Minimalism book summary and pdf

Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by The Minimalists | Book Summary by Paul Minors

Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life is written by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus – The Minimalists. Their book questions what it means to be happy and explores how to live a meaningful life. By identifying and explaining five core values Joshua and Ryan offer useful advice on how you can take steps towards living a life full of happiness, passion, and freedom. Their book makes you take a step back and take inventory of your life, it can open your eyes to things you are doing, and things you own that may be getting in the way of your own happiness and freedom.





Who is this summary for?

You don’t have to be actively living a Minimalist life to enjoy this book. This book is for anyone who’s not completely content with their current life. Josh & Ryan’s book questions what it means to be happy and explores how to live a meaningful life. If you can read this book with an open mind you may be able to take a step back and take inventory of your current life, you may discover that certain things you are doing or things that you own are getting in the way of your own happiness or freedom.

About the authors

The Minimalists; Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are two men who changed their lives when they adopted the minimalist lifestyle and they aim to help their readers live more meaningful lives. Their book, podcast, and documentary has gained significant traction and is becoming a new phenomenon.

In this summary

In this summary we’ll take a look at happiness and Joshua & Ryan’s take on how to find your own happiness. Next, this summary will quickly cover where it all began for the Minimalists before moving on to examine the five core values (Health, Relationships, Passions, Growth & Contribution) that Joshua and Ryan believe are pivotal to living a Minimalist and a more meaningful life.



Joshua and Ryan begin by making it clear that material possessions are not going to bring any happiness. As humans, we often search for happiness and joy by accumulating more and more possessions. When in reality, we need to be looking within ourselves to find happiness and contentment.

“Real happiness, however, comes from who we are—from who we’ve become. Real happiness comes from within.”

'Real happiness comes from within.'Click To Tweet

They point out that actually, the search for happiness is not the point. We need to start looking for meaning. This is the key to living a more meaningful life. Finding meaning and purpose for our lives is going to bring us true happiness.


Joshua and Ryan discuss discontent and explain that it doesn’t come out of nowhere. They describe it as a slow burn. Something that builds slowly but surely behind the scenes and before you know it, you're living a life with daily dissatisfaction.

It’s time to take inventory

Joshua and Ryan suggest that the first step to take is to take an inventory of your life. What makes you unhappy, what are you passionate about?

Here are their top tips for taking inventory:
– Write down anything that makes you feel stuck or stunts your personal growth. These factors are called anchors.
– Divide these anchors into two categories; major and minor. This is where you can set your priorities.
– A major anchor is often significant debt such as mortgages or personal anchors such as relationships and careers.
– Minor anchors are often smaller details, bills, clutter, wasted time etc.
– To really begin you have to start with the major anchors. Pay off your credit card bills, eliminate debt wherever you can.
– Finally, start removing material possessions that don’t bring you any joy. Keep only the things that you use regularly and enjoy.

It’s time to make some decisions

As humans, we often attach sentimental meaning to personal belongings. We may have no use for the item anymore but hold on to it for a memory. Now, Joshua & Ryan aren’t suggesting that you can’t keep any sentimental items, but they do encourage you to get rid of as much as possible. Freeing yourself from these items can actually be quite liberating.

    “We are not our stuff.
    We are more than our possessions.
    Our memories are within us, not our things.
    Our stuff weighs on us mentally and emotionally.
    Old photographs can be scanned.
    You can take pictures of items you want to remember.
    Items that are sentimental for us can be useful to others.
    Letting go is freeing.”


Minimalism emerged when Colin Wright, a 24-year-old entrepreneur wrote about a movement he called minimalism on his blog. Wright explained that eliminating all the unnecessary belongings freed him to focus on only the important and meaningful things. Wright photographed and detailed every single possession he owned, all 72 things, and all of them fit into his travel bag.

Joshua and Ryan were struck by the contentment that Colin talked about. His life was full and exciting, he was clearly happy and passionate.

Then came Leo Babauta and Joshua Becker, who aimed to prove that Minimalism was for ANYONE. All you needed was the desire to live a simple, intentional life. If you were willing to focus on the important and meaningful aspects of your life, rather than material possessions, then you too could be a minimalist.

Our culture has continuously attached meaning to material items, the goal is to break down these beliefs and start focusing on the non-material.

To be a minimalist

As a minimalist, Ryan, and Joshua explain you don’t have to have absolutely nothing. You may own a car and a house, you may even have a career. They explain that minimalism is expressed on a case by case basis, it’s all about the individual identifying what is and what isn’t essential in their life.

