Maybe the Answer is Owning Less

own-less

“Anything you cannot relinquish when it has outlived its usefulness possesses you, and in this materialistic age a great many of us are possessed by our possessions.” –Peace Pilgrim

Four years ago, we sold, donated, or discarded over 60% our possessions. We removed clothes, furniture, decorations, cookware, tools, books, toys, plus anything else we could find in our home that was not immediately useful or beautiful.

At the time, the idea of owning fewer possessions was completely foreign to us. Nobody had ever told us living with fewer possessions was an option for life… much less a better alternative to the endless pursuit of more and more.

Looking back, while I would have never admitted with my words that I was seeking joy in possessions, I had become more influenced by our consumer-driven culture than I would like to admit. As a result, I worked long hours to earn money to buy newer technology, trendier clothing, nicer toys, faster cars, and bigger houses. I didn’t really believe the purpose of life was to chase possessions, but my calendar and checkbook sure seemed to declare that truth.

Choosing to intentionally live with fewer possessions was a decision that sounded surprisingly attractive. It was a decision that found its roots in our finances, our family, and our faith. We had grown weary of living paycheck to paycheck, weary of trading time with our kids to manage our possessions, and weary of pursuing worldly gain rather than lasting purpose. Owning less offered escape from the clutter in our homes. It offered escape from the clutter in our lives. It forced intentionality. And it offered the very ideals our hearts most desperately desired.

Since choosing to live with less, we have experienced numerous unexpected benefits. We have more time, more energy, more freedom, and more money to pursue what is most important to us. Owning less means less cleaning, less burden, less anxiety, and less stress each and every day. In short, we are freed to pursue our passions.

Over the years, I have come to define minimalism as the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it. I have found it to be a lifestyle that appeals to the heart and resonates with the soul. Owning less is an invitation that is appreciated, desired, and accepted when fully understood.

Minimalism may be just the answer to a better life that you’ve been searching for all along. (tweet that)

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

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

Follow on TwitterLike on Facebook

Comments

  1. Kelly Davidson says

    I am a new follower and will be looking to your blog as well as your book, Simplify, for guidance over the coming months.
    I have already started the process by clearing out an enormous amount of kids toys, clothes, books and shoes. Next is the kitchen!
    My fear though, is that once I have reduced everything we own down to what we need, how will I stop things creeping back? What strategies can you recommend to make sure I don’t fall in to the trap of feeling like I need “stuff” again?

    • Gina M says

      I am VERY slowly trying to simplify…but I think the best way to keep your possessions reduced once you get there, is to adopt the 1 thing in – 1 thing out rule. If you do acquire someting new, something you already own must go! I wish I was closer to this goal myself…

        • Audrey says

          I delay purchasing things. I research it, look at and then wait at least a couple of weeks sometimes longer. I usually but not always find, life is great without it!

    • Annie says

      Hi Kelly,
      I’m relatively new to minimalism, (1 1/2 years), and have discovered that “creep” is toughest when you first start your journey. One way I have learned to combat it is to keep a small notebook with me that has several tabs. One tab is for my “needs”, items that I do truly need for myself and my home, and that have to be budgeted for. A second tab has my budget and purchases which allows me to see how much money I really do have to spend available at any one time. My budget is based on cash so that I don’t fall into the trap of charging it just because I can. The third tab is for items I have seen and wanted, but not necessarily needed. I note where I saw it, how much it costs, and what date I saw it. Then I force myself to wait at least one week before buying. Most of the time I don’t end up buying it, and on the rare occasion I do I apply the one-in-one-out rule and sell/donate the old item if at all possible. It’s not a perfect system, ( I still have to avoid stores like Sephora entirely), but it’s working 90% of the time and I have been able to get myself out of debt within a year using it and my home is less cluttered and more comfortable to live in.

    • OldIowaGirl says

      I play a game with myself whenever I want to buy something. I have to answer “yes” to 1 of these 3 questions:

      1) Do I need this?
      2) Do I love this?
      3) Will owning this make me happy?

