Find a Rational Minimalism that Works For You


“Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.” —Joshua Becker

Some people I speak with get nervous when they hear the term minimalist. For them, it conjures up images of destitution, barren walls, and empty cupboards. Rightly so, they decide that is no way to enjoy life. Believe me, I agree—that is no way to enjoy life.

Maybe that is why I use the term rational minimalist and find it resonates so well. If you walked into my home today, you would not immediately deduce that a minimalist lives here.

When you look in our living room, you would see a television, couches, a family photo, and a rug. In our coat closet you would find jackets, baseball caps, and a few winter weather accessories. In our kids’ rooms, you would find books, crafts, and toys in their closet. Since deciding to become minimalist years ago, we have been on a journey to define what that means for us and how it fits into our life.

We live in suburbia. We have two young children. We are active in our community. We love to entertain, show hospitality, and host small groups from our church in our living room. I am a writer and my wife teaches. While not exceptional, our life is not identical to anybody else. It is our life—nobody else’s.

And if we were going to become minimalist, it would have to be a style of minimalism specific to us. It would require us to ask questions, give-and-take, identify what we most value, and be humble enough to change course when necessary.

Your particular practice of minimalism is going to look different from everyone else. It must! After all, you live a different life than everyone else.

You may have a large family, small family, or no family. You may live on a farm, in a house, or in a studio apartment. You may collect antiques, stamps, or bottle caps. You may love music, movies, sports, or books. You may cherish old photographs, family heirlooms, or romantic letters from a lover.

Find a style of minimalism that works for you. One that is not cumbersome, but freeing based on your values, desires, passions, and rational thinking.

Be aware that your definition will not come overnight. It will take time. It will evolve—even change drastically as your life changes. It will require give and take. You will make a few mistakes along the way. And thus, it will also require humility.

But ultimately, you will begin to remove the unneeded things from your life. And when you do, you will find space to intentionally promote the things you most value and remove anything that distracts you from it. 

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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  1. says

    I wonder if this type of style should be called “manageable livable (minimal? haha)” instead of minimalist. I think this type of balance is what we all strive to have – living with our private essentials that aren’t just the “essentials.” Those who own a bit more than needed might be “clutterers,” but like you said – who are we to judge?!

    I have been struggling to identify not just what type of minimalist I want to become but also which one I already am. I think, “I can manage just fine with the bare essentials,” but then it comes to the point of how happy I truly am with just that. Aesthetics and mementos are definitely something to take into consideration.

    btw, I really enjoy your blog (I read all of it this past weekend), and I find what you have done really inspirational! Thanks for all your hard work – it definitely got me moving and shaking. :)

      • says

        Everyone may feel differently, but I really don’t have a sense of emotion attached to physical items. I have found that taking a picture of a physical item and then donating the physical item, really helps.

        • Jennifer says

          I’ve read this in many places, about taking a picture of the item and then giving it away. But for some things, this simply won’t work, at least for me. :) I have some things that used to belong to my grandparents and I can’t just give them up. It’s really not a LOT, and some are antiques. I love them and they have a lot of meaning to me. :)
          I am slowly getting rid of a lot of things though. The hard part is getting my husband on board with it!

          • Eva Z says

            If you love those heirlooms, look at them every day and enjoy them there is no need to get rid of them, they are not clutter. I am sure Joshua would agree with me :)

          • Lisa says

            I agree, don’t throw out what you love and value. Stop bringing into the home the stuff you don’t love.

            Its about the quality of your life, not the quantity, or the quality in your life rather than the quantity in your life.

            Heirlooms aren’t just about you, they are for future generations of your family as well, they are treasured down generations. I have gifts that belonged to my grandmother and my great grandmother – gifts that have been passed and treasured through my family and that i will send on to future generations of my family. They aren’t clutter. Clutter is the stuff i can cull. Its the excess stuff I don’t need and I don’t love or use.

