5 Life-Giving Truths From Years of Living with Less

minimalism, let go

“The process of living seems to consist in coming to realize truths so ancient and simple that, if stated, they sound like barren platitudes.” –C.S. Lewis

Memorial Day weekend, years ago, I got my life back.

I’ve relived the scene a thousand times. I woke up with a simple job to do: clean out the garage. It was not a project out of the ordinary. In fact, I did it every spring. But on this particular Saturday, for the first time, I’d be introduced to the truth that I didn’t have to.

Our lives were typical: work hard, make money, spend it on mortgage payments, fashionable clothes, nicer cars, cooler technology, and more toys for the kids. But when everything from my garage was piled high in the driveway while my son sat alone in the backyard, it was a conversation with my 80-year old neighbor that opened my mind to a new way of thinking. She said it like this, “Maybe you don’t need to own all this stuff?”

And a minimalist was born. In that moment, I made a life-changing realization: Everything I owned had not brought meaning, purpose, fulfillment, or lasting joy into my life. In fact, not only were my possessions not bringing me joy, they were actually distracting me from it. We immediately began pursuing a more minimalist lifestyle by removing the unnecessary possessions from our home and lives.

This journey towards minimalism has been far more life-changing and life-giving than I expected. The possessions in our lives define who we are on a far deeper level than we realize. And as a result, the process of removing them teaches us valuable truths about ourselves and the lives we live.

As I consider the years and all that I have learned, the following life-giving truths reveal themselves as the most significant:

1. Desiring less is even more valuable than owning less. Owning less brings some amazingly-practical benefits into our lives. It costs less. It requires less time and energy to maintain. It brings freedom, rest, peace, and calm into a hectic world. And it provides greater opportunity to pursue our truest passions. But I have found, over the years, the desire to own less is even more valuable than owning less.

Over time, I have been able to remove myself from the incessant desire for more–even in a society that idolizes consumerism at every turn. And when our life’s desire shifts away from pursuing physical possessions, we are finally free to pursue lasting worth with all our heart.

2. Allow the journey towards less inward. Dropping off a handful of clothing at Goodwill is not hard. Dropping off a full van load of unused possessions is not even that difficult. But pulling up to the Goodwill drop-off for the fourth time with a van load of completely unnecessary possessions initiates a lot of soul-searching. The journey toward minimalism runs through the heart and soul.

Correctly pursued, it forces us to ask some hard questions in deep places about our most intimate motivations in life. Why did I buy all these clothes? Why did I buy a house with rooms we never use? Why do I still flip through the ads every Sunday even though I own so much already? Why am I still envious of my neighbor’s stuff? These are hard questions to ask with no easy answers. But the darkest truth is that unfortunately, far too many people, will never even ask them.

3. The potential of minimalism lies in the addition, not the subtraction. Minimalism is not the goal. Minimalism is, after all, less about the things you remove and more about the things you add. The potential of minimalism lies in what you choose to pursue with your life in place of material possessions.

Choose contentment. Pursue gratitude and generosity. Invest in relationships, grow spiritually, discover truth, and find purpose. Your life is far too valuable to waste chasing possessions. And you’ll discover this life-giving truth as soon as you stop.

4. Minimalism will always vary. I live with 33 articles of clothing. But Leo Babauta lives without a toaster, microwave, or paper towels. Sarah Wilson does the same. And Daniel Suelo lives without money. I am very thankful for Leo, Sarah, Daniel, and Mukund because I am inspired by those who own less. They cause me to reevaluate my presumptions and strive towards even greater intentionality. But I have long since removed the comparisons.

I am called to live a different life than them. I have different values, different passions, and different pursuits. As a result, my minimalism is always going to look different. Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it. And by definition, this means minimalism will always look different.

5. We can change lives. We can change the world. I sat behind a computer screen years ago and started this blog with just a few keystrokes. It was to be nothing more than an on-line journal of my journey towards minimalism. But along the way, something unexpected happened. People started reading. And found new life because of it.