Here are some of the ways that Ryan and Joshua believe Minimalist lifestyles can help you;
– You can reclaim time
– You can rid yourself of excess ‘stuff’
– Have time to enjoy your life
– Discover meaning
– Enjoy and live in the moment
– Pursue passions
– Focus on only the important things
– Reach a level of happiness
– Find your mission
– Experience true freedom
– By consuming less, you can create more

”Minimalism is a lifestyle choice. Minimalists search for happiness not through things, but through life itself; thus, it’s up to you to determine what is necessary and what is superfluous to your life.”

'Minimalists search for happiness not through things, but through life itself.'Click To Tweet


Ryan and Joshua identify five values that allow us to live a meaningful life

  1. Health
  2. Relationships
  3. Passions
  4. Growth
  5. Contribution


Ryan and Joshua suggest that the best place to start is by taking a good look at your health. In order to live a truly meaningful life, your lifestyle needs to be healthy and balanced to ensure you are living as optimally as possible.

The two elements of living a healthy lifestyle are; diet & exercise.


Joshua and Ryan have some dietary guidelines. They recommend that you not only make adjustments to what you eat but also the way you think about your food. Consider the relationship you currently have with eating, does it need a re-vamp? It’s this relationship with food that effects any fad-diet and almost always ends in failure. You can’t perceive this as a temporary diet, it needs to be a lifestyle adjustment.

Foods to avoid: anything processed or packaged, sugar.
Foods to reduce: gluten. bread & pasta, dairy, meat, drinks other than water.
Foods to increase: water, greens, smoothies, vegetables, beans, legumes, fish, fruit, organ foods.

Joshua and Ryan identify the following dietary lifestyles as beneficial; vegetarianism, veganism, paleo, pescatarianism & intermittent fasting.

”Thus, your diet is marked by the daily habits by which you live. Once you adopt a healthy dietary lifestyle, you will feel better, and your body will thank you. Food should be treated as nutrition, not entertainment.”


Joshua recommends that you ask yourself the following questions;
– Are you constantly improving your fitness?
– Are you happy with your progress?

If you can answer these two questions with a yes, then that is the most important measure of success. It doesn’t matter what the scales say. You need to focus on feeling healthy, fit and feeling good about yourself.

Joshua's exercise principles

Joshua recommends that you only need 18 minutes to get some exercise in. It can be used to relieve stress and doesn’t have to be strenuous. Exercise is designed to be enjoyed.

Try the following workout:

3-5 Sets each of:
– Push Ups
– Pull Ups
– Air Squats
– In between each exercise, bounce around and keep moving. Start with a few reps and aim to continue increasing this each time you do the routine.

The Minimalists musts of health

    1. Eat a nutritional diet
    2. Exercise regularly
    3. Eliminate harmful substances
    4. Treat your body as a precious possession. 

Joshua and Ryan encourage you to create your own list, what else might you add?


As humans we thrive off relationships with other people, we desire to feel loved and to give love. Anyone you see regularly and remain in contact with can be considered a relationship, partners, spouse, friends, roommates, co-workers or acquaintances.

Joshua and Ryan stress the importance of learning from previous relationships. What were the good times and how can you use those strategies to build new, better relationships. What went wrong and caused the bad times, identify how you can avoid that for the future. Use the past to mold your future.


Just as you did with your life, it’s time to take inventory of the relationships you are currently maintaining. Ask yourself the following questions;
– Does the person make you happy?
– Does being in the presence of each other satisfy you?
– Do they offer support?
– Do they encourage you to grow?
– Does the person contribute to your life in a meaningful way?

Joshua and Ryan recommend categorising your relationships, a primary tier, and a second tier. And identify which of these relationships are positive ones and which are having a negative impact on your life. From here you can decide which relationships are no longer doing you any good, and which relationships deserve to be nurtured and maintained.



Eight elements of great relationships according to the Minimalists

Joshua and Ryan have identified 8 key elements to maintaining a meaningful relationship, these need to be nurtured in order for a relationship to grow and thrive;
. Love
. Trust
. Honesty
. Caring
. Support
. Attention
. Authenticity
. Understanding

”If you focus on the above eight elements, you will strengthen your relationships more than you thought possible. Sure, it takes a considerable amount of hard work, focus, and time, but having meaningful relationships is worth every bit of effort you put into them.”


When we talk about passion, we usually assume it’s related to work. Ryan and Joshua talk about the concept of the ‘American Dream’, ingrained in our culture is the idea that you need to be a part of the ‘daily grind’, work Monday-Friday, 9-5. It doesn’t matter if it brings you no joy, it’s what we are expected to do.

