Book Review: Everything That Remains

Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists, co-written by authors Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus share their experiences going from corporate success, albeit with a lack of contentment, to a minimalist lifestyle that provided much needed fulfillment and value from life. What is minimalism? Per their blog, The Minimalists, they define minimalism as “a tool used to rid yourself of life’s excess in favour of focusing on what’s important so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

Everything That Remains

I first discovered Millburn and Nicodemus via their TED Talk where they described the physical aspect of minimalism, where Nicodemus held a Packing Party, getting rid of hundreds (possibly over a thousand!) items in his home. I could absolutely relate to this. I often feel closed in by the clutter, by the things I don’t need, will never use, but feel like it would be too hard to part with.

And so, I began to declutter, to remove things from my own life. It’s a SLOW process, and I will never get to the point where I have as little in my home as Millburn and Nicodemus, but that’s okay. I can already feel some levity and calm in the back of my mind. The clutter isn’t weighing me down as much. I suppose I’d better move this philosophy onto my office! And my home office…

I picked up Everything That Remains in response to my positive experience. I will say, it’s not everything that I expected, but it’s a book that has made me ask myself a number of provocative questions, for which I’m extremely grateful. So… let’s just get the bad stuff out of the way first.

My Beef with The Authors

I’m well aware that this could cause some slight outrage from Minimalists fans, but there were sections of the book that made me cringe. At times I found the writing a bit pompous, but I think that’s fair when writing a memoir. Heck, if you read back to previous blog posts of mine, I’m sure the ‘me, me, me’ that comes across either in a blog or in a memoir is unavoidable. It wasn’t a breaking point for me.

The part of the book that really soured it for me was the detailed description of a small-town bar in Montana. It’s written from Millburn’s point of view, though as I understand it Nicodemus helped edit the memoir. Millburn describes the locals with such disdain that it made him truly unlikeable for me. He talks about the fear of ugly people, the fear of bald people, and how his personal hell was in a bar like this. He imagines things he wishes he or Nicodemus could say, but obviously don’t. That said, he wasn’t above writing about what he thought. He even admits that Nicodemus discouraged him from writing about this particular scene in the book – if only he’d heeded such advice.

It was extremely disappointing for me. I don’t expect people to be perfect, far from it, but it was an unnecessary scene that put a firm stop to my desire to meet the pair in public (they had an event in Calgary, that I’d been looking forward to). I’ll give Millburn credit, it’s a brave thing to knowingly write about yourself in an unflattering light, and it was obviously done with purpose.

At the end of the day, the questions that this memoir made me ask myself was enough to get my through, but, again, this one particular scene soured the overall effect.

Thought Provoking

Where I got real value from the memoir was in going along on the journey with the authors. As they shared their experiences and the questions they asked themselves, I found myself thinking about my own answers, or in some cases lack thereof.

  • What things add value to my life?
  • Where are my sources of clutter (not just the physical here) and what can I do to reasonably remove the clutter? How can I make room for more creativity?
  • Do I surround myself with toxic people? If so, is it okay to release them from my life?
  • What kind of lifestyle would make me happy and is my current one fulfilling those expectations?
  • Do I have pacifiers in my life? Are there things such as Internet, TV and others that I use to soothe myself?
  • What if? There was a section where the authors spoke of our childhood “what ifs?” being so positive and ambitious, and our adult “what ifs?” being false barriers. What are my what ifs?
  • Am I spending the kind of time on my relationships to add the value to people from whom I expect to receive value?

This is a truncated list of the many questions I asked myself as a result of this memoir. I am truly grateful that this book came into my life, as it was time for some much-needed introspection. I’m also a huge fan of the essays on The Minimalists’ website, finding regular sources of advice and reflection. It’s a shame that one scene had the power to lessen my experience of the memoir, but such is life.

All in all, I’d say that Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists
is still a great read and for anyone who is looking for a little introspection in life, it’s worth your time.

Had you heard of minimalism before? Do you practice it? What adds value to your life?

Please note that this article includes an Amazon Affiliate link. Should you choose to purchase a copy of What Remains through this link, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. 

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5 Responses to Book Review: Everything That Remains

  1. Irma June 12, 2015 at 3:41 pm #

    Victoria, your blog really spoke to me. I’m definitely going to take a look at the Minimalists blog and possibly their book. Good timing! Thank you!

    • Victoria Smith June 13, 2015 at 11:38 am #

      Glad to hear it, Irma. Ultimately there are a lot of great points in the book… just a narrator I struggled with. If you buy the book through the link in my blog, I get a teeny tiny cut without any extra cost to you… if you haven’t done so already 🙂

  2. rubytuesday9 June 12, 2015 at 11:00 pm #

    This reminds me of that book by Marie Kondo “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. It seems similar, but without the memoir-y aspect and more practical suggestions. The central tenant seems to be asking yourself if certain items “spark joy” when you look at them. I haven’t read it yet, but it seems like most of my internet people are losing their mind over it. As much I admire/see the value in the questions they ask, I think I’m a terrible candidate for books like that because I’m secretly hugely materialistic. Not in a uppity way, but in a “yes of course I need these 3000 books” way. Like I JUST threw out all my old VHSs. And I cried. And I took pictures of them first. And I’m totally fibbing, I actually kept a bunch of them that were sentimental.

    • rubytuesday9 June 12, 2015 at 11:02 pm #

      (though your minimalists book does seem to focus a lot on the mental decluttering not the physical decluttering, I still think I’d be terrible at that. I’m a clutter-y person mentally too. My one concession to this is a use a lot of productivity apps that aim to remind you you’re not as busy as you think you are)

      • Victoria Smith June 13, 2015 at 11:40 am #

        Don’t get me wrong, I also LOVE my stuff, but I often get overwhelmed by the amount of stuff. The book is probably a balance between physical things and mental ‘stuff’. They absolutely live with very few material possessions, but go through a thoughtful process to get there.

        My biggest eye-opener on this one was when I was clearing out my childhood things recently. I couldn’t have told you that I had half those things in my parents’ home. Totally forgot about it. But as soon as I saw them I thought “I want, I want”. I threw out/donated a good chunk, but I now have more things than I have place for, and will need to go through that separation process yet again! Eek, it’s a long road.

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