The inspiration continues to grow… both through this blog and in my life. This is a far better way to live than most people realize. It is available to anyone who hears the message of living with less and chooses to accept it with their whole lives. May the invitation to minimalism continue to change lives. And ultimately, the world. This is my hope.

Thank you so much for reading and supporting Becoming Minimalist. There are still exciting days ahead.

Image: Moyan_Brenn

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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      • Tracy M. says

        This post resonated with me on two levels. I am just beginning my journey toward owning less. Facing my garage feels overwhelming so I’m committing to one box at a time. I like the reassurance that becoming minimalist doesn’t happen overnight. Secondly, “Compare and despair.” It’s a common saying. But, I like how you turned it around. Not just saying that it’s unproductive to compare our belongings to what our neighbors have, but it’s also unproductive to compare our minimalism to other minimalists. I like how you said minimalism can look like what fits each individual lifestyle. Thank you.

  1. Judy Petersen says

    I was given your message about minimalist by my sister, and I totally agree, that less is more. I just recently let go of a larger home and find myself at a place of peace and less distractions and have much more time to do the things I value the most, attention to my children, reading, writing, caring for our bull dog…God bless your ventures

  2. amanda says

    I’ve been trying to live minimally for the past two years due to limited space and no desire for alot of “stuff” but I keep stuff like books ,paperwork I need to keep ,sewing ,decor ,etc .Any tips for “I already got rid of duplicates and how to go through small clutter like old paper work you need legally to keep thats filed and boxed? and with a little one on the way my friends and family want to give me “stuff” for baby too . I already have limited space .. help!

  3. Danno says

    We came into this world with nothing and we will leave with nothing. Also practice not only denying oneself physical possessions but mental and emotional cravings as well.

  4. Anthony says

    I’m 19 years old, and this is the lifestyle I wish to pursue. Thank you for your well thought interpretation of minimalism. I enjoyed reading it.

      • Marta from Chicago says

        Rome wasn’t built in day. Remind yourself of this when you feel you ‘should’ be done by now. News flash—after you’re done, you’ll have to have to maintain your new space.
        You will see one little effort on a variety of things will snowball into a habit.
        Hope this helps.

  5. Kathleen says

    Thank you! It is so nice to read about someone like me. I have been going through closets and donating for a few years now. I started with my pantry and realized I had powderd milk from 1976! This container has been moved many times in three states! I remember my parents gave this to me with other items when I moved away from home to my first apartment. Good memory but didnt need this. Since then it has been a jouney of letting go!

    • Marta from Chicago says

      I recommend you work on the area first that you spend the most time relaxing with family first. Don’t make it a weekend project. Make it a daily habit to work on the room. It can be as simple as taking stuff out of the room and packing it away in a box in storage (closet). I’ve taken pictures of the ‘sentimental stuff’ & especially paper stuff that I feel ‘what if I need this info one day?’ I couldn’t part with all, but it started what’s now a habit. What’s nice is that papers that belong in the safe, are in the safe first thing.

  6. Laura Guyot says

    Mr. Becker, Thank you so much for this blog. My husband and I recently decided that we both feel the same way about our stuff – we want less of it, a lot less of it. We found your blog and you have inspired us. We are in the beginning stages of purging our home of excess. And we know this process will take a while, hopefully by the end of the year we will be able to sit back and be really happy about what we have accomplished. But I just want you to know that I’ve been looking at lots of different blogs and sites about this topic but there is something special about your situation and the way you journal your experience that really resonates with me. So, thank you! Here’s to a 2015 with less so we can enjoy more!

    • Gardener says

      I’ve been purging for a couple of years but just recently decided that I am pursuing a minimalist lifestyle. However, I ran to the mall today to pick up one item. I found myself aimlessly walking around a store looking at clearance racks. All of a sudden I became aware of what I was doing. Its going to take awhile to become present and conscious in these situations.

    • Marta from Chicago says

      You’ve said something very important! You admitted it would probably take a year. Mist people don’t give themselves a realistic timeframe and end up frustrated and give up.