    • montyloree says

      Kelly… when you have enough time to appreciate EVERYTHING that you own, then it’s time to add more things… if you can keep fully appreciating everything, then you know you’re ok… it’s when we have so much stuff that we can’t appreciate what we’ve got…IMO

    • says

      One thing that works for my clients is to limit the size of the space you allot to items – for example, when I have used all my hangers, I have enough clothes or when a shelf is full, I have plenty of that item. Don’t try to be “creative” and fit in double the amount – you are just undermining yourself. A new item IN means an old item has to go OUT (or you really didn’t need to buy it) Focus on the quality of what you do with your time instead – for example, less time cleaning and more time visiting with friends. Best of luck!

  2. says

    My wife and I have recently begun to go through this metamorphosis from living a consumer based life to a life of less. As we tell friends and family that we are selling stuff the first response we usually get is them asking something about us not having enough money. It is really difficult to actually explain to someone that you want to choose to have less in your life.

    “Choosing to intentionally live with fewer possessions was a decision that sounded surprisingly attractive.” I am going to be sending some people this statement and keep it in my arsenal as we continue on our journey.

    • says

      I get what you are saying! My mother thinks that my frugal/minimalist lifestyle is because I am desperately poor. The opposite is true, I am able to put 40% of my income in the bank.

        • Tina says

          I have never been interested in what the “Joneses” of the world are doing. I just don’t want to be the biggest mess in the room. My kids give me things, my friends give me things, and sometimes I find what I need at a rummage sale or yard sale. I think all of us have an image of our selves and when we meet that image we are happy.

    • Wyndee says

      I also have people in my life that don’t get it. We recently downsized to a smaller house even though when we moved my husband got a raise. My mom still talks about how nice my old house was. It was too big I could never keep it clean. It had so much room I never had to throw anything out. I am so much happier now with a smaller more manageable house. We are still working on it, I am going room to room. The ones I am done with I love being in.

      • ccattwood says

        This is my goal in the near future as well…we have no problem financially to keep our ‘big’ house going, but the space bothers me as I am not a cleaning fanatic (hence a big reason I love the clutter-free lifestyle;]). People in our family think we are nuts to want to downsize to a more moderate house as ‘you have THE house most people aspire to’…but I aspire to less because I know it to be more :)

      • says

        We achieved a similar thing by dividing our home. We converted one end of it into a flat for our daughter and her partner. This gave them the opportunity to live well while they studied and also to practice minimalism because the space was small. Sort of independence with training wheels. Now that they’ve moved on we’ve got one of my daughter’s friends living there because of difficulties with her family and we like the idea of making it available to people in short term difficulty. Someone suggested renting it out as a holiday flat to make money. They don’t get it. That would mean more cleaning, more work and spending money on replacing things that are worn or damaged.

  3. says

    As Thenix and I look to travelling for a year or so through South America, I have to figure out what to do with all of our stuff. Even though we are not big consumers, we still have a lot of stuff to store away. Furniture, clothes, electronics. We only have a 500 sq.ft apartment but we have surely crammed it with an abundance of things. Just deciding to go on this trip led us to cut down on our ownership – we got rid of a lot of stuff that was just hanging around – it made us question everything we bought and received. Owning less is an answer to a lot of questions in our lives.

  4. says

    We are also going through this process. We had wanted to begin a couple of years ago, but got an offer to live on a large piece of property, 7 acres, which we really needed to experience. That property came with a 2700 sq ft home, not what I wanted but the experience was needed to happen. Now we are all (2 adults, 2 children & our zoo of kittes and 2 dogs) living happily in an 800 sq ft home and loving it! Garage Sale #2 in April. We keep realizing we need less and less. Our priority is to travel more. So nice to have less, we still have a long way to go, but you have to start somewhere!

  5. says

    Eliminating the excess surely brings a sense of peace and content in life. I am new to the journey and your blog is such an inspiration!

  6. says

    We moved to a larger house about a year ago, and keeping up with it has been time consuming and overwhelming for me. Getting rid of our stuff is helping, as is buying less, too.

  7. says

    We began simplifying in 2009 in selling our 3,000 square foot house and big mortgage. I built the house with my ex-husband 20 years prior to selling it. We lived in a 29′ travel trailer for 4 years and both worked full time as we built our dream house. Living in the trailer was an eye-opening experience . . . probably the most valuable life lesson I’ve done so far. Moving into the big house was overwhelming on many levels. I had a sense of guilt consuming so much raw material creating my dream. We soon settled into life, had a son and life was good. When I divorced I had to pay my ex-husband half a million dollars for his half of the house. We spent a fraction of that amount building the house but property values had skyrocketed. I struggled to stay in the house for 6 years after the divorce. Got my son off to high school and decided it was time to get real before I spent all of my equity.

