by Charlie D. Harper on May 20, 2012

Joshua, me, and Ryan

-photo courtesy of Colleen

I took a trip to Dayton, Ohio yesterday. I went to a meetup put together by The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus.

I love talking to people and exchanging ideas. I enjoy the intellectual rigor of trying to understand a new frame of reference. I love offering examples from my past experience to test whether I really understand an idea or if I’m missing the point. Sometimes my experience can spark a new insight or shade of meaning for someone. Likewise, another perspective frequently adds depth to my own opinions. In the best examples of these conversations the exchange is easy, free of pretense, and forgiving of the many tangents that creative thinking entails.

I talked with Joshua and Ryan yesterday after the meetup, and the whole exchange had this comfortable feel.

I owe these two a debt of gratitude. I’ve been gradually opting out of consumer culture for almost twenty years. What The Minimalists opened up for me was the possibility of cutting loose the accretions of a lifetime of acquisition. I had slowed substantially the addition of new stuff into my life, but I’d never focused on reducing what I already had. The result was a little more drag on my existence with each passing year. Joshua and Ryan’s essays on minimalism have been an inspiration to me for the last year. I’ve used the content from their blog to create space in my life; space for things that matter to me.
I’m using that space for my crazyAwesomeHellYeah projects.

“You can sit in an empty room and be miserable”.
Ryan said these words as I arrived (late as it turned out) to 15 or 20 people sitting together at Press Coffee Bar in Dayton’s Oregon district. Joshua and Ryan were wrapping up a description of their journeys to minimalism and starting a Q & A that felt more like a conversation than a press conference.

The group asked some good questions, the answers to which became something of a group discussion. The toughest issues I heard people facing with minimalism dealt with how to communicate their minimalist values to family and friends.

Ryan suggested telling them “It’s my problem, not yours”. The comment is unexpected and disarming as it seeks to put the other person at ease. Further along in the discussion, articulating a minimalists’ problem with gifts Joshua remarked “I have a problem with the commodification of love”. The dehumanizing aspect of products as a proxy for love really hit home for me. It’s a fair definition, but one that is usually softened or obscured by one means or another.

I scribbled down a couple of quotes from the evening…

Start somewhere, but start.

I got laid off in September, so it worked out great.

For me, the most memorable statement was this one from Joshua:
(Why didn’t I record this? It would be so much better to have it word-for word.)

What’s the first thing we say when we meet someone? “What do you do?”, Right?
If they’re a Wall street broker we’ll think something very different than if they are a janitor. The janitor is likely to be a lot more honest, for instance. Hearing what someone does for a living lets us judge them, which is totally stupid…So after I quit my job if someone asked me “What do you do?” I would say “I’m really passionate about writing. What are you passionate about?”. And that totally changed the conversation.

I enjoyed each of these statements for different reasons (if you care to know why you can ask in the comments :)), but the last one is an absolute gem. The optimist in me believes “What do you do?” is searching for a common frame of reference from which to begin a relationship. The cynic in me knows people make judgements on that basis. It knows because I make some of those judgements myself.

Regardless of intent, the fact remains that I don’t want to be pigeonholed as an “IT Guy” just because I earn my salary in that capacity. Does an “IT Guy” build a boat? Learn a language? Go on adventures?

We’re all deeper than our resumes.

I’m really pleased that I made the trip. I’m a natural wallflower, and it’s always a struggle for me to go to new venues and meet people. Occasionally I’ll have an opportunity to meet (in person) people I’ve only known online. For me, these events are usually characterized by irrational fear followed by a memorable evening. Last night I skipped the fear and entered directly into the comfortable and yes, memorable, evening. I have everyone in attendance to thank for that, but mostly Joshua and Ryan. Thanks!

Check out their tour page. If they’re not coming your way I highly recommend attending the Any City in the World Meetup. Ryan told me a little bit about their plans and it’s definitely worth your while.

A group of friends chatting about what makes them happy, what could be better?

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

alantakushi May 21, 2012 at 1:28 pm

We’re all deeper than our resumes… I think you had a great line there yourself! Really enjoyed reading your post and look forward to many more. Love the Minimalist as well!


Charlie Harper May 21, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Thanks for the kind words Alan.


alantakushi May 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm

We’re all deeper than our resumes…. I think that’s a great quote! Been attempting the minimalist lifestyle myself with mixed results. But, I like the way they handle the “What do you do question?” I’ll definitely have to remember that. Thanks for a great story on your experience with the Minimalist!


Charlie Harper May 21, 2012 at 1:44 pm

I wouldn’t worry about the mixed results. As with all things, minimalism is a continuum. I find areas like clothing easy to streamline, but I have a harder time with books and the consumption of ideas.


alantakushi May 21, 2012 at 4:07 pm

I totally agree. Physical things are much more easier to let go of (save for a few gifts/things that have too much emotional attachments). Looking at my book shelf, over half the books are sitting unread, my hard drive is full of PDF’s, eBooks, etc. that have yet to be touched! Attempting to pare these down may be a lifetime project.


sunnygirlsf (@sunnygirlsf) May 21, 2012 at 6:55 pm

excellent report from the night! I love the quotes you scribbled down. I met them in milwaukee and it was a highlight of my year!


Charlie Harper May 21, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Thanks! I felt like a total nerd, scratching in my notepad, but I’m glad I caught a few.
I have teflon mind sometimes – nothing seems to stick.


Denise May 21, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Thanks for sharing.


Charlie Harper May 21, 2012 at 8:48 pm

My pleasure!


Andi-Roo (@theworld4realz) May 22, 2012 at 5:34 pm

I jotted notes too, & felt goofy… wish I’d known you were sitting behind me doing the same thing, lol! You captured this meet-up really well. I did a review too, if you’re interested. It’s cool that we both heard the same message & were each personally impacted by different portions. I wish we could engage in these kinds of conversations more often! I really feel inspired for having been part of such an interesting array of people. Thanks for adding to the talk! 🙂


Charlie Harper May 22, 2012 at 10:25 pm

It’s crazy how people receive different messages from the same words. I guess we all arrived from different places & different backgrounds. It is good to get together with like-minded people. Maybe we’ll create a forum, or regular meetup group…


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