Minimalism, Business, and the Butterfly Effect

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Johnathan Schultz. Along with his wife Dana, he blogs at Minimalist Baker.

Beet-Hummus-Minimalist-BakerHave you ever heard of Butterfly Effect theory? The general idea is that one small change in the present state can result in a massive difference in a later state – that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas. Or that for me, choosing minimalism would eventually lead to starting my own business.

My Journey

For most of my life, I have hated the idea of having too much stuff. I don’t like clutter and I find something perpetually appetizing about simplicity. Yet, that never seemed to stop me from spending many seasons of life acquiring too much. Inevitably, I would end up purging the majority of it months later.

It was like I was fighting a current but I did not even know how I fell in the river. Slowly, I began to realize I needed to start making some intentional changes in my life to avoid the misery of existing in a path I had unintentionally chosen.

So, I began purposefully removing possessions from my life. I started with items such as clothing, “junk drawer” items, and books. Eventually, I sold or gave away even my most sentimental possessions.

Similar to the idea behind the Butterfly Effect, the fog started to clear. I found the vigor to start swinging again. My purpose continued to refine itself. And I started to realize that providing for myself was much more possible if I didn’t have to worry about all the unnecessary junk in my life.

Slowly, I started to pursue other endeavors, one being Minimalist Baker with my wife, Dana. She creates amazing food photography, and I just kind of help. However, it is a business we started together and it is becoming something great.

The Butterfly Effect

Looking back, I can see how minimalism served as an unparalleled springboard for starting a business. Through my journey into minimalism, I have grasped onto six key principles that have empowered me to start a business.

1. Contentedness. Once I was OK with just being who I am and not being defined by material possessions, I found incredible security and boldness in moving forward. It seems counter-intuitive, but just working hard would have probably led to a different and personally unsatisfying definition of “success.” I realized that my most basic existence is really comprised of 2 things: food and shelter. If I start a business, I really only need to make enough for those two things. I will admit, however, that I certainly have more luxuries than I deserve. But I know I don’t need a lot. Rather, my goal in being content is to just be thankful for my daily bread.

2. Clarity. As I started to remove the material possessions from my life and cut back on outside commitments, everything else became incrementally clearer. Sometimes this meant I would recognize clutter I hadn’t seen before. Other times this meant it was a bit easier to see what the heck it was I wanted to do with my life. Once I decide to do more of what is meaningful to me, I stop wasting time on things that are unimportant. This vision intensifies and grows as my willingness to chase it increases.

3. Risk. Risk is embedded in starting a business. Minimalism has made me more confident in myself and willing to see risk as a natural part of life. When starting a business, you have to be willing to put yourself out there, be told you are ridiculous, and keep pushing forward. The boldness found in contentedness and clarity make risk much more manageable.

4. Time. Minimalism gave me the freedom to start hustling for what matters. Hustle, as Jon Acuff describes in his book Quitter, is doing “more of the things you love and less of the things you like.” I still hang out with friends and want to invest in my community, but I don’t do things that don’t add value to my life or to others.

5. Money. While I could talk about this all day, I’ll instead list four ways minimalism gave me more money to pursue what I am doing. 1) I sold unnecessary possessions to invest in my business. 2) I spend less money maintaining possessions. 3) I live on very little and ease the burden off our business to provide an income. 4) I have more freedom to take risk and fail at a project.

6. Creativity. I think a combination of all the prior points resulted in a new ambition to explore. Something special happens when I don’t have distractions, somewhere to be, or any set schedule. It is the blank canvas of life. Once I had the clarity and freedom to dream, I started to do just that.

Starting a Business

Most recently, my wife and I designed a food photography e-course. I’m certain the idea for such a project wouldn’t have even been contemplated had we not been so intentional about pursuing our dreams or if we had to worry about getting another job just to make ends meet. Continually finding ways to invest in our business instead of unnecessary possessions led to a new opportunity and a dream realized.

The simple act of actively purging my life of the unnecessary led to the next step in my path. As I cleaned out my closet, I would find I had a bit more time in the morning because I wasn’t wasting time deciding what to wear. After selling some unnecessary furniture, I realized I could set up a little home photography area for my wife. The lessened social commitments led to more walks with my wife where we developed the idea for an e-course. One step at a time, thanks to an intentional decision to get rid of things that didn’t matter, my decisions led to an incredible business investment.

I will not suggest that this is the best route for every entrepreneur, but it has been an incredibly powerful one for me. I have also witnessed similar successes of other online entrepreneurs after they downsized and focused on starting something incredible. (See Joshua Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, Leo Babauta, Tammy Strobel, Colin Wright, and Tyler Tervooren). Slowly, I am adding myself to the list and I couldn’t be more thrilled.


Jonathan Schultz blogs at Minimalist Baker. They have recently released a new Food Photography E-course. If you are interested in food and/or photography, you’ll enjoy checking it out. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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

    This is absolutely lovely – the idea of the Butterfly effect is so prominent in everything that we do – I cannot believe I did not think of it before. It is why making even a teeny-tiny change in one part of your life can cause ripple effects in the rest of your life. Taking that first step towards your goal causes endorphins to be produced in your body – causing you to want to take more and more steps towards your goal. Thank you for a beautiful post with a yummy picture. :)

  2. Joan says

    I love this post and was so happy to see you mention the book Quitter. I am 3/4 of the way through Jon Acuff’s book and the connection was so accurate.

  3. says

    Nice to see solid proof that a simple life leads to great creativity and possibility. I read a post somewhere yesterday that talked about how minimalism was bad for business–ha! That person was implying that if you lived a simple or minimal lifestyle you wouldn’t be motivated to start businesses or be an entrepreneur. So wrong! My husband and myself have been far more free (with less stress) since going minimal to follow our dreams and live our passions (just like you said in your post.) Thanks again for another wonderful blog….

    • Joanne says

      Absolutely. There’s a saying that ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ in that when you get rid of the things that no longer serve you, you create room for something better to come into your life.

  4. says

    WOW! JUST WOW! I wonder how come I have not put this together before now. Small changes always make a difference. I always knew that I would get there but I never celebrated the small steps I made and how they are affecting my life.

    Thanks so much!

  5. says

    I love everything about this post, mostly because, it feels like I’m writing it. Was mine a different path? Totally. After having my daughter and starting to build a tiny house of my own, it made me open up to what I’ve been pushing back for years- starting my own business (coming soon..and affectionately + appropriately titled: I Killed The Joneses}. Love seeing how change butterflied into even greater change for others too!

  6. says

    I have been a minimalist for a number of years now. I like the freedom to up and move. My motto is if you can’t take it with you on a plane, or send it by post then, it doesn’t go.
    I recently moved half way across Australia to start a small business
    ‘Sweetleaf Bliss Balls’ with my beautiful daughter.
    We focus on 3 key elements: Minimal ingredients, minimal packaging & minimal equipment. Our finance has also been minimal, however we do not focus on that. By focusing on the 3 key elements, the forth one should in time be eliminated. This business is fast becoming very successful. No matter how much our business grows & how big it becomes, we will always focus on the 3 key elements I mentioned.

  7. says

    Great post! It’s like making small changes that resonates wity your own values and beliefs.

    The desire to own less comes from your own value and belief. You don’t do it because you don’t need many things, you do it because you clearly understand why less things will make you feel happier. After all, that’s our ultimate goal. To live happier. Right?

  8. Brianna W says

    Greetings Josh~!

    I know it’s a little out of the blue, but I’ve been following your blog for a while and today my friend John posted this link about the Paradox of Choice that I thought really tied in with Minimalism. I highly recommend watching this if you get the chance; it’s reconfirmed a lot of the inclinations I’ve been getting lately, which I think was sparked by the fact I was following your blog and felt stressed by all my possessions. I’m in college and I have yet to really put minimalism into practice, but I hope to soon after I graduate because your blog and the idea of minimalism itself has been really inspiring! As for the video, I hope you find this video interesting, relevant, or perhaps inspiring for you :) It’s a TED vid, sorry for the long link!

    Brianna from EAC! (although we moved to NY and now go to Trinity Alliance in Rochester, Yay!)

  9. says

    I was led to you by a butterfly….yes really! Well actually it was an orchid tree leaf, dried and unfolding into the shape of a butterfly. So I put in making money with creating butterflies, on Google, and there you were. I have been a minimalist for a while. Today I am going to use my creativity to begin to formulate a business like you. Thank you Renate

  10. says

    It’s appropriate time to make some plans for the future
    and it is time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if I could I
    desire to suggest you few interesting things or tips.
    Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article.

    I desire to read more things about it!

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