When you hear the term minimalism, you might think of the tiny house craze, starting a capsule wardrobe, purging your sock drawer, or the overall pursuit of living with less. A successful business with a growing team and multiple revenue streams isn't the first thing to come to mind. But for two entrepreneurs known as "The Minimalists," minimalism as a business model and social movement turns out to be anything but, well, minimal.
I recently caught up with Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus at one of their stops on the 'Less is More' tour, and they shared their secrets for embracing minimalism as a lifestyle and a business model.
You can't do it all right now. But you can do it all, eventually.
Between the two, The Minimalists run a podcast, blog, authored four books, produced a documentary, and are currently on a live tour with dozens of stops across the U.S. and Canada. How did they accomplish all of this in just a short few years? They stick with a minimalist approach and only launch one new thing every year.
"We focus on one thing a year and build on top of that," Joshua explains. "We say 'no' to a lot of things so we can say 'yes' to that which is most important."
Being a minimalist business owner doesn't mean you have to settle for less success or limit your opportunities. It just means you can't do it all right now. Focus on one thing at a time. Once you get it up and running, turn your focus to the next goal.
"Busy' has become the worst four-letter word," says Joshua. "I prefer to be focused rather than busy."
Minimalism is not scarcity.
To Joshua and Ryan, minimalism isn't about making yourself struggle to get by--it's about not overwhelming yourself to get more than you need.
A scarcity mindset can make you take actions you don't want to take, out of fear you're missing out. On the other hand, minimalism is about making more thoughtful, focused decisions to create a meaningful life that doesn't require more money and things.
"At the end of the day, we're not allergic to money. This isn't about burning a pile of cash and emptying your bank account," Ryan says. "Our work really means something to us and it's great that we're able to make a living from it."
At the same time, they admit it also helps to not have the pressure of high expenses. "If I don't have a huge, 2-thousand square foot home with 3 bathrooms, 2 bedrooms, and don't buy a new car every couple of years, maybe I won't have to work 60, 70 hours a week," Ryan said.
Protect your most valuable asset: Time.
You hear it over and over--time is the most valuable asset you have. As workloads get heavier with a growing business, delegation is key to protecting your time.
While Joshua and Ryan are front and center, there's actually a team of twelve behind-the-scenes running the business of "The Minimalists." As the movement and business grew, Joshua and Ryan wanted to protect their time to avoid being overwhelmed and overworked by their growing projects.
They suggest focusing on what is going to give you the most value and delegate the tasks that need to get done, but aren't the best use of your time.
Bootstrap, even when you don't need to.
Living below your means is a practical part of the minimalism lifestyle. The Minimalists share a secret to finding happiness and freedom in business: they live below their means so that if they lost it all tomorrow, they could get by with a minimum wage job. "If the Internet blew up tomorrow and all of our books spontaneously combusted, and we had no sales, I'd go get a job as a barista," Ryan said. "And I could totally live off of that salary, because that's how I've positioned myself."
While you don't need to pinch pennies to incorporate this philosophy into your business model, applying minimalist principles can allow you to focus on the more meaningful aspects of your life and business that add value. For example, keeping expenses low and finding ways to cut unnecessary spending can give you more freedom in business. You're less likely to take on work you don't want if you don't feel the pressure of your monthly overhead.
One of my biggest takeaways from The Minimalists won't come as a surprise to those who've watched their documentary or aspire to minimalism. It was simply that more money and more stuff (even really cool stuff!) doesn't necessarily increase success, happiness, or that precious resource we all crave: time. Their business model proves how focusing on meaningful work, one major project at a time, can generate impressive, compounding results. Ultimately, minimalism isn't about having less, it's about focusing on the few things that matter most.