Owning Less: 7 Reasons that Keep People From Getting Started

Change brings opportunity.” - Nido Qubein

Over the past several years, I have had the privilege to introduce the idea of minimalism to a number of people. These introductions have occurred through personal conversation, writing, and speaking opportunities. But no matter how the introduction happens, each time, I feel a little bit renewed. I find that the idea of “finding more life by owning less stuff” seems to resonate with most people.

But, unfortunately, I also find that for many, this is where their journey ends… at the introduction. The idea of minimalism may sound attractive, but the first step appears elusive. And is too often, never taken.

There are a wide number of reasons that keep people from taking this first step towards living with less. And while they vary from person-to-person based on personality, history, gender, and worldview, I have found that most of the reasons keeping people from getting started towards minimalism fit into only a handful of categories. And in hopes of providing encouragement to some of you, I thought it might be helpful to take a minute to answer most of them:

• Reason: I’ve Never Considered Intentionally Living With Less.

Minimalism is growing. You can blame it on the economy, technology, environmental-awareness, or blogs such as Zen Habits, Rowdy Kittens, and Be More With Less. It has been exciting to see the movement grow. But the percentages are still small. In the land of suburbia where I live, the idea of intentionally living with less is still a foreign concept. Hearts desire it, but too many minds have yet to be introduced.

*Encouragement: If you ended up reading this post at the urging of a friend, consider yourself introduced. Intentionally living with less results in a life with less debt, stress, and anxiety. In exchange, you will realize more time and energy for the things you most value and your greatest passions will again take their rightful place in your life.

• Reason: But I Don’t Know Where to Start.

For many, the task of minimizing their possessions seems overwhelming. Their minds race to drawers that don’t close, closets that don’t shut, and rooms that are stuffed full of unused things. The idea of decluttering their homes and lives is attractive, even necessary… but the simple obstacle of knowing where to start keeps many from even starting at all.

*Encouragement: Start small. And start easy. Find the easiest drawer, closet, or room to declutter and start there. You don’t need to start with your attic or your basement. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. The task will be too great. Instead, choose the easiest place in your home – even if it is just one drawer. You’ll feel good when you are done (I guarantee it). And that feeling of success and relief will carry you on to the next step… and the next…. and the next… and eventually, even the attic.

• Reason: But I Don’t Have the Time.

Minimizing possessions takes time. You didn’t collect everything in your home over the course of one weekend and it’s going to take longer than one weekend to sort it out and remove the non-essentials. But we live such busy lives these days. Where can we find the time to accomplish such a large task?

*Encouragement: If you can find 15 minutes, you can take the most important step – the first one. Investing just 15-20 minutes to minimize one area of your home is all you need to get started (especially if you have chosen something easy). Again, the immediate sense of calm you will find in owning less will motivate you to find another 15 minutes. If you struggle to even find 15 minutes, try one of these ideas: get up one hour early, take one afternoon off work, turn off the television, or dedicate one Saturday to decluttering. Any one of those options above will help you find more than enough time to get started.

• Reason: But I Could Never Get My Family On-board.

By far, the most common question I receive after speaking about minimalism relates to other family members (especially about husbands and teenagers). The fact that their family members will never go for the idea of living with less seems to outweigh any benefits of implementing it in their own lives.

*Encouragement: Your husband/wife/children does not need to fully embrace the idea of minimalism for you to benefit from it. Remember, it is far easier to notice the clutter of others than it is to notice our own. But if you just decide to start with your own personal belongings, you will notice a HUGE difference. You will almost immediately find more time in your life for the things that matter most – even if your kids’ bedroom is still messy. And the more you begin to experience freedom in your life… the more your family members will start to take notice. Just ask my wife.

• Reason: But I Don’t Know What I’d Do With _______________.

Another common thought-process I have noticed is that people’s minds often rush to their toughest belongings to minimize. These vary from person to person, but typically resemble sentimental items, books, or hobbies. Over the years, they have collected a large number of items in these particular areas and the thought of having to part with them raises concern… and often stops them from ever taking the first step.

*Encouragement: You don’t have to part with anything until you are ready. And you certainly don’t have to begin by removing the things that mean the most to you. If you are anything like we were, you have a whole house (or at least, a clothes closet) full of things that don’t mean anything to you. They are just taking up space in your home and life. They don’t fit, match, or work anymore. They can easily be removed. Start there. And remember that there is no time limit on this journey. If you are not ready to part with the memories of your past today, don’t worry about it. Maybe you’ll be ready tomorrow… or the day after that.