    Moving was gut-wrenching and I hung onto the sadness of letting go until only a few months ago. I still miss the house and property (5 1/2 acres) but my (now) husband and I live on the coast. Although we’re renting, we live in a great house with a view of the harbor and the ocean. The house is half the size of our country home and a postage stamp size lot but it’s plenty big enough. Although living on the coast was always my dream we may never have moved here because we loved our country home. We’re no longer pressured to make a huge monthly mortgage or maintain a big house and property. I walk the beach several times a week, work from home and have a community I’d never experienced in our country home. I’m now living another life-long dream.

    Another dream of mine is to build and live in a tiny house. However, this isn’t a dream shared by my husband. He’s what’s now known as a ‘prepper’ so feels it’s best to have 10 of everything. Because he loves me he’s agreed to the tiny house idea but his vision is of 3 tiny houses . . . we’re getting there ; )

    Thanks so much for sharing your life and inspiring me to pursue a simpler life.

    • Kuwanna says

      I hear you… I’m in a 3400 square foot house and thinking I was nuts to ever agree to buy something this big. In reality I can barely keep up with the cleaning, and would rather have my feet up or play with my kids than vacuum the upstairs…again… And then there’s the yard…

      So this year or next we’ll make plans to move. My husband is on board with this. The challenge will be getting a house no more than 2000 square feet when he wants at least 2400… :)

      My husband has also mentioned the idea of owning more than one property for vacationing or to rent for additional income. As far as I’m concerned I am one person, we are one family, so we are good with one house. If I want to vacation somewhere I’ll stay in a hotel that I don’t have to maintain all the other weeks out of the year!

      I love this blog and reading replies from people who have the same goals as me. :)

    • Ally says

      Oh my goodness. I am married to a “prepper” also (I never had a term for it before…I love it)! So much of getting over your stuff is the fear that you might need it someday! Not sure what the best way to deal with it is. I am confident we will get there eventually, albeit slowly. It’s amazing how one can become so attached to stuff!

  8. Noel says

    Thank you for the great article! I’ve just started to downsize my life. Fewer clothes means less stress about a growing pile of laundry. Fewer dishes means never feeling overwhelmed with cleaning the kitchen. My dog seems unhappy with my putting away most of his (14) toys, but other than that it’s been smooth sailing. My biggest fear is my job. I’m living paycheck to paycheck and I still have student loan debt to pay down. I’m scared that I’ll spend the rest of my life staring at a computer screen, sitting on my ever-expanding behind, trying to become financially secure. This isn’t what I wanted my life to be like.

    • Tina says

      Get rid of as many debts as you can and save as much as you can.
      When I worked in an office I basically wore the same 3 pairs of slacks, 6 tops, and 3 sweaters in various combinations over and over again. Bring your lunch, do not pick up coffee on the way to work and never use the vending machines. You can save $40-$50 a week that way alone. If you can get by without a car , do that. If not keep a car as long as you can to avoid payments. Do not buy anything on credit, ever. Tina

  9. says

    A great post J.B!

    Anyone who takes the path towards a life of minimalism will soon enjoy the benefits of owning less, the elimination of desire for the latest gadget/clothing must-have, the comfort you can take by realising that no one material possession will make you happy and that happiness will come, almost as a sub-benefit, of redirecting your previous consumerism led free time to more fulfilling activities.

    Please take the time to check out my new website, http://www.thedebtfreeminimalist.com for inspirational advice on how to live a simple, frugal, debt-free minimalist lifestyle.

  10. says

    I have minimalized a lot of my posessions over the last months and for the first time I get to experience this freedom I heard every minimalist talking about that comes when minimalism starts doing its magic.
    Experiencing this myself right now, I can tell you it’s both great and terrifying as I get pulled out of my comfort zone almost automatically every day now.
    I don’t know yet if minimalism leads to a *better* life as this is still too new for me, but I can say that it definitely leads to a more interesting life.

  11. says

    I agree, and now that our kids are entering the teenage years, we are realizing more and more how little time we have with them. They are busy NOW, and will be leaving SOON! Why invest a second more into things, when we have these wonderful people to build relationships with under our roof for such a short time.