            For each of us quality and quantity will differ, its finding what works for you, keep those heirlooms if you value them, you’ll regret getting of them and your family won’t understand. if you really feed the need to get them out of your home, give them to another family member.

            my grandmother gave away all of her possessions before she died, she died without clutter, her heirlooms, which she treasured, she divvied up between the family by talking to us and asking us what we would like before she died, what i have from her, she gave to me, and I will pass those things along the family when I’m ready, and not because I magicked up a number that my possessions must meet.

  2. says

    Our apartment is the same way as your house – when you walk in, you wouldn’t know that we are so hardcore about simplicity/minimalism. It’s warm and inviting, but we still try to live up to the often-quoted William Morris: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

    Good post!

    • says

      I need to stamp this on my forehead… at least until it sinks in. :)

      William Morris: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

  3. Theresa says

    Thank you so much for this post. I needed this. Recently I saw photos of a minimalist’s apartment which totally disheartened me. It was completely devoid of life and beauty. My only thought was, “If this is what being minimalist is all about, I don’t want any part of it.” I want my home to feel warm and inviting for my own sake and also because I enjoy having people over. I am letting go of things every day, but my home is not stark and empty. I guess I could be classified as a rational minimalist also.
    It’s as if you’ve given me “permission” to hold onto a few beautiful things. William Morris’ quote is on a sticky note on my computer, so I am reminded of this principle every day and I strive to put it into practice.
    I so enjoy your blog! Thank you again.

    • Patty says

      Thank you for your excellent points. Often when I read minimalists’ writings, it seems like it is a contest: “I am down to 120 possessions” “I have 70… 34″ etc. That seems unpleasant – although I guess if that makes you happy! I love the William Morris quote, and that is what I try to live by. Flylady also has some very practical ideas about this — “if it doesn’t make you smile, get rid of it” and “you can’t organize clutter.” I am a teacher, so it is in the summers that I make the most progress towards reducing unwanted possessions – but it seems every year it creeps back in.

      Joshua – is it a constant battle, or do you reach a point that it is more on “automatic pilot”?

      • joshua becker says

        A bit of consistent reevaluation is always necessary—especially with growing kids. But for the most part, we have found a new normal that works well for us.

  4. wilyfem says

    Maybe you aren’t so much a minimalist, but an anti-consumerist to a degree? Or frugal? Sorry, but there comes a point when you cannot call yourself a minimalist. Living more minimally than you normally do does not make you a minimalist.

    I am a minimalist. You could fit all of my personal belongings – including clothes – into two average sized moving boxes (possibly less). My spouse is not a minimalist. If you walked into our house, you would think it was neat and orderly, but not necessarily minimalist. So I honestly cannot say we have a minimalist household.

  5. TrishB says

    Love this post (and the blog-looking forward to the book). Agree w/you Theresa. I love, love the William Morris quote-refer to it often. I think ‘Minimalist Living’ could be viewed along a continuum. Some are more minimalist than others. So rather than splitting hairs, maybe we can agree that we’re all on a journey towards simpler, more mindful living, and some of us are choosing different stops/destinations along the way. It’s ultimately about wise stewardship.

  6. says

    @Theresa, I saw your comment (and the ensuing and unnecessarily mean post) that the author left. I also left my own comment about her behavior but she has not made the comment available. I really appreciate becomingminimalist writing about rational minimalism instead of opting to chide those who like a bit more aesthetic comfort in their homes! (I would send this as a personal email, but yours isn’t listed.)

  7. nicole 86 says

    @ Theresa and Allison

    same with me, my comments had not been accepted.
    As for me, I am quite sure my minimalism way of living will change over the next years. I began to get rid off quite a lot of items and later i will buy new items I really enjoy.
    I keep items whenever I enjoy them even if some people may call them clutter. I could get rid off them if I intended to go abroad or …

  8. says

    @nicole and Theresa,

    Thanks for the heads up. I was wondering if I should remove her off my list of blogs and I think I will – I was waiting for her to release the comments but since she’s posted in the meantime I think that means she won’t. I found her that post mocking Theresa completely unprofessional, immature and in bad taste.