• Reason: But I’m Afraid of Change.

Got it. Change doesn’t come easy to you. And intentionally deciding to live with less is among the biggest of changes that you could make in your life. It is a counter-cultural way to live life. After being fed millions of advertisement from the world around us promising that more is better, deciding to reject that thinking and live with less is going to require changes – not just in the home where you live, but in almost every aspect of your life going forward.

*Encouragement: Change is never easy. And even though it is inevitable through this journey of life, we seem to avoid it whenever possible. But change comes easier when we realize the rationale behind it. The reasoning provides us with necessary motivation to make the needed changes. When we started out on our minimalist journey, I listed every benefit of minimalism that we were experiencing. The rationale and the reminder of why we were changing our lifestyle pushed us further down the road over and over again. Perhaps, they will provide the necessary foundation for you to embrace change in your life as well.

• Reason: But Minimalism Doesn’t Sound Attractive to Me.

Still, for others, they will never take their first step towards minimalism because the lifestyle does not sound attractive to them. They find no appeal in the idea of intentionally living with less. And believe that they want nothing to do with it.

*Encouragement: I embraced the idea of minimalism because it became apparent to me that the stuff in my life was keeping me from the most important things in my life: faith, family, and friends. And since removing most of the personal possessions from my life, I have found more freedom, energy, and finances to pursue the relationships that mean the most to me. And that applies to this relationship as well. May our differing views on possessions never come between us as friends.

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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Comments

  1. says

    For getting the family part on board, that was my biggest excuse. Considering I am a 20 year old living at home with a hoarder mom and a very worldly brother (he gets the newest iphone, game stations, ipads etc despite having not even enough money to buy it).
    But finally, I gave up trying to force my mom through the garage. Though I’m not “allowed” to touch anything in the living room (which I want to the most) or the “kitchen (which is a horrible paper mess), I finally just did my room. Which needed it. I went in and have been getting rid of things in my room. And you are so right. The more I go through stuff, the more I realize IIII have SOOOOO much! Who am I to complain about the family when over half my closet is stuff I never ever ever ever ever wear?!

    Some of your blogs pushed me over the edge. So thank you:) I started a blog last week (see link) to begin my progress! The first blog has a few of your quotes. thank you!!!

    • says

      Jaymie,
      Having grown up in a similar home where I was not allowed to touch anything, I commend you for taking care of your part. I did not have that desire and while I did not become a hoarder, I was definitely a bonafide packrat. I am now in my 40s and just now getting a real good grip on my belongings, having purged my books, clothes, kitchen items as well as other household things. I still have a ways to go, but feel so much lighter!
      Good luck on your journey towards a more intentional existence!
      Bernice
      Wonder Woman doesn’t live here anymore

    • Di says

      Jaymie,
      I congratulate you on taking the first step toward minimalism and realizing at your young age that it begins with you and your possessions. I hope your family will be inspired and motivated by your efforts.

    • says

      Well done Jaymie! I grew up in a similar environment so I fully understand the frustrations, but kudos to you for recognising the “log in your own eye”. Where’s the link to your blog?

  2. mel says

    I loved this article, but it was Jaymie’s comment that I really wanted to recognise. Jaymie, congratulations on starting to make changes, and on using the knowledge that it’s much easier to change our own behaviour than others’! I was really touched by your story, and wish you all the best. :)

  3. John M says

    Great article. My one comment would be that the first step should be a commitment to not purchase or bring into your life things that are not absolutely needed. You can start this step now. Minimalism is a state of mind, not just getting rid of clutter or reducing the number of items you own. It is living with things you love, improve your life and make you happy. Also, make an effort to use what you already have.

    • Justin says

      This is a great comment. I think John is absolutely right. Minimalism is about shifting our paradigm and by doing so we clean up all aspects of our life. Excellent post! I love the motivation, and I think I’ll go minimize my kitchen right now.

    • Deborah Edwards says

      Thank you for this John. I am just hitting this challenge as the weather cools and the lovely Autumn textiles start appearing in the shops. The catalogues are also arriving and with this embryonic mindset I can see how there is an enticement to purchase variations on a theme. For me a first step is not to buy, and to cancel the catalogues, and not to buy advertisement driven magazines.
      We are movng house imminently and originally I thought “I will take nothing I will not need in the new house”, but this is too tight of a deadline and is stressing me out! So I am giving things away but at a pace I can tolerate!
      Thanks for these posts they are a real encouragement!

