How Ryan Nicodemus Became a Minimalist

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Minimalism" by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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How did Ryan Nicodemus, co-founder of, become a minimalist? What’s his life history and inspiration?

Ryan Nicodemus: Striving for Unhappiness

Society tells us that working hard, climbing the corporate ladder, acquiring material things like a big house and fancy car, and taking expensive vacations is the American dream, and will make you happy.

Co-authors Joshua and Ryan Nicodemus achieved those things. In 2009, they both worked for a telecommunications corporation and attained the career successes and lavish lifestyle that many aspire to.

But they weren’t happy, fulfilled, or content — in fact, they felt empty and depressed. Together they examined their lives (they were longtime friends) to determine what was missing and how to achieve happiness and meaning.

Ryan Nicodemus: Unhappy Childhood

Their problems didn’t develop overnight but started with unhappy childhoods.

Joshua and Ryan, who knew each other as kids, both grew up in dysfunctional households. Their parents divorced, and their mothers suffered substance abuse issues.

At age 12, they were both overweight, unhappy misfits. They tried unsuccessfully to escape through the instant gratification of overeating but it made things worse.

As they talked and compared their lives to others’, they concluded that poverty was the reason for their unhappiness — therefore they’d be happy if they made money as adults (they set a goal of a $50,000 annual salary) and could afford whatever material things they wanted.

Ryan’s Epiphany

Ryan Nicodemus eventually moved in with his father, who had a stable job as the owner of a wallpaper company. Ryan’s father was a devout Jehovah’s Witness who genuinely cared for his son, but the change was too big and unsettling for Ryan Nicodemus and he rebelled, using alcohol and drugs.

After graduating from high school, Ryan joined his father’s company. He made enough money to meet his basic needs, but not enough to afford the luxuries he thought he needed to be happy. So he searched for contentment in other ways.

He sought happiness through his father’s religion. He married and became a devout Jehovah’s Witness. He and his wife bought a house and planned to start a family, but the couple didn’t get along and the marriage ended badly. Ryan Nicodemus turned again to drugs and alcohol.

Because he was dissatisfied with the money he was making, he eventually went to work for the same telecommunication company Joshua worked for. He worked hard, excelled, and earned promotions.

Eventually, both men realized that:

  • Status and material possessions didn’t bring the lasting happiness they had expected.
  • Their work was making them feel increasingly pressured and unhappy. Their earlier dream of climbing the corporate ladder began losing its appeal when they realized it would only bring more pressure.
  • They were earning great money at jobs they came to dislike, and they were depleted financially and emotionally.
How Ryan Nicodemus Became a Minimalist

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Allen Cheng

Allen Cheng is the founder of Shortform. He has a passion for non-fiction books (having read 200+ and counting) and is on a mission to make the world's best ideas more accessible to everyone. He reads broadly, covering a wide range of subjects including finance, management, health, and society. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and attended medical training at the MD/PhD program at Harvard and MIT. Before Shortform, he co-founded PrepScholar, an online education company.

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