    Sorry again Becomingminimalist for taking over your comment section – there’s just no way to email them privately. thanks.

  9. Sarah says

    I totally agree with you, Theresa & Allison. I left a (very polite) comment on her blog also and she didn’t make it available. If you can’t handle opposing viewpoints in the least, why blog? She has been removed from my reading list. She is defensive, rude, and isn’t living the lifestyle I aim for anyway.

    I am all about rational minimalism! And I do think it deserves to be called minimalism even if you can’t fit your life in a backpack. But whatever you want to call it, it’s all about mindfulness and having only what you use. This blog does a great job focusing on doing with less but not going without. Thank you.

  10. says

    Hey Theresa, Allison, and Sarah – do you mind my asking which blog you are referring to? I read a lot of minimalism blogs and will be happy to boycott one that treats the readers with disrespect!

    On another note, I am very happy at how becomingminimalist looks at minimalism. I like that we aren’t told to get rid of everything because I think that outlook is extremely depressing. Thank you becomingminimalist for treating us all as individuals and not lumping everyone into the “extreme minimalist” category!

  11. TrishB says

    Hey guys-I think your comments were posted-there is a lag due to work commitments. Not 100% certain, but you might want to check.

  12. says

    i wrote this post for several reasons:

    1. i wanted to encourage others to pursue minimalism. i have found the lifestyle very fulfilling and enjoy sharing it with others.
    2. i wanted to offer freedom to people to pursue a lifestyle of simplicity that fits their unique lifestyle and stage.
    3. i wanted to give people the opportunity to interact with some of the material in the book (one of the advantages of a blog over a book).
    4. i wanted to raise awareness of the book release on monday.

    those were the reasons for the post. hopefully, we can get back to one of those (especially creating awareness of the the book’s release on monday…)

  13. says

    I was thinking something similar recently: though I’m not done minimizing my stuff, even when I am done I know that visitors will look around and not realize they’re in a minimalist’s home.

    I was sad for a second until I realized the magic is in what they won’t see (and what doesn’t exist): there’s nothing hiding from them in storage units, or in the garage (except my bicycle) or in my basement. What they see will be what there is. And like others who posted, I want a warm and inviting home.

    In fact, by the time I finish getting rid of “theoretically useful but not useful enough to keep” things, a GREATER percentage of my belongings will probably be artwork than when I started.

  14. says

    Its great to see that someone who is on the “A-List” doing there own thing and not just copying everyone else. This post was encouraging. Thanks,


  15. says

    Joshua, I want to thank you for your blog. I really embrace your ideas and your thoughts have contributed to a lot of changes in my life during 2011. If you set out to make a difference…please know that you have! Happy New Year!

  16. Kelekona says

    I’ve been poking around on the web and have found extreme minimalism abhorrent. (Extreme as in not owning a stick of furniture or not being able to prepare fried egg on ramen.)

    Actually, I had to spend a week in a rental house furnished down to the cookware, and by mid-week I had to visit one of the more jumbled thrift stores just to keep myself from going crazy. (And fumed that I found some great items but left empty-handed simply because I knew I wouldn’t want to deal with those new things right away.)

    But I do admire “staged” spaces, especially in sitcoms. Everything in that space was chosen intentionally and is where it needs to be. If I could do a five-minute tidy (without any dump-and-run) and have everything but the storage room be ready for a magazine shoot, that is about as simple as I would be willing to live with.

    Mid-line minimalists are cool, but it’s not my thing. I imagine people who live more “out in the world” than I do, don’t do any cooking that requires specialized gadgets or more than three pans, mostly have hobbies that don’t involve equipment, or only have one hobby with minor equipment needs.

    I also intend to prove to my husband that you can indeed have more places to put things than you have things to put.

    I do have inactive things, but it is much easier to hold onto something and eventually need it (or finally give up and toss it) than to need it and not have it.

    However, I have determined that with a little time and effort, everything that is truly important to me will fit onto a hard drive. (There are things that I would spend years mourning if I had to leave them behind, but most of my physical stuff is things where I could and would buy a new one of. I honestly do use both of my crockpots at the same time often enough that I would be beyond annoyed to live with having only one.)

