Holiday season in America kicked off with Black Friday and its own bloated and bizarre police blotter full of angry crowds, outrageously selfish actions and violence.
Some pulled guns; one man left the store with his purchases but without his girlfriend’s 2-year-old child.
Taking the cake — grabbing it, really — was the Walmart in Moultrie, Ga., where a roiling crowd of humanity swarmed a pallet of cellphones with a prepaid, unlimited usage plan. People pushed, shoved, pressed palms to each other’s faces. A YouTube video of the madness has gotten almost three million hits.
Luckily, we can gain a little “preholiday perspective” from Ryan Nicodemus and his partner, Joshua Fields Millburn who are coming to Seattle’s Town Hall on Dec. 21 to talk about the philosophy behind their book, “Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life.”
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“It stresses me out to see things like that,” said Nicodemus, one-half of the two-man team known as The Minimalists. “If you can’t laugh at it, you’ve got to cry. I’m just glad I’m not in that category.
“Really, is that phone going to change that person’s life?”
We all know the answer — but do we live it?
That’s the question posed by Nicodemus and Millburn in their book and their self-titled website and as part of their continuing Holiday Happiness Tour.
The duo will discuss their journey toward a better life, by having fewer possessions.
They’re also advocating fewer Christmas gifts and more doing things — experiences — with the ones you love.
“We don’t advocate to not buy anything,” Nicodemus said from his home in Montana. “We’re not soulless, we’re not against having fun. It’s about buying someone something of value. Play tickets or concert tickets. Something that will be memorable instead of something that you’re going to have to throw away or replace.
“Experiences instead of material possessions.”
The pared-down backstory is this: Nicodemus and Millburn, both 31, grew up together in Dayton, Ohio. They got jobs at the same company, making six-figure salaries and partaking in the American pastime of acquiring cars, TVs and other gadgets.
Then Millburn’s mother died, and he was left to manage her possessions. She had kept — and boxed — his grade-school drawings and papers, which he loaded into a U-Haul and put into a storage unit.
“What he was doing was taking all of her stuff, her boxes, and putting it into another, giant box,” Nicodemus said.
As he sorted through it all, he had an epiphany, Nicodemus said.
“She wanted to hang onto a piece of him,” he said. “But he realized, ‘I am not in this paperwork,’ and neither was she in the things he wanted to keep.
“The memories are inside of Josh. Not in those things.”
Over time, Millburn got rid of most of his possessions. He now owns about 288 things, some of them individual items, such as one couch, but others grouped into categories like underwear and cooking tools. (There’s a list on their website.)
He even has a minimalist Twitter handle: @JFM.
(“Twitter is a good thing,” Nicodemus said with a laugh. “It forces you to be brief.”)
In November 2010, Nicodemus conducted an experiment by packing everything in his home into boxes, as if he were moving. For three weeks, he only removed what he needed. At the end, 70 percent of his possessions remained packed.
“I didn’t feel like I was going crazy,” he said.
It was what we all do — hang onto things for sentimental reasons, to offset loneliness or just in case of … well, we don’t really know.
“We all have this ‘just in case’ scenario,” he said. “I was a big believer in ‘just in case.’ “
Nicodemus doesn’t feel like he’s screaming into the wind that blew all those people into all those stores on Black Friday.
On the contrary, the tight economy has forced people to become minimalists; to cut back, pare down and sell some of their possessions, only to find they are just fine without them. And they don’t need to spend on any more.
“People are starting to recognize that this economy is not going to survive if we all keep getting ourselves in debt,” Nicodemus said.
The Minimalists are happy to guide people toward a simpler life.
Every month, 150,000 people visit their website, and the crowds at their events are getting bigger, from two people in Knoxville when their 33-city tour started last year, to almost 200 people in New York City earlier this year.
Of course, that’s not to say that Nicodemus hasn’t fallen under the spell of a certain Nikon camera that he keeps seeing in online commercials.
“It’s funny because even now, as I try to only deliberately buy something, even with that mindset, I have to tell myself, ‘You don’t need a camera.’
“It still has an effect on me.”
Nicole & Co. appears Sundays. Reach Nicole at 206-464-2334; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @nicolebrodeur. Subscribe on Facebook: facebook.com/STNicoleBrodeur