Ryan and Joshua acknowledge that obviously, we all need money to live. But living the ‘American Dream’ is a vicious cycle that is never going to make you happy or help you live meaningfully. There’s gotta be a better way?

Careers aren’t the only answer

From a young age, we are asked what we want to be when we grow up, and we are encouraged to pursue a career, it becomes part of your identity, your job title corresponds to your social status. Joshua and Ryan point out that one of the first things we ask when we meet someone new is; “What do you do?”

”This “innocent” question actually says, I will judge you as a person by how you make your money, and I will assign a particular social status to you based on your occupation.”

Joshua and Ryan offer an alternative answer to this question. Instead of starting to explain your day job, decide to talk about your passions. Whether it be writing or painting or singing. Explain that your passions lie there, and in return, ask them what their passions are. They may take a moment as it’s an unexpected question but the answer will always be more meaningful than; “I’m an accountant.”

”Over time you can remove your identity from your career and put it into its appropriate place—your life. Your identity should come from your meaningful life, not from how you earn a pay-check.”

Passion & Mission

The best thing about passion is that there are no rules, you can literally be passionate about anything you want. And it’s completely individual, nobody else needs to share your passion. As long as it brings you joy, is rewarding for you, then it's perfectly legitimate. Any line of work can be your mission.

Passionate people

Joshua and Ryan point out two distinct characteristics that differentiate people who are passionate from people who are uninspired.

  1. Passionate people have identified what makes them passionate, they could talk about it for hours, they are obviously excited and energised by their passions.
  2. Passion = more passion. If someone who has a passion reaches a point of un-inspiration, they turn to a new passion to focus in on.

”Using what you’re passionate about to keep you focused and fuel more passion is a critical part in discovering your mission. But first you must discover what you’re passionate about.”


Here are a couple of key tips from Joshua & Ryan on the journey of finding your passion:
– Remove your anchors. When stuck in a daily grind, it’s hard to identify your true passions
– Remove your identity – you are more than your job, stuff or debt. Your paycheck does not define who you are or what you can do.
– Identify with a more meaningful identity; mentor, leader, minimalist.
– Ignore status, stereotypes, and anything that comes along with these labels.
– Remove the anchor of certainty. Certainty is essentially just your comfort zone, you’re never going to grow or thrive if you continue to do the same things in the same way. Make changes, make adjustments, get uncomfortable.
– Place less value on money and things that can be bought.

How to find your passion

Hopefully, after you followed the previous steps, your vision will be clearer and you can focus on pursuing your passion.

”The first question we typically ask people is a fairly standard question: What would you do with your life if money wasn’t an object? Followed by; “When was the last time you felt true excitement?” “What were five other (different) experiences like this?” “Why were you excited each of those times?””

Now what?

Joshua and Ryan suggest that the best and most efficient way to turn your passion into your mission is to emulate what someone else is already doing. This is exactly what they did when they saw Colin Wright, Leo Babauta, Tammy Strobel & Joshua Becker living Minimalist lives, writing and contributing meaningful things to peoples lives. They saw the way these 4 people lived their life and used it as the recipe for their success.

”Yes, it’s easier said than done. But it's worth it. You deserve to pursue your passions, you deserve to live your mission, you deserve to live a meaningful life.”

'You deserve to pursue your passions, to live your mission, you deserve to live a meaningful life.'Click To Tweet

Growth and change

”You must continue to improve; you must continue to grow. If you’re not growing, you’re dying; and if you’re dying, then, by definition, you’re not living a meaningful life.”

You can’t just stop once you’ve made a change. The journey must always be evolving and adapting in order for your life to remain meaningful. We aren’t designed to be stagnant. There are two types of changes that Joshua and Ryan explain we take;
– Giant leaps: those immediate and sizeable changes that have a dramatic effect. Ending a relationship, quitting a job.
– Daily incremental changes: those small, gradual changes that occur bit by bit every day, all of a sudden you look back and you can see the massive shift that has occurred.

So you’ve made the change, now what?

The decision to make a change is the very first step to take. And when you have the realisation that you are going to do this, your journey has only just begun.

Joshua and Ryan recommend that you use leverage to speed up the change process. Leverage is the difference between “I must exercise” and “I should exercise.” It’s about acknowledging what satisfaction will arise out of the change occurring, enough to make it clear that you don’t have a choice, you will make the change.

”The more leverage you have, the easier the decision is to make and follow through with—because the satisfaction you’ll experience on the other side of the change is so great that you must make the change a reality.”

So once the decision has been made, and the leverage is clear, it’s time to take action. Joshua and Ryan recommend you take immediate action, just one little step in the right direction that’s enough to build momentum. This is where it all begins and the small steps add up to massive change. Before you know it, you can look back at where you started and be proud of how far you have come.