  17. says

    Just recently, I’ve decided to simplify, declutter, ‘move to minimal’ if you will. But then I was immediately conflicted about the thought that I’d have to just toss everything. It’s such a great idea to approach it “rationally” and to see that it works well to shape the idea to my life and not the other way around. Thanks for a great post!

  18. says

    I greatly appreciate your non-judgemental attitude on minimalism. Minimalists that believe it should be a rigid way of doing things or rather NOT doing things don’t make their lifestyle very welcoming. I’m glad there’s a sliding scale. The process is one step at a time anyway, and I’m sure our ideas of minimalism will change as we go.

  19. says

    I think the essential thing is that you keep whatever adds true value to your life and get rid of what doesn’t. This differs for everyone. I love playing drums, and would not rid of them ever, no matter how much space they take. Minimalism isn’t about the literal ‘less’, it’s about the internal ‘more’.

  20. Wally says

    I started minimizing my “stuff” to help me save money. What I am realizing is I’m much happier and content with less “stuff”. I believe it actually cleared “stuff” in my mind as well. My rational minimalism may be very irrational for you!! And that is very okay! Thanks for this site. I’m so content my gray hair is turning brown again… :-)

  21. Tru says

    I love the ideas associated with all of this and try to adapt it into my life. I’m going through my clothes, but my fabric collection although I’ve already sized it down still needs more work. My biggest program is that I design, alter and deal with clothing and fabric. How can I minimize what I have, how do I differentiate between what is vital/valuable and what is able to be donated?

  22. Tom says

    I think the key for me was realizing that most of us have our drawers, cabinets, and closets filled with stuff we don’t need/use. That leaves no room for the things we need/use daily so those things wind up on countertops/tables/chairs/floors. We’ve all experienced this. The very space we’re trying to live in becomes too cluttered to live in.

    Thanks for helping me see this more clearly.

  23. Peony says

    I grew up poor, so when I began working, I started collecting and buying things I wanted for when I owned my own home. Well over the past 36 years, I never moved out of our family home. I think I’ve become a hoarder because I’ve never thrown away or got rid of anything that I bought. To part with my possessions makes me “feel” that I will be poor again. I want to live with less because it would free me up to live the life I desire. But I don’t know how to part with my things, and think that I might need professional help. Allot of the buying was done when I had bouts of depression. I’d like some advise as to where to begin. I stumbled upon this site by mistake, and when I was reading, it really hit home. I want to live with less and be free to live my life and feel the weight lifted off my shoulders. HELP!!!

    • Katie says

      Peony, don’t look at it as a whole, start small. You may need professional help but start by yourself first. I grew up with not much and I know what things around you feels like. I’m rich now because I can buy things! But, things don’t make you rich, people and experiences do.

      Grab a garbage bag. Start by getting rid of anything like paper that is ripped, torn, is no longer usable. Don’t be hard on yourself if this takes you awhile, you’ll have to come to terms with letting go. It’s just stuff, the memories you have will still be there.

      You may want to enlist the help of a good friend or relative to help you stay grounded while you sort through years of collections. Give it a go – the first steps are the hardest!

  24. Johnb says

    I have come across your blog (and this entry in particular) after many months of attempting to justify why I was slowly culling all the material posessions that were building up in my home and surrounding me in my life in general. In a time of my life where everyone around me seems to be filling their lives with material ‘stuff’, I am travelling down a different path and it feels so refreshing. I am glad I’m not alone in my adventure. Thank you.

  25. Kathy Schwager says

    This is a great article. My husband and I (both retired) have been on this journey for more than 10 years. I don’t think anyone would walk into our home (under 1000 sq. ft.) and think that it looks bare or Spartan. It is attractive and comfortable. We have what we need. That includes photos of our grandchildren, a few mementos of travel, a reasonable number of books, everything we need to prepare and eat meals, hobby materials, clothing, wall decor, etc. We do not have thousands of books – internet and a great library system. We don’t have lots of kitchen gadgets. We do not have an excess of clothing. Our possessions don’t weigh us down. It feels good to us, and I think that is what matters. Living this way has enabled us to travel extensively during our retirement.

