Book Review: “Love People, Use Things” by The Minimalists

I was honored to be sent an Advanced Copy of The Minimalists’ newest book, “Love People, Use Things,” but I honestly had a cynical thought of “Oh great. Another decluttering book” flash through my mind before I cracked it open. I will happily admit that this thought could not be further from the truth. This is no decluttering book, my friends, but it is an absolute must-read if you are interested in growth.

I started reading this over 315-page book with a fresh yellow highlighter. I had to throw it away on page 198, as it had been fading for the last 50 pages until it was completely used up. …that’s how many beautifully crafted lines I felt needed to be highlighted! If I were to Tweet all of the quotable bits of wisdom that are tucked away into these paragraphs, I’m sure The Minimalists would think I’m nuts… I truly do have the urge to quote hundreds of lines that I think everyone should ruminate on.

That time I got to chat with The Minimalists in their LA studio.

The book is written largely by Joshua Fields Millburn. Joshua has always been a writer at heart and this is his life passion, so it makes sense he’d be the one tasked with majority of writing. I love his wordsmithing and his expansive vocabulary. The fourth word of the Preface is “erumpent”–and yes, I googled it to be sure I understood the context. I’m always delighted when I find a new word! I love how Joshua’s writing will suddenly transform into poetry that feels like modern-day spoken word (something you’ve likely noticed if you have watched their newest documentary on Netflix, Less Is Now). Joshua certainly knows how to illustrate a point. As a writer myself, I had the urge to scrap my newest book manuscript and start over after I finished this book. I truly applaud the mastery and years worth of work he put into writing this one.

Hardly a page went by without something getting highlighted. It’s seriously so good!

Ryan Nicodemus was responsible for writing the ends of chapters. There’s a complete shift in voice, which we have all come to love in their documentaries and podcasts. Its why they work so well as a duo. After deep, emotional, philosophical lessons from Joshua, Ryan hops in with his friendly guy-next-door personality and gives the reader a breather so they can sit back and reflect on everything he or she just learned. He breaks the big picture down into bite-sized summaries and gives questions to ruminate on and prompts for taking action. He’s like the friendly teacher giving you non-mandatory homework on the chalkboard, but his energy is approachable so that you’re actually excited to do the project when you get home. To be clear, the project is not decluttering your junk drawer–they’re more like mental exercises for self evaluation. In lieu of a therapist, try working your way through this book and you’ll likely discover a lot about yourself for a fraction of the cost.

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus with their new book, “Love People, Use Things”

While the very beginning of the book is jam-packed with startling statistics about rampant consumerism and widespread debt and gives a very valid answer for “Why minimalism?,” this book is not another decluttering book. There are ample books that will walk you step-by-step through each closet and drawer and teach you how to let go of your belongings. These types of books help you break through questions and excuses to hold onto clutter such as, “But my Aunt Susie gave this to me as a gift, and I loved her” or “But I spent $500 on this dress I’ve never worn and it’s too valuable to throw out” or “But what if I need this someday, as it’s still perfectly useable…” No. These are Minimalism 101 surface questions. And they’ve been covered ad nauseum by plenty of minimalist authors. And to be fair, we all do need to master these mental exercises in order to declutter our belongings. “Love People, Use Things” has tucked away little rules and exercises such as these in small side-boxes sprinkled throughout the book, but they are not the focus of the book at all. Truly, this book seems to be written more for the person who has already decluttered their home–and probably gone through multiple stages of purging–and are now sitting around in a pared-down home and feeling perhaps exposed and vulnerable as they face the next level of questions that inevitably come once you’ve released the distraction of Stuff. I imagine much of The Minimalists’ audience have been learning from them for years now and they are ready for this next step of personal growth.

This book is not a quick read. This book is full of hard topics that you’ll want to sit down, pause, reflect and digest before you move on to the next chapter. It will dig deep into the things you have buried and shine a light on those dark places that you once ignored by focusing on consumerism, accumulation and busyness. This book challenges you and asks the difficult questions that you’d normally pay a therapist to ask. It’s not guiding you to clean out your junk drawer; it’s guiding you to clean out your inner junk that you’ve cluttered your insides with. It will prompt a metamorphosis.