  4. says

    Thank you for this. I started a journey to simplification in February, and at the time didn’t even realize it was a trend/movement. I just knew it was what I needed. And what my familiy needed. I have a long way to go. I want to read more about minimalism. I’m not sure if that is where I am heading or not, but I seem to agree with everything I have read from you so far. I’m guessing there are different levels/degrees of minimalism?

  5. Marti says

    Thank you Joshua for summarizing so many of the thoughts that have arisen in me during the past year of “knowing” I needed to “minimize”!
    “Minimize to Maximize” is my new motto!

    I was in a jewelry store about 5 years ago having my wedding ring resized and looking at a collection of women’s jewelry the store owner was selling for a customer who was down-sizing”. An older gentleman approached me saying, “Lovely collection, isn’t it?” I answered that it was, but that was it was not a temptation
    for me, “I’m not into jewelry.”, I announced proudly. “Everyone is into something, or many things. . .we all have more than enough!”, the
    gentleman rebutted. Knowing there was a word of wisdom to follow, my response was simply, “Oh?” He continued by explaining all he had owned, where he had traveled, how he had lived and without telling me the circumstances of his financial demise, he stated a simple truth I shall never forget, “The best day of my life was when they came and took it all away.”

  6. says

    It is VERY overwhelming to change a course and path that you have been on to accumulate this and that that we are told we need, must have, can’t live without, etc. I appreciate the simple encouragement to start small and move forward with the end goal in mind! Read a book recently (The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson) that speaks of how to make these changes…a small steps get you towards the path. It is easy to do them and easy not to do them. The choice is yours. Please continue to inspire and encourage each of us in minimalism. Love it!!!

  7. says

    Nice post. Every six months I encourage folks on my blog to participate in a “bag a day” for 30 days challenge. It is super satisfying to move out one bag, or bag equivalent (giving an outgrown bike to a neighbor for example) a day. In one month you have an entirely new home, and all it takes is 15 minutes a day. ONe reader said that her and her husband both got into it and it “literally saved our marriage as we suddenly were successful together in doing something we both wanted so deeply.”

    I am behind a few days actually… why am I on the computer?

  8. says

    this sounds so interesting! i always feel like many Americans are too prodigal and prefer quantity where they forget to appreciate things. I recently joined a new blogging + social networking site called TopicLog. Check out blogs and topics if interested :) athttp://topiclog.com/viviant

  9. says

    One way I encourage others towards simplicity is to share how tiny actions can create giant benefits. For example, I recently decided to address my addiction to coffee. My first tiny action was to stop bringing coffee from home at work. In doing so, I figured that I am saving 5 minutes each day not having to fill up my travel mug in the morning, transfer the coffee in my coffee mug at work, make 2 or 3 trips to the microwave during the morning to re-heat the coffee, and wash the travel mug and the office mug every day. At 300 business days per year, that’s 25 hours that I no longer spend on bringing coffee to work! And I’m not even addressing the financial and health benefit of this tiny action. From this example, I’m sure it is easy for anyone to identify a tiny action towards simplicity that can have a great impact!

  10. says

    I can totally relate to the family part of it. I seem to be the only one that sees all the stuff we have accumulated over the years. If we aren’t using it, I’m ready to pass it on to someone who will. At a garage sale this past week, it was hard for me to get rid of the floor puzzles the boys played with when they were young, but I knew I was doing the right thing because the family who bought them had 2 little ones just the right age for them. I know they’ll give someone else wonderful memories.

    Thanks for the constant encouragement and challenges!

  11. says

    What a great post! I have recently been going through my own downsizing process and found that some things were definitely easier to get rid of than others.
    I believe that downsizing takes a lot of introspection. Some guiding questions that I used when sorting through things were:

    -How often do I use this?
    -Do I actually enjoy using/seeing this item?
    -Does this item reflect the life that I want?
    -Could someone else get more use out of this?

    As an example, I have always been an avid reader and had amassed a large collection of books, many of which I hadn’t read in years. When I began to get rid of things, I wondered what other people might think of me if I got rid of most of my books. Would they think less of me if I didn’t have a great book collection? Would that somehow make me look less educated? Silly thoughts, yes, but they were holding me back.