Raise your standards

”What seemed impossible yesterday, will often seem easy tomorrow. So if you want to continue to grow, you must continue to raise your standards; otherwise, you’ll plateau. Or worse, if you lower your standards, you’ll atrophy.”

It’s clear that you have to break down the barriers of your comfort zone if you truly want to grow. You have to continually raise your standards, bit by bit, in order to keep reaching for your goal. You don’t want to plateau and be stagnated.

The key is consistency

”The key to real growth is consistency. Consistent, gradual action taken every day is the way we changed our lives. It feels like a slow climb at first, but once you build enough momentum, you won’t want to stop growing. It’s growth that makes you feel alive.”


Joshua and Ryan explain that growth is really just the beginning of the journey. You end up in a position where you have more of yourself than ever before to give, to give to others and help them grow. And the cycle continues to help you grow, even more. There are so many ways to contribute to someone else’s life, and it’s all positive. You need to learn how to judge which contribution is going to be the best in different situations and go from there.

”Whether you’re donating your time to a charity, or you’re finding new ways to contribute to your primary relationships, you are doing one thing: adding value.”

There are two key ways that Joshua and Ryan identify as contributing to others:
– Local organisations that are already established– these are everywhere, already running and ready to join.
– Start something yourself – if this is the path you want to take, Joshua and Ryan recommend contributing to an already established organisation first and learning where more value can be added.

”The good news about contribution is no matter how you contribute, you get to feel an immense satisfaction from your contributions—a satisfaction like no other.”

”A life without contribution is a life without meaning. The truth is that giving is living.”


Although Ryan and Joshua have identified 5 key values, they acknowledge that more often than not, people will have 2 key values that are their main focus. These two will differ from person to person but will be their ‘guiding stars’ to how they live their life.

However, Joshua and Ryan stress that despite 2 values being your main focus, that doesn’t mean you can forget about the other 3. Find a way to incorporate each of the 5 values into your daily routines. This will bathe the way to living a well-balanced, meaningful life.


Key takeaways

  • Minimalism is going to look different for everyone, and it doesn’t mean you can’t have a house, car or job.
  • It’s about decluttering yourself from material possessions and ridding your life of anchors.
  • Minimalism is the tool that allows you to focus on only the important things. It allows you to live your life more deliberately and with meaning.
  • There are five values that allow us to live a meaningful life
    • Health
    • Relationships
    • Passions
    • Growth
    • Contribution
  • Minimalism is a lifestyle, it’s a journey that takes daily focus and commitment to improvement. Making small, daily improvements is key.

Further reading

Joshua and Ryan talk a lot about Leo Babauta so it is worth checking out his book; The Power of Less. A guide on how to de-clutter your life and work to create more time for the important things. Leo explains how identifying the essential aspects of your life and eliminating all of the non-essentials can allow you to focus on goals and aspirations that can continue to change your life for the better. We live in a world that is fast-paced and very-full, this book helps show you that slowing down and having less can actually be beneficial.

Zen to Done is Leo Babauta's response to two of the best and most popular productivity systems; David Allen's Getting Things Done and Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Successful People. Allen and Covey's books have been summarised already on my site, Leo Babauta's guide is an interesting and new take on the two systems, taking the best concepts from each and creating what Leo Babauta describes as ‘The Ultimate Productivity System'.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown is a must read for people interested in taking the minimalist attitude and applying it to work and productivity. It’s a real eye-opener which challenges you to think about what’s important and how you’re spending your time. The book guides you through the process of saying “no” to the “trivial many” so you can focus more on the “essential few”.

Guidelines is my eBook that summarises the main lessons from 33 of the best-selling self-help books in one place. It is the ultimate book summary; Available as an 80-page ebook and 115-minute audiobook. Guidelines lists 31 rules (or guidelines) that you should follow to improve your productivity, become a better leader, do better in business, improve your health, succeed in life and become a happier person.

Action steps

  • Identify what items in your life are no longer bringing you any value.
  • Declutter you possessions, anchors, relationships.
  • Incorporate a healthy routine, with daily exercise and a focus on eating whole, nutrient-dense foods.
  • Continue to learn, whether it be signing up for a course or dedicating more time to reading. Ensure that you are always growing and developing.
  • Determine a way that you can contribute, help make someone else’s life more meaningful.
  • Check out the documentary on Netflix for some more insights on Joshua and Ryan’s lifestyle.
  • If you enjoyed this summary you can download the full book on Amazon.




This summary is not intended as a replacement for the original book and all quotes are credited to the above-mentioned author and publisher.