  7. mitch houska says

    Ive been thinking about this for quite awhile. Tiny homes maybe in order for me. Its funny how we work so hard just to get a few things that make us work harder. Indians had it right!

  8. Shirley Hancock says

    Joshua, your comments resonate very deeply with me. I’ve never been a pursuer of the common “stuff.” In fact, I hate shopping. Since about 5 years before I retired 11 years ago, I realized I have enough clothes, even to last til I die….smile. But I badly need to unclutter, and so I want to continue following your comments to help me really dig in and get focused with this. Thank you! It’s also helpful reading the comments that others have left.

  9. Andrianna says

    I have been reading for the last couple of months and I can say the blog has helped me through the most difficult part of moving to another country to join my family and for a better future – Letting go of what is, what was. We dont realise how ‘rooted’ we become, so busy trying to ‘make it’, ‘hiding’ things in drawers and cupboards only to realise that the only thing we’re doing is just hiding from our difficult truths.

  10. Heidi says

    I love the idea of living minimally; that instead of buying lots of things I try to, when I need something buy high quality items that I will use for a long time. I useD to get comments from Co workers frequently about not replacing something until it’s completely worn out, and it’s true I won’t replace something until I have to bUT it will always be with something of high quality and used until it can be used no more

    • Marta from Chicago says

      My boyfriend has a saying, Buy like the rich, so it lasts like the poor. (my translation of a Spanish language saying)

  11. Dr Hacnbsh says

    Minamalism with food is the important one. Throwing out boxes of stuff that is stored in cupboards while useful it not where the benefits will come. Choosing the most healthy diet ie nut sprout oil grain seed vevetable and fruit that is purchased with NO packaging is being a real minamilist.

    • Marta from Chicago says

      I wish I had read this at the start of my journey. Working with a menu for the week from the very beginning could have saved me hundreds of dollars a year of spoiled, expired, and forgotten food.

  12. Dianne says

    I’m 25 years old and I’m turning my life around to be a minimalist. This lifestyle is an eye opener for me. I have a lot of things which I thought I needed and would make me happy. But it’s the opposite. And I realize that instead of spending and buying a lot of unnecessary stuff, I’d just save my money for traveling abroad which would give me a lot of new experiences and unforgettable memories :) Thanks for your blog posts.

    • says

      How lucky you are to discover minimalism at such a young age. I wish I had discovered it when I was younger but better late than never . For me minimalism creates joy and energy in my life and gives me lots of time to do things that I dreamt of for many years . Thank you Joshua and friends.

  13. Marie Lind says

    Thank you! I am slowly, but certain, moving towards a minimalistic way of living… I am 54 years old and live in Sweden. I was born without anything and I am more than sure that I will die like that also… So… I don´t understand why people want to own new things all the time…

    • Me, here, now. says

      People want to own new things all the time because they are conditioned to want them from a very early age. Take MacDonalds for instance – prime target is kids. Get them young and you’ve got them for life. Same with Coke. This model of marketing extends into school and kids feel ‘left out’ or under ‘peer pressure’ if they don’t have the latest gadget or toy. This is damaging and stays with us into adulthood … and for life. I had a very good childhood, though we were poor. I was the only child in class who had free school dinners and it was embarrassing to me (at the time. Now I would love free dinners!). Anyhow, I spent most of my 20’s & 30’s making up for lost time (read as: buying things I felt I should have because ‘why should I be deprived a moment longer?’. As a result, I was a shopaholic, owed thousands and ended up going bankrupt and losing my home. Not something I anticipated or wanted – but we had a huge recession and I lost my job. I had no rainy day money put aside, and no way of paying back what I owed. The wolves were at the door, so I had no choice. Since then, I have rebuilt my life and have no debt, no mortgage, and now no surplus belongings. When I was young and naive, I thought the answer to my dreams lay in designer handbags, shoes and clothes because this is what I had been peddled. How wrong I was! I barely used or wore anything as I was too worried they would lose their value if I ruined them. Since then, whatever was left has been sold and the money used to help my family members. If I had my time again, I would definitely learn how to handle and treat money properly (we aren’t taught this at school), and how to live with less, and appreciate the little things in life more. It’s never to late to start. I now have no debt, no mortgage … I buy things with cash I have – not plastic I can’t afford. My life is more simplistic, fun, freeing and I’ve started my own business. Do I feel bad about my creditors? In a word ‘NO’. Simply because I had already paid them back time over in interest. I tried to re-negotiate with them, but in the end I lost the will as it was like bashing your head against a brick wall. The house was sold off by the mortgage company and they didn’t lose out. Do you know there have to be ‘X’ amount of repossessions each year here in the UK just to keep the banking books in check? It’s true. I’m not proud of what’s happened; I only have myself to blame. But if only I knew what I know now ‘way back when’, then I would have had a very different journey!

    • Marta from Chicago says

      I think it’s a cycle that continues from what parents model to children. Then thete are other things that trigger it, too, like the death of a spouce.

  14. says

    Joshua, I am working on a tiny homes project for very- and extremely-low income people (less than $12k/year). I will be building small communities of 10 to 20 tiny homes with a model of permanent supportive housing. This simply means that the people who will be attracted to this project will require social, mental and drug rehab services on an ongoing basis until they are able to become self-sufficient. I anticipate that we will also have those that will be permanent residents because they can never achieve a level of self-sufficiency.

    They have little to begin with and if they move into a tiny home (320 sq. ft.) they will have little space to store things. But, my experience tells me that when they become comfortable with their new way of life, old habits kick in and they begin to horde things, especially clothing and food. Their homes begin to look like the ones you see on the Horders TV shows.

    I need help in understanding how to work with these folks so they can learn to appreciate a lifestyle of minimalism. I have just started on that journey myself so I don’t have the personal experience of living a minimalist lifestyle.

    Can you (or anyone else) offer me some guidance or lead me a few resources that will help me help them learn and appreciate the minimalist lifestyle.

  15. Shelley says

    I came across your blog through a Facebook post and it took off from there. This was at the begininng of summer and I decided then and there that my summer project was to practice minimalism. I have gone through closets, drawers, kitchen, taken down old photos, purged, and tossed or donated hundreds of items. I feel so liberated! The point that resonated with me the most in this blog post is #3 – The potential of minimalism lies in the addition, not in the subtraction. YES! I feel like I’ve gained so much more freedom, time, peace, and order in my life. That in itself is addicting and motivating. Thank you Josh for the work you are doing. I read your book Simply, and have watched you on You Tube, and you have definitely followed your passion, and followed the teachings of our Lord. God bless you.

    • Marta from Chicago says

      I gained a few habits! Good habits like not leaving simplistic things for later and grouping like items along the way and purging afterwards when I can see what I really have, etc.

    • Yasser says

      I buy expensive chinese tea sets ( trays with original cups and signed tea pots by artists ) just to put in the display case but I drink lipton tea in a mug… I buy Liadro Vases but I keep them in their boxes so they will not be damaged, I put the flowers in a glass water jar… Worse, I buy Action figures and Barbies for my children but I dont allow playing with them, they are for dispaly !!!.
      Enough of this …

      • Marta from Chicago says

        How about buying for them in a different way. For example, buying ingredients to learn to make food ( and/or cakes and cookies) from scratch and cooking meals together. Learning to eat foods low in salt and sugar.

    • Marta from Chicago says

      What about food? I never thought this was an issue. I save so much money and stop losing so much money (food I forgot I bought, expired, spoiled).

  16. BettyGregory says

    After raising a family of 8 children, I found I no longer had to wait for something’s that’s I wanted so therefore I bought things I didn’t need and now I realize I needed to get th3/ e. Things to Goodwill so they could be made available to people who need them. Henceforth, I will only purchase necessities.

    • Marta from Chicago says

      Give yourself trips and retreats instead of things. Things are okay if you know it’s something on-going you’ll use.

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