organize your stuff is to get rid of anything that's no longer adding value. Get rid of most of it, it's so much easier to quote unquote organize, because you don't have anything that you have to organize. You're getting to the essence and you're stop worrying about the form. I love that quote that you shared recently. Everything is 100% off if you don't buy it. (all chuckling) I think we shared that maybe on black Friday or something like, yeah.
Man I wish I could've told my 25 year old self that. He may have not been ready for it though. No. You said something real briefly about minimalism bringing meaning to people's lives.
And actually, I don't know if minimalism brings meaning to people's lives. I think it's minimalism helps someone Etch-a-Sketch a new life. It helps them start over. And then from there they can start to do meaningful things. And that's really what Less Is Now is about. It's about being able to start over.
Thanks. However you phrased it made me think of it in a way of, I don't think minimalism is Like getting it wrong. Right.
I mean, I was alluding to that, but yeah, I hear what you're saying. No, that's a very good point. The question I was gonna ask was what would you tell yourself five years ago when you were well into the minimalism thing that you understand better now that maybe you didn't then as you kind of mature? Five years ago Drop the prescriptions. Not the actual medical prescription, but You mean back to the how to thing. Yeah, but also the desire to give advice to people, that's also an ego thing.
I have no more advice. I have some observations, if you want to hear my own observations about my own life. But even then going back and giving advice to my 35 year old self would be almost counterintuitive. Now, if I could show him some things, it'd be the peace that's related to letting go of some of the attachments, because I think Ryan and I, we picked up new attachments along the way, especially when that film came out. Talk about serving your ego.
When you get recognized on the street a dozen times a day all of a sudden you start to believe that you're better than what you are. And Ryan and I, for a period of time, I think we went three years without doing any media as a result. I was just, it doesn't feel good to need this. And because it feels like you're creating for the wrong reason. It feels as though it's that externality you talked about. Well, that's a healthy dose of self-awareness.
Maybe. I'm still working on eradicating that. Aren't we all. If you ever figure it out, let me know. But that's the thing.
I don't think we ever figure it out. I think it is the eradication thing. You don't figure out heart disease, you try to eradicate it in a way.
So the first movie came out in 2016. What year was that? Yeah, so Netflix actually turned us down twice on that film. So we put out on our own, we did a theatrical release through a company called Gather at the time. I don't even know if they're still around but it was like theatrical on demand.
Was that 2016? Yeah, that was May, 2016. And we did 400 theaters, US, Canada, Australia. And then from there we went back to Netflix. They said, no, again. And so we just put it out on our own and it did relatively well. It resonated with people on iTunes, and Amazon, and other places.
And so Netflix ended up saying yes to it. And that really started the conflagration because we sent the rest of our audience there who had been listening to the podcast or reading the blog, and sparked whatever algorithm does. And it showed up on a lot more people's radar. I think that's how we showed up on your radar. Yeah, I think so. Well, I think you were doing a few podcasts so I saw you guys popping up on some friends and people that I knew.
And then I saw the movie. I was very struck by the movie. And then we did one of our retreats in Italy and we screened it for the group that we had there, which was really cool. That's cool. I was just remembering that today. That's awesome.
And I can't remember whether I did that, I think I had interviewed you and then we went on the trip or maybe I interviewed you right afterwards. I can't remember. But I just remember being very moved by that film. And then we did the podcast and I believe that you might've even alluded either on mic or off that you guys were working on another documentary. We were.
Like there was gonna be a follow-up. And here we are five, maybe almost six years later before Less Is Now premiers. So what happened? We ran into some technical difficulties. Well, Ryan and I, shortly after that came out we went to Matt again and we did another tour. It was called The Less Is Now Tour. And we went out filming that, trying to sort of recreate the magic of the first film.
And we put it together. We actually, we did an event at the Wilbur Theater. This where Joe Rogan shot his most recent comedy special. Beautiful spot.
Yeah, we filmed it, we gave a talk there, and we were going to sort of build the film around that talk. And we kind of ended up doing that in this later version of the film. And the talk looked fine but it kind of looked like a stand-up comedy special without comedy. You were like waiting for the punch, because it was the venue.
And so it just, it fell flat. It didn't work. And so we did it again. We actually brought you out, we rented out this giant warehouse space.
That was like two years ago. Almost three, yeah. Matt was there, there was tons of, was it that long ago? Almost three Almost three, yeah. And this was the big shoot. Yeah, it was 2018
And you had a live audience. I mean, that warehouse space is in the movie. Was that from that evening No. or did you guys end up re-shooting that? That was from a year and a half later. A year and a half later we went to the same studio.
Wow. 'Cause I was telling Julie, we were watching it, and I was like, "Yeah, I was there that night "when these guys were doing this. "but, I'm like, "it doesn't look like there's people there.
"Like when I was there, there was a lot of people there. "So something was weird." Yeah, something was different about it. Yeah, so it went from a comedy special, to no comedy, to a really well done TEDx Talk. That's what it looked like.
So that night you were there, you actually came up you're gracious enough to do the intro for us. And we gave a talk in front of two different crowds because we figured, well the Wilbur Theater aesthetic was the problem. And so we'll refilm this in front of a beautiful aesthetic, this old abandoned warehouse, we'll build the set for it, bring a crew out, film it. And it'll work out that way. That's the problem.
Well then, so we get there and then we start interspersing it with these documentary elements. And it was like mixing vegan cheesecake, shout out to Rich Roll, and sweet and sour tofu and just mushing them two together. And you're like, I really like both of these things but they don't work when I smash them together. And so we had to go back to the drawing board and we said, hey, we're just going to scrap.
So that was the second time we did the film. We scrapped the whole thing and started over again. And so this project we thought was gonna take us about four months ended up taking about four years from the inception until.
'Cause when I was there that night my sense was that you guys were in the final throes of wrapping this thing up. Oh, we were, of that version. And those two will never see the light of day. It's not that they were terrible. They just didn't work for what we were trying to communicate.
We knew we weren't really putting our best foot forward. As Ryan said, it was like it would've been a really good YouTube video. Yeah, it would've been a great YouTube video.
I was just gonna say, just to add onto that, when we got those two films back, I just remember not getting the feeling that I got with Minimalism. For what we gave Matt, he did an amazing job, for what we gave him. But yeah, it's been a long road. Well, it's tough too, because the first one had a built-in narrative and you guys are these underdogs and you're going on this trip. So there's kind of a tempo or a propulsion to that.
And in the follow-up, then the challenge is like, well, what's the next chapter of this and how do we make that compelling? I think that chapter ended up being the chapter before like it was in a weird way, it was the first ever documentary prequel. It doesn't require you to see the first film, obviously. Yeah, not at all.
And they're two independent things. And this one, we were really aggressive about keeping it under an hour in the whole spirit of minimalism. But in doing that, we had to cut out a lot of amazing. Ryan had this whole sub narrative about this.
We can talk about it here. 'Cause you haven't really talked about it publicly. The whole drug thing. I was like you, Rich, I loved to party. This is something that I know about you but I've never heard you actually talk about. You've had your run in with drugs and alcohol.
For sure. I talk about it whenever it comes up like I'm totally okay to talk, especially coming from Ohio. 'Cause like I hope someone in Ohio who is hooked on pain pills right now is listening to this and knowing that they can totally pull themselves out of that situation.
'Cause I mean, Dayton, Ohio, where we're from, I don't know if it still is, but it was the overdose capital of the world. So there's just a lot of drugs there. But yeah, to Josh's point, there was this beautiful arc in the film that we couldn't put in there that I really tried to get.
And Matt tried to put it, it just didn't work. But it was about kind of going down that road and what