Love People, Use Things: How Might Your Life be Better with Less?

In Love People, Use Things, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus move past simple decluttering to show how minimalism makes room to reevaluate and heal the seven essential relationships in our lives: stuff, truth, self, money, values, creativity, and people.

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
6-minute read

“I grew up minimalist—it was called being poor.” If I had a tchotchke for every time I heard someone parrot this hackneyed line, I’d have a storage locker full of useless junk. I don’t know whether these naysayers are bad-faith cynics or they’re simply confusing poverty with minimalism, but either way, I find this line of thinking odd, especially since these same critics often claim that minimalism is only for wealthy people, or that it solves only First World problems, and so it’s not applicable to people who live below the poverty line. I’m not sure what to do with this kind of bipolar reasoning, so let’s address it from both sides to clear up any confusion.

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We’ve already established that minimalism, at its core, involves using our limited resources intentionally. Who wouldn’t benefit from that? I, too, grew up poor, and so did Ryan, and we certainly weren’t minimalists, but we definitely would have benefited from being more deliberate with our (very) limited resources. In fact, my poor childhood self would have benefited even more than my supposedly rich adult self who stumbled into minimalism at twenty-eight. Ditto for Ryan.

But let’s set that aside for a moment. Let me pretend we don’t get frequent emails and letters and tweets from aspiring minimalists, from Kalamazoo to Kenya, who have next to nothing but who still struggle with desire and the ceaseless tug of consumerism. Let’s pretend that minimalism hasn’t helped those people like they say it has. And let’s pretend that minimalism solves only First World problems.


Anyone who feels hollowed out by the endless pursuit of more can find a better life with less.

What’s wrong with that? Are the problems of the First World not worth solving? Are people with money not allowed to question their stuff? Are we supposed to alienate and divide people based on their income?

Look, minimalism isn’t for everyone—it’s for anyone who’s discontented by the status quo. It seems to me that 50 percent of the Western world isn’t bothered by consumerism and the excesses of modernity, and it’s not my place to convince them to jettison their stuff. But the remaining half of the population has a vast opportunity in front of them. Whether rich or poor, young or old, Black or white, man or woman, anyone who feels hollowed out by the endless pursuit of more can find a better life with less.

Final Thoughts on Money

Money isn’t everything, but it’s also not nothing. As a minimalist, I’m not opposed to having money—I’m opposed to having money problems. I won’t tell you how to live your life, but I exposed my own financial mistakes and bad decisions throughout this chapter so that, I hope, you can learn from my blunders. I tend to avoid sweeping, one-size- fits-all solutions, but when it comes to money, this is the one chapter in this book that carries with it universal prescriptions (and proscriptions) that work for everybody.

  • Have a budget.
  • Establish an emergency fund.
  • Spend less money than you make.
  • Get out of debt as soon as you can.
  • Other than a mortgage, never go into debt again.
  • Invest in your future self by saving for retirement.
  • Use your resources to contribute to others’ well-being.
  • If you need a car loan, you can’t afford that car.
  • If you must use a credit card, you can’t afford that thing.
  • Most purchases are unreasonable if you’re in debt.
  • Even if you need a degree, you don’t need student-loan debt.
  • Teach kids about saving, giving, and spending when they’re young.
  • The best way to teach kids about money is to model good financial decisions.
  • The ability to abstain from impulse is what makes us better human beings.
  • You cannot buy a meaningful life—you can only live it.

While we’re all different ages and genders and come from different backgrounds, I can’t think of a single person who wouldn’t benefit from implementing these principles in their life. For nearly a decade now, I’ve purchased Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover by the case and have handed it out to friends and family and even strangers who ask me about getting out of debt. Too often we’re waiting for someone else to set us free—for the government to wipe the slate clean,  for our future self to make more money, for a relative to die and leave us enough cash to pay off our debts. But even if we were to abolish everyone’s debt, and everybody started with a clean slate tomorrow, we’d eventually be back in a world of debt if we didn’t change our behaviors—because money doesn’t buy better habits. There are no financial saviors out there, so we better save ourselves. The quicker we untether from debt, the sooner we’ll experience freedom.

Money Exercises

Hi, friend—Ryan here once again. Joshua gave us a lot to think about when it comes to how we’re dealing with our finances. Now let’s explore how you’re doing with respect to this important relationship. I’ve got some exercises prepped and ready to go for you below.

Questions About Money

  1. Describe your relationship with and opinion about money. Is the relationship healthy or unhealthy? Why?
  2. What stress, if any, do you experience regarding money?
  3. What nonessential expenses are busting your budget?
  4. What plans, if any, have you made for retirement?
  5. What changes will you make to improve your spending habits and your relationship with money?

The Dos of Money

Next, what did you learn about your relationship with money in this chapter? What will stick? What lessons will encourage you to get out of debt and invest in your future? Here are five immediate actions you can take today:

Adjust your approach. In your journal, briefly describe what money means to you: What does money provide for you? What do you want it to provide? How does money control your life?

How much money do you think you need to be happy? What could you do for others with money? After you’ve written your thoughts, consider whether these current approaches warrant any adjustments, and then write down what actions you believe will affect those positive changes.

Unravel your influences. How was your attitude regarding money formed? To explore this, first write down the mistakes you’ve seen people around you make with their finances, followed by the good decisions you’ve seen people make. What’s your first memory involving money? What entertainment are you consuming that might influence your view of money?

Locate your freedom. Write down what financial freedom looks like for you. Be clear on when you’ll get out of debt, retire, where you’ll live, how you’ll spend your days, and how you’ll contribute to your community.

Form your budget. Create a budget today. Financial freedom is not obtainable without one. Here’s how you create a budget:

  • Create a spreadsheet for budgeting or download a budgeting tool like the free app EveryDollar.
  • Identify every source of income for the month: paychecks, bonuses, side projects, yard sales, and any other ways you earn money.
  • Simplify your spending. Start spending your money like a minimalist. Minimalists buy new possessions intentionally. To do so, we must ask better questions: Will this thing add value to my life? Can I afford to buy it without going into debt? Is this the best use of this money?

The Don’ts of Money

Finally, let’s discuss what’s getting in the way. Here are five things you’ll want to avoid, beginning today, if you want to improve your relationship with money:

  • Don’t continue poor spending and saving habits.
  • Don’t take on financial burdens you can’t afford.
  • Don’t talk yourself into going into debt.
  • Don’t deprive yourself permanently of “nonessentials” that add value to your life. You can bring them into your life by budgeting and saving for them appropriately.
  • Don’t forsake your long-term financial health for short-term gains—you’ll sacrifice future security for momentary pleasure.