    Thank you for your blog. I enjoy it very much and am inspired by your journey daily.

  12. says

    I think there is a progression, though. It starts with getting rid of possessions, but that leads to becoming intentional in other areas: your time, your thoughts, your relationships, your money, etc. Minimalism has come to mean so much more than limiting possessions, to us.

  13. says

    To be the best minimalist…don’t thing in ways such as “limiting your possessions”
    That is a negative statement… I prefer to think of “expanding my opportunities”

  14. says

    Owning less is 100% the answer to a better life. It’s hard to see this at first, but once you really start living it out, it changes your life!

  15. says

    I’ve been on this journey for a while now, and it’s still so hard to get rid of some things. I’ve learned to be ruthless. If it’s not bringing me joy, why should I have it around?
    Thanks for sharing your story. It encourages all of us.

    Be blessed!

    ~Chelle

  16. says

    Hi. I am a new reader and I felt really fascinated by your writings.
    I think the layout is perfect, the picture is very artistic, and the writings are very interesting. :)

  17. Paul says

    I need to embrace this concept, especially at age 55 and the kids are grown. Its really tough when I have an emotional attachment to obsolete, unused items. Am I correct in thinking the process of becoming a minimalist is painful today to have simplicity tomorrow?

    • says

      Hi Paul, I’m also in my early 50’s and we also thought this process would involve pain. It hasn’t. It’s been surprisingly joyful. It really can feel like shedding an old skin. There is joy in seeing the pleasure on the faces of people that receive our excess as gifts (particularly young people just starting out), there is joy in knowing that what we can’t give to those we know we can give to charity so that it helps someone else (we decided not to sell stuff), and most of all, there is joy in the way our home feels clean, uncluttered and designed to house us and the things we love to do. It’s no longer a large storage space for accumulated stuff that begs our time to justify its existence.

      • Tina says

        We got sets of china. I gave one to a friend who was getting married for the second time and had never had any “good” china. She was thrilled. I don’t need all the things I was given so I keep a sugar and creamer from each set of china I inherited and pass on the set. One service was for 24 so I kept a platter. When I go to a garage sale or rummage sale or thrift shop, I look for things my daughter in law collects, or a book I think my mother will enjoy. For me it is the thrill of the hunt. I don’t go to malls or big box stores unless I’m buying underwear or shoes. We’re in our 60’s and have been retired for over 10 years.

  18. Sherri says

    I understand buying less, not feeling the need to go bigger or pricier just becaus society tells you you are supposed to. But I don’t understand how paring down what you already have (decorations, clothes, pots/pans, etc.) helps. I need to do that because I’m running out of room, and some of the kitchen gadgets I haven’t used in years, but I like having them Just in case I need them someday. What am I missing? I love the minimalist concept. But just not sure I fully understand it.

    • says

      Hi Sherri,
      My advice would be to pick one room (the kitchen was my starting point) and just start. It’s hard to explain to someone that hasn’t tried this what a profound impact in can have on your life and I suppose not everyone has the same experience. Perhaps hanging on to things is important to you. I found that when I started it was a slow process as I dithered over the lemon zester, the garlic crusher and the cupboard full of electrical gadgets that all did only one thing. I put together two plastic tubs of things I only use for parties and stored them in the garage. We use them about four times a year and it’s also made it easy to loan the ‘party kit’ to friends so they don’t need to buy stuff. Then I went through each drawer and cupboard over several weeks, asking of each item “When did I use this last?” and “Will I ever really use this again?” My first sweep only removed a modestly sized box of things but the feeling of lightness and satisfaction was so strong it propelled me into the rest of the house. I laugh at that first box now. I’ve taken several more boxes out of the kitchen since then.
      Start small. Know that you don’t need to live like a monk or even have a house where it’s obvious that you’re a minimalist. (Most people comment that they love my decorating style. They don’t know it’s all about simplification.) Don’t throw out anything you really love, even if you never use it. Start small and see how you feel. I hope that, like me, it gives you a happier life.