Here is just a sampling of some of the hard topics this book tackles: misaligned marriages, adultery, lying, mistakes, bad decisions, shame, insignificance, inadequacy, regret, guilt, fear, boredom, cynicism, despair… If some of these seem like they are the same thing, they are not and Joshua will explain the differences for you in the book. But what is most helpful, I found, was that Joshua shares many of his darkest secrets and regrettable decisions with the reader. He even beautifully reveals Ryan’s darkest troubles. These are not discussed in their short Netflix documentaries, but they add so much to the full picture of the transformation that The Minimalists have gone through over the years. My first reaction to a few of these secrets was shock, but that quickly switched to relief as it was so comforting to hear someone be so vulnerable and share things that I, myself, have done. I am not yet to the point of vulnerability Joshua is at because I can’t bring myself to write down for the public some of my worst, regrettable decisions and moments of weak character where I certainly had a lack of moral values guiding me. I’ve got dark shadows buried deep within me and I’m exposing a light on them and learning from them–and it is books like “Love People, Use Things” that can help me dissect what was subconsciously running my life and move past that with grace and integrity.

The introduction is full of startling, cringe-worthy stats.

I want to send a heartfelt “Thank You” to both Joshua and Ryan for having the courage to share what they shared and to normalize the pitfalls almost all of us have stumbled through in our human experience. It can’t be easy to share such intimate things with a massive general public. But I hope they know how much they are surely helping others by showing the root of clutter, the root of debt, the root of distraction, the root of busyness. This book is no band-aid with the solution of a tidy closet full of neat little bins. This book aims to help you heal things you’ve hidden away–probably to the point that it has become forgotten or deeply subconscious–so that you can break the cycle completely. This is not a decluttering book; this is a personal growth book.

A peek into the book. As someone exploring what the “Journey to Freedom” means, I particularly loved this section.

Prepare to transform your approach to relationships, diet, exercise/movement, finances and creative endeavors. Towards the end of the book, Joshua writes, “You see, I’d planned on writing a relationship book, but I realized that the things that screw up our interpersonal relationships are usually the internal relationships we must fix within ourselves. Before we can focus on cultivating meaningful relationships with others, we must first resolve our own issues.” And this book tackles precisely that. Once we have removed all the material junk from our lives, we naturally see that the most valuable things in our lives are our time and relationships/family/community. But to spend our valuable resource of time with people we love in a healthy way, we need to first be in optimal health –physically, mentally and emotionally– in order to get the most out of this beautiful, fleeting life.

The Minimalists’ new book gives their answers for some big questions: How do we learn to live confidently without the material things we’ve convinced ourselves we need? How do we live a more intentional and rewarding life? How do we learn to reset our priorities? How do we transform the way we look at ourselves? How do we get what we want out of life?

If you or someone you know has taken the first step towards minimalism and has at least experienced the relief, peace, ease and revelations that come from even that first intentional purge, then this book should be your guide through the next phase of minimalism. Some people find themselves decluttering constantly and marveling year-after-year that they have accumulated so much, yet again. This book can help you break that cycle, if you are willing to do the work and answer the prompts that Ryan guides you through at the end of each chapter.

I now have three minimalist books I will recommend to anyone asking where to go for the best resources. “Love People, Use Things” is now a “fave.” Here is what I’d recommend to someone starting out: I’d say first, read Fumio Susaki’s book, “Goodbye, Things,” for an extremist minimalist example that will give you a good kick in the butt and make you question everything you own. Then, I’d say read Dana K. White’s “Decluttering at the Speed of Life,” to have someone stand over your shoulder and make you feel silly for having 18 cork screws and five unused watercolor palettes. This book serves as the best friend who is sitting in your room with one eyebrow raised as you question every item in your home and go “You’re right, you’re right. Why do I still have this?” And then thirdly, you should read The Minimalists “Love People, Use Things” so you understand the real reason(s) you accumulated so much in the first place and tackle that thing before you get the urge to pacify and distract yourself with another dopamine hit and end up right back where you started. Do not skip this step.

Add this book to your “must-read” list for books on minimalism

Congratulations, Joshua & Ryan! This is an incredible wealth of information and a helpful guide and I can’t wait for this to get into the hands of the masses and spur waves of self-discovery, healing and personal growth. I’m sure this book will have a positive powerful ripple effect in the world.

“Love People, Use Things” publishes July 13, 2021. If you preorder by June 1st, submit your receipt, and you will also receive their special companion workbook.

Did you miss my interview about my book “Have Yourself a Minimalist Christmas” with The Minimalists last December? You can watch an edited version on their YouTube, listen to the edited version of the audio on their podcast, or join their Patreon to hear the full interview on their private podcast.