    When I finally made the decision to donate most of my books to the local library, I couldn’t believe how good it felt knowing that the books would be going to homes where they would actually be read again, and the library could raise money from the sales. It was definitely a better feeling than the burden of having to make extra space for all of the books.

  12. Jen says

    I really like this blog and the article is encouraging and i would love to be minimalist. I grew up with a horder mum and really hated how our house was. My main concerns about taking the next step were not really menioned here though. I am a single parent with very little money coming in and i worry that if i get rid of something and then find i need it I will have a hard time finding the money for a replacement. Also I feel bad giving things away and feel i should sell them and try to improve our finances but of course the process is much slower…I also don’t want to deprive my child of being little and having toys and being creative by insisting on a minimalist home. Does anyone else have these concerns, especially around the money side of things?

  13. says

    @Jen:

    In response to a couple of your comments…

    In terms of the things that you are afraid of getting rid of because you might need a replacement–what if you investigated some other ways of using those items? Do any family members/friends have ones that you could borrow, if needed? Is there anywhere that you could rent a particular item that you’re worried about selling?

    And about feeling bad about not giving your child enough toys–I don’t have children, so I can’t personally speak to the feeling of needing to provide for my own child. However, when I was young, my family didn’t have much money for extra toys, but I never remember being bored. Kids are so good at being creative with very little–I almost think that the less they have, the more creative they are! That being said, I’m sure there are a number of bloggers/readers who are more versed in the subject, so I’ll end my thoughts here :o)

  14. says

    Thanks for the inspiration! I am finding that while letting go of stuff is hard, it gets easier the more I read posts about the topic. I think it’s slowly rewiring my brain.

    • says

      Emma,

      Your words about “rewiring my brain” struck a chord. I can apply this to other areas of my life that I am struggling with. And great website by the way; I’m now a subscriber and a follower on Twitter.

      Yan

  15. says

    I have just started my minimalist journey this July 2011. I have gotten rid of 206 things and I am still counting. I am going to take pictures and scan my son’s pictures that he draws and only really keep a few in order to cut down on the papers. I am also trying not to have duplicates of things like house slippers and kitchen utensils. It is a journey and I am excited to begin it!

  16. Stefanie says

    Wow, this is just what I needed.
    Over the summer and vacation I lost track of the minimalisim. Like “out of sight, out of mind”. But this here puts all the things together and lets my focus again.
    Well I am just before round 2 and its getting harder, but I have a plan. I wished my husband would find his way to minimalisim too.

  17. Lia says

    I’m starting the path. My husband is a natural minimalist but I love pretty things and have always enjoyed shopping. Now that we have a toddle and baby on the way I find it easier to let go of my things and I don’t have time for random shopping now. However, toys are definitely an issue: they are slowly filling up our home! Here is a question: does building storage encourage Accumulating more stuff? I want to get organized but don’t want to set myself up with “spaces to fill”.

  18. Susan says

    In an attempt to get rid of unnatural things in my home, I started with getting rid of all my plastic. That was a large percentage of household items. Now I’m purging my cleaning products and health & beauty products because none of them are natural! I’ve been making my own supplies which is also reducing plastic containers from coming back into my home. Next I’ll be purging all things that I don’t need. During this journey I am starting to feel free!

  19. Kim Johnson says

    A year ago my husband and I started cleaning out in anticipation of selling our home and downsizing. Even after weeding out a lot, we still had tons of junk to dispose of when we sold, but we did it, and felt euphoric afterward! We plan on building a small place (1200 square feet or less) and we both have pledged to be ever vigilant about what comes in our home after what we have gone through to simplify our possessions.

  20. Tiffany says

    I have been embarking on owning less, but higher quality things for a few years. I couldn’t count all the things I’ve sold, given or traded. I finally now am down to the really hard things. Things I actually like, but don’t NEED. It’s been challenging, and selling on Ebay is such a pain, but I have some very collectible antiques that I just don’t LOVE. I follow some others adivce and one of the criteria is to keep it I must LOVE it, it must be beautiful and useful. I’m getting better and sometimes I used say, okay, find 10 things in the house today to whittle down, now I use a much smaller number, like 2 or 3, but I usually can find that.

    I have to admit the NUMBER ONE problem I have is STOPPING the flow of STUFF into my house!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ARGH If I see a 50 cent Fire King dish at sale or store, I WILL BRING IT HOME and use it a while, then sell it on Ebay. As you can see, I have real problems.