      • Jeannie says

        Thanks Meg… Your post really helped me!! I am new at this also and know that somethings are harder to get rid of than others but I try to estimate hold old the “thing” is and when was the last time I used it… if I have to think that hard about it then out it goes. I can’t believe how long this process is really going to take… from drawer to drawer~~closet to closet etc etc. But seeing the progress already is encouraging to me so I really appreciate this site and everyone’s imput.. it am getting there!! :)

  19. Alicia says

    I have been emotionally attached to “stuff” all of my life. I am a frugal person and I like the idea of keeping things that you already have, “just in case” you will need them. I have caught the minimalism vision….FINALLY! I am so excited to break the emotional ties with stuff and spend my money, energy and time on relationships and experiences rather than……thinking about what I need to buy, shopping around for the best deal on what I NEED to buy, maintaining that thing that I NEEDED to buy, and disagreeing with my husband when he eventually says we NEED to get rid of it. I am tearing apart my entire house. I am taking pictures of the memorabilia that has been boxed up in my basements for 40 years, and then I am throwing or donating them. I DO NOT want to be chained to the past I want to live fully in the now. I wish all of you fellow minimalists well. Peace be your journey to simplicity!

  20. Tracey says

    Oh how I wish I’d known this 30 years ago! The thought of less stress and more time with the kids……Ah well, more time with grandkids!

  21. Vicky says

    My husband and I have a home packed with “stuff.” We retired about 5 months ago and purchased a motorhome. We have been traveling across country for over 3 months, taking very little “stuff” with us, since there is limited space. We have done remarkably well and have lacked for nothing! We plan to throw away/donate, etc things that we really don’t need when we return home. Wish us luck!

  22. Jackie says

    I’ve been following you for a while now. I love your writing. Thanks for breaking down simplicity/minimalism into manageable actions. Also, I appreciate your direct style of writing – to the point!

  23. says

    Being raised very poor, I always wanted to have more for my family. When garage sales with great items came along I could get all of the STUFF cheap and so I did. Then I got too much. I hired a gal to help me clean out a few times but then I gathered again.
    Being introduced to minimalism has turned my thinking to a more positive direction. Now I am working towards something rather than going away from something. I am really enjoying the process and the fear of not having is going fast. And it is FUN and FREEING.

  24. Walter says

    After reading lots of articles on minimalism I have done a lot over the last year. I’ve sold a ton of things, cleared most of my garage and sold one of my two motorcycles. My bank now has a good emergency fund and I have a lot less things to take care of. As I sold so many things I could not help to feel guilty that I might be cluttering someone else’s house by selling them all of these things. Now my house looks way too big for my wife and I, but will keep as an investment and we like the are so will keep for a while. I look for things to sell every day, take pictures and research about it to put a good description and everything no matter what it is sells on craigslist or ebay or amazon. I feel great now and don’t plan to ever having so many things again. I was able to focus more and got a promotion at work and working on a second promotion now in less than a year. I remember that Steve Job’s desk only had a computer and nothing else. That will certainly make me concentrate! I still have a ways to go, but I have more ideas to reduce even more. I read at least one article per day. Thanks!

    • Kathy says

      I have often had the same thoughts about cluttering other peoples house when I sell or give away something.

  25. Josh says

    It is so awesome to hear so many people discussing minimalism in a positive context. It is so rare where I live for people to understand what I am talking about, and it is so refreshing to read through these comments and to see how many people ‘get it’. People just don’t seem to get it, even when I try my very best to explain to them that minimalism allows me to follow my passions, to live intentionally, and to rid myself of the burdens that come with more possessions. As a minimalist, I am free to pursue my passions and to spend my days doing things (both socially and professionally) that I love doing.

  26. Maria says

    I’ve been working on purging my home for the last month so it’s still new and fresh. I’ve found the question to ask myself when I see an object to get rid of or something I’m looking to buy is, “Is it worth my freedom?” Can’t remember which article I read that line in but it’s gold! Is it worth working x hours to buy? Or is it worth x minutes of my day to clean/organise/tidy up?

  27. Samer Masri says

    “The more we own , the more we are HERE , the more the others see us”
    This is the way we are grown up on by our society and advertisements..

  28. Elizabeth says

    I have found an extremely simple yet effective tool that I use when purchasing an item. I have taken my paycheck and calculated my hourly pay rate after ALL deductions. I will then look at the price of the item in question. The price of a so called “inexpensive” item may actually require me to “work” three hours for it. A large expensive purchase may literally require me to “work” many months for it. Having this mindset has totally changed my purchasing habits.

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. Jodelieh Blue | April 4, 2013

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *