It was hosted at TESTBED1, an 'architecturally distressed undercroft of a warehouse', used as 'a creative, experimental arts “space with no agenda”'. I was enchanted by these surroundings, which once housed a large Battersea Dairy. It is one of those examples of urban regeneration you frequently come across in Monocle, and the huge crowd occupying the space within the grimy tiled walls were buzzing with excitement about seeing these two guys in plain clothes, milling about the wings, hugging crowdmembers, with self-complacent grins.
Using the tour as a promotional vehicle for their newly published book Everything That Remains, Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus took to the little stage and begun to introduce themselves. Ryan told how the two of them - at different paces - trimmed the excess off their six-figure income corporate lives following the realisation that neither were satisfied. In fact, they both, surrounded by the fruits of the fulfillment of the American Dream, were completely depressed.
In various ways they shed the skin of their parallel former lives, and started to ruminate over how is best to achieve satisfaction with a 'less is more' mentality. This led to cutting social ties with unsupportive companions, leaving them with more time to focus on the important relationships in their lives. During this time they started to delineate to others via a website how they too might want to consider these kinds of changes. They wrote essays, blogs, tweets, etc., they met likeminded folk across the country, they practiced different lifestyles to see which configuration was best for their new ideas. Abstract brick by abstract brick, they built their philosophy: Minimalism.
Joshua proceeded to read dramatically from the book. The quality of the writing was immediately clear, it was often quite beautiful, and was delivered in a style that made it easy to imagine the speaker in a suit, maybe a loose tie, explaining how to improve figures with members of the board. It was a constant reminder of their past lives. The charisma present was powerful, it was American, it utilised every technique in the speechmaker's book. I could also go so far as to say it was a moneyed confidence.
The event soon turned to the audience for questions. Those interested were asked to line up behind a mic at the front. The queue resembled a line at Sainsbury's, an index of London dwellers, and so I was surprised and a little disappointed to hear most of the questions were of a similar essence, that is, asking the two Minimalists how their own situation might be guided with their expert advice - in a sense, asking them to save them. I felt there were a couple of elephants manifesting in that "space with no agenda".
The first inquiry made was about the effects of a minimalist society. If everyone were to suddenly reject consumer goods, the resulting decline in GDP would be catastrophic for national economies, and the change effected would drive society into a deep quagmiric depression. Joshua readily had an essay from the website to hand, which, in rejecting the nature of hypothesis, simply deemed such a thing unlikely to happen and instead focused on the utopian vision of an economy being driven by experiential products rather than consumer products. Defeated amidst the rapturous applause, the questionner fled back to his chair.
One member of the inquisition sternly brought 'preaching' and 'the Messiah' into the playing field. The two speakers handled it dismissively, clearly used to such accusations being made. They claimed they were not necessarily encouraging their worldwide audiences to live in the same way they do, but instead to simply consider what is most valuable to them. Subsequently, some members of the queue admitted they simply wanted to talk to and be near them, which raised a few of the more cynical eyebrows in attendance.
The final and humblest of inquisitors all but lowered his hat to the white-teethed idols and quietly asked something along the lines of what I had been thinking for some time. The speakers paraphrased the question as 'is this lifestyle only for rich, white guys like us?' In answer to that they quickly said that they grew up 'poor', and just pursued the goals that they were supposed to pursue according to the guidelines of American education. They failed to discuss that their own experience of owning consumer products had given them cause to reject them, whilst others will never have the opportunity to escape pervasive, consumer-driven media due to poor education. They failed to mention why despite dropping all their goods, quitting their high-paid jobs, they were still able to travel frequently, live an experience-emphasised lifestyle, carrying with them at all times the latest Apple products that represent the kind of wealth a real, inadvertent minimalist can only hopelessly aspire to having.
But I'd never want it to sound like I, who deliberated over the idea for a couple of hours, am in any way more knowledgable about the ins and outs of this brand of Minimalism than these two guys, who have spent 5 years constructing these methods and acknowledging every sociopolitical interpretation of their work. They fairly pointed out that they had no intention of bringing this to the 'billions' through politics (as suggested by one loyal fan), as well as frequently waiving 'the rules' for different case studies. But is it easy for an audience, perhaps a flock, you could say, gathered in a reappropriated warehouse, in that symbol of altering eras, ideas and industry to hear, from two rich white guys, that we should alter our aspirations?
Surprisingly so. They were likeable personalities who engage with their fans and critics alike, driven by their belief that human interaction, that networking and relationships, are fundamental to betterment, and happiness. Saying as much as they could without saying 'All you need is love', as well as 'being the change they want to be', their goals in promoting this lifestyle are commendable and interesting to think about.
Check out The Minimalists website here.
Also, you have to go to TESTBED1!!