    I am going to do a 3 day challenge, where I purchase NOTHING, including food. Then up that to 7 days, but allow food purchses. And practice that at least one week a month until I can stop thrifting and sale shopping with such a compulsion.

  21. Hattie says

    Joshua, I started this journey of minimalism at the beginning of this year. I am not where I want to be yet, but I love the freedom I feel with owning less. This week I have sold my car. (I realize not everyone can do this, but it was something I could do without. This week, also, I canceled my TV service. I can still watch my movies and videos. I also found three small items to part with today. The most difficult has been becoming able to part with some books. While there are books I will always keep, I am finding more with which I can part. Thank you for your encouragement. And I write this in hopes of encouraging others.

  22. says

    I love this post! One area that bogs down my progress is…. after I determine what needs to be gotten rid of – I sort it into a million categories like…. sell, trash, recycle, give away to a friend, donate, return to original owner etc… I get kind of overwhelmed with all the categories and then the sell category slows me in my tracks.

    I know that if I try to sell everything it will take me FOREVER to declutter. I sometimes just prefer to donate as much as I can and not worry too much about “earning” money. I also try to identify the big ticket items, but I then can get caught up in – but wait I could maybe get $20 for this! I sometimes just want to put it all out in the yard and the lawn fairies will come and take care of everything :)

  23. Jennifer VanHorn says

    My fear is I literally have lived where I just had the clothes on my back and it’s taken me years to accumulate what I have, much of it given to me and my girls. Therefore I’m fearful to minimize when it was through the kindness of others that I received the items I own if God forbid I wind up in the spot again where I have nothing.

  24. kimberley williams says

    My fear is letting go.. my mom was a hoarder and when she passed last year, she left me with 5, 10×10 storage units and an attic full (this was after the initial huge yard sale that I had and donation truck that drove away). Then my grandfather passed and I got all his stuff as well. They were my whole family. Therefore, everything they had was the only thing they left my kids and I. a year and a half later, I still have one 5x 8 storage unit, a full Garage and stuff everywhere. This, in addition to my husbands need to bring everything home from his construction jobs that he possibly can. So, I have been trying to minimalize for over a year now and making progress with my families things, but struggling inside my own home. I don’t want to get rid of anything of value that was my families’. I Have so much stuff, I am lost between reponsibility to keep my house clean EVERYDAY and grief over getting rid of the memories or “stuff” that makes my house messy…. this “stuff” is all I have left of my family, childhood, everything. Its hard but I am not giving up. ….

  25. says

    My emotional detachment to “stuff” has happened before I decluttered everywhere… now my thoughts and feelings about it are I do not care enough about the remaining stuff to take the time to get rid of it… Hopefully, this is a phase I will be able to get through… especially since I aspire to be more of a nomad… the universe is my home <3

  26. Brandi says

    I just say you cannot take it with you when you die. As my father-in-law says “You never see a U-haul truck attached to a hearse, do you?”

  27. says

    Today I began cleaning out a storage area that had memories of the chidren school from 1995. I was just about thru when my wife shows up and tells me I can’t let that stuff go. I tried to explain to her we have grandchildren now, but she wouldn’t let me throw the papers away! LOL I was still abel to get a least a dozen things past her! I’ll keep trying!

    • Janice Franklin says

      I collected several bags and boxes today to take to Goodwill. My husband started to look through one of the boxes and question why I was giving certain things away (wedding presents that have been used once or twice in almost 23 years, VHS tapes that our university age kids watched as toddlers). With a smile on my face, I told him to back away from the box. He did. Those things are now at Goodwill. Fortunately, he is with me on this journey towards minimalism. It is just harder for him to let go than it is for me.

  28. Geraldo Serrano says

    I actually started decluttering this weekend. It was fun and also a relief to create more space in a house that’s not so huge. I started with my clothes, give those that I don’t use anymore either to my siblings or to our neighborhood. It was a relief to let go of those things. I’ve been maintaining a simple lifestyle for, I think, the last two years. I bike to work, I bring my own food to the office. And yeah, minimalism helps largely in my finances.

    And I’m not yet done, I need to declutter more and own less.:) Thanks to this site guys.;)

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. The upside of downsizing | July 14, 2011
  2. Simple. « {minimalist.bliss} | December 17, 2012

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