  26. Linda Freitag says

    To me minimalism is a life style change. Changes take time and this type of life style change is no different. For change to become habit it is something I need to adapt to over time both in thought and carry through. Once I am mentally prepared it is easier to take baby steps to achieving a level of satisfaction I feel comfortable with maintaining.

  27. Marilyn says

    I divorced at 40 and raised my three daughters by myself ….after the divorce and after I lost everything I realized we didn’t need much to survive… A roof over our head a modest vehicle and food to eat and I furnished our home for $100 and we lived happily. Then I met my new husband who isn’t on the same path as I and I am overwhelmed , my question is how do I change him to be more like me he is getting worse everyday and I am not happy , he does not see that he has a problem any suggestions because I really love him and I do not want to leave but it is affecting my health

    • Sibyl says

      Well – same as with any other problems in a marriage… talk to him about it. Pick a quiet time, explain completely and clearly what it does to you to live like you do now (I guess you mean that he’s got too much stuff, you don’t say in your post). Just try to give him a clear picture of your state of mind about it.
      My husband is also not in the decluttering boat, and he puts up one or two stop signs every now and then – but when he sees that something is really bothering/affecting me (and even endangering my health), he’d do everything in his power to accomodate me as much as possible.

      • Jeannie says

        This is such a relief for me to read this post as I felt like every spare minute I had I was on a rampage to clear out a drawer or cupboard like I was on a time clock. And yes…I was encourage to read how ‘everyone of our lives will look different’ making our surrounding more minimalist!! I am a detailed person and find this very hard as I Love to change seasonal items but have now learned to pair it down to what I really Love and not store additional items… this is an improvement. I actual drawers and closets are looking better and I spend a lot less time looking for things!! I felt very calm reading this post as it gave me permission to ‘do it my way’ and what works for me in my Home and not someone elses… Thanks Joshua for clarifying that… I think I have been searching for that peace for awhile!! :)

  28. says

    I love the way you have made minimalism seem both accessible and entirely achievable! It’s always a mistake when people make it out to be a really extreme way of living because people lose interest — unlike this post which has left me feeling the most inspired I’ve been for weeks! Thank you!

  29. Carmen says

    I find your thoughts on rational minimalism very realistic and encouraging. have been on journey for 7 years and although I sometimes feel like a failure i know we constantly combat worldly views and movements. when people walk into our house they say it feels calm so i need to focus on the victories instead of the battles still ahead. Thank you.

  30. says

    We are SO onboard with becoming minimalist. We have 13 children – 11 at home, 9 of them teenagers, 7 in high school (and a 5 year old!). My biggest struggle has been what does minimalism look like to a family so large. For the past couple months, we’ve been purging, donating, selling, trashing. With work schedules, kids, LIFE it’s taking SO much longer to complete the process than I had ever imagined. My solution to clutter and “stuff” was to purchase more rubbermaid bins….. Some things need to be replaced, yes we still need couches large enough for all of us, no we only have 4 bedrooms (and that’s one area I’d have more). We’ve been systematically attacking rooms of the house and the garage. I don’t know where everything came from, but the intention is to stop the insidious take over. A couple weeks ago, I hit the point where I wish a dumpster could be delivered and I could just tip the house upside down and start over. But, breathe and know that it is getting done. The rooms that are completed feel so good – getting rid of 80% of the shoes and clothing I owned was liberating. Beginning to see what’s important – clearly not our “stuff” – is getting the kids more involved. It’s been a wonderful, emotional, crazy, frustrating, slow process. I know there will always be upkeep, however I’ll be so relieved when the mass exodus has ended and we can live in our space with more ease. I appreciate any tips on how things can be altered for such a large family. Advice and reading other’s journeys is part of what helps continue to motivate me. Thank you!

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  3. Minimalist? | Fantastick | July 24, 2014

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