Minimalist duo comes to Pittsburgh

May 9, 2014
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Photo by Adam Dressler
From left, childhood friends Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Millburn will be in Pittsburgh May 12 promoting their memoir “Everything That Remains,” about living a minimalist lifestyle.
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Emily Petsko / Observer-Reporter
Joe Slebonick, 52, of Washington considers himself to be a minimalist. Order a Print

Joshua Millburn achieved the American dream. He managed 150 retail stores, earned a six-figure salary and had a nice house and cars to show for it – all by the age of 30.

But when his mother died and his marriage ended the same month, he took a hard look at what he had achieved.

“I kind of had everything I ever wanted, but it took getting everything I ever wanted to realize it wasn’t actually what I wanted,” said Millburn, 32, of Dayton, Ohio.

Millburn made a drastic lifestyle change and documented his journey in “Everything that Remains,” a memoir co-written with his childhood best friend, Ryan Nicodemus. As part of a 100-city tour to promote their book, the authors will stop in Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. Monday for an appearance at Amazing Books on Liberty Avenue.

Millburn and Nicodemus are better known to their followers as “the minimalists,” but it was just four years ago when they discovered minimalism as a way of life.

For Millburn, who described himself as “kind of a hoarder,” the transformation was slow at first. He eliminated one thing from his house each day for 30 days, and he noticed he “felt lighter and happier.” Over the next several months, he got rid of 90 percent of his belongings.

Nicodemus took a different approach. He packed every item in his condominium in a box, including furniture, and unpacked only the items he needed the next 21 days. Most of his belongings were still in boxes at the end of the experiment, signaling he didn’t really need those items.

After spending their 20s spending money, creating debt and discontent, the two men felt like a weight was lifted. They left their corporate jobs and instead started writing and sharing their experiences with minimalism.

“Everything that Remains” is their second book on minimalism, and they will release a documentary next year.

In “Everything That Remains,” Millburn described the vicious cycle of compulsive buying and accumulating.

“Each item had brought with it a twinge of excitement at the check-out line, but the thrill always waned shortly after each purchase, and by the time the credit-card statements arrived, I was overwhelmed with guilt, a strange kind of buyer’s remorse,” Millburn wrote. “And so I’d do it all over again, soaking in the suds of consumption – lather, rinse, repeat – in search of something that resembled happiness, an elusive concept that got farther and farther away the more I chased it.”

Joe Slebonick, 52, of Washington, is a minimalist without trying to be. He owns three pairs of shoes and three pieces of furniture – a bed, drawing table and file cabinet that doubles as a nightstand.

“For me, it’s just part of my personality,” said Slebonick, clad in denim jeans and a black T-shirt. “I’m a no-bells, whistles, no-flash kind of person. But the stumper that gets everybody is when I tell them I don’t have a television.”

He doesn’t have Internet, either, but doesn’t feel like he’s missing out. He keeps busy volunteering for Cecil Township Volunteer Fire Company No. 3, remodeling his house and riding his motorcycle.

“If I don’t need it every six months, I don’t need it,” Slebonick said of his philosophy while sipping a “minimalist” black coffee from Starbucks. It was the first time he went to Starbucks.

Millburn said there are many different “flavors” of minimalism, and no one has to necessarily give up their television or car in order to get to the bottom line of the philosophy.

“Everything I own serves a purpose or brings me joy,” he said. “To me, that’s the fundamental element of minimalism.”

Emily Petsko joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in June 2013. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor's degree in journalism and global cultural studies.

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