Minimalism. Inspiration over Instruction.


“The best way to get something done is to begin.” 

A number of years ago, we decided to begin living a minimalist life. The exact moment in time I can still recall with sharp detail. It includes a beautiful spring morning in Vermont… a typical suburban neighborhood… a long morning of cleaning the garage… a 5-year old son patiently waiting for me to play… and a short conversation with a neighbor who said, “You know, you don’t need to own all this stuff.”

At the time, the lifestyle of minimalism was completely foreign to me. It was entirely new. It was counter-cultural. The thought of intentionally living with fewer possessions had never been introduced to me. Yet, it sounded surprisingly attractive. It resonated with something deep inside me. And was quickly embraced by both myself and my wife.

It was a decision that found its roots in our finances, our family, and our faith. Simply put, we had grown weary of living paycheck to paycheck, weary of trading time with our children to tend our possessions, and weary of pursuing worldly gain rather than spiritual gain.

Minimalism offered more than escape from the clutter in our homes and lives. It offered the very things our hearts most desperately desired. We jumped in with both feet and found the water to be both warm and refreshing.

Over the next several months and years, we sought to discover what minimalism meant for our family.

We knew that minimalism was always going to look different for us than it would for others. After all:

  • We lived in the suburbs, so we were going to keep personal transportation.
  • We lived in Vermont, so we were going to keep shovels for the snow and rakes for the autumn leaves.
  • We had kids, so we were going to keep some toys and books and games.
  • We enjoyed company, so we would keep 8 plates and 8 bowls and 8 glasses to show hospitality.

Minimalism became a journey of experimentation, exploration, and trial-and-error. We were forced to identify our values—to clearly articulate what was most important to us.

We began to define minimalism as the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracted us from it.

Over the years, we have noticed countless benefits. We have more money available to use as we desire. We have more time to be with each other. We have found more freedom to pursue our greatest passions. We have discovered a joy that possessions could never provide. And we have more opportunity to live the life we always wanted to live.

Since then, I have had the opportunity to speak on minimalism and simplicity in a number of different venues across the US. Each time, I have been asked to give practical help on how to live with less and specific instruction on how to live a more simple life. But each time, I rarely do (or at least, not until the very end).

I have found the lifestyle of minimalism requires far more inspiration than instruction.

Minimalism is always going to look different from person to person and family to family. Our passions are different. Our personalities are different. Our pasts are different. Our presents are different. As a result, the essentials of life are going to change.

The principles don’t change. But the specific instructions of minimalism always look different.

We have all been told the same mistruths. We have all been tricked into thinking the more we own the happier we will be, the more joy we will experience, and the more fulfilled we will be.

We have been fed the same lies countless times since the day we were born. Only the truth about the joy of living with less can counteract that faulty premise.

As a result, the invitation to minimalism is always going to require more inspiration than instruction.

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

    So true! I was just thinking about this the other day. While I love to talk about the benefits of pursuing simplicity, I often find it hard to put a practical spin on things.

    Focusing on the practical side of minimalism is definitely the easiest, most tangible way for people to get started on the journey. But it doesn’t take long to move beyond the “what” and start focusing on the “why.”

    In my experience though, it’s the practical instructional posts that helps new people see the benefits of minimalism. Because they are usually looking for those tangible results.

    • says

      Amy D September 14, 2011 I had Yummy Pizza Joes!! I need to try that granola repiece Also, Brooklyn and Mya love Perogies so when the water is boiling I throw in corn with perogies drain then add butter or your choice. Quickest dinner ever

  2. says

    Best “minimal” advice yet: “You know, you don’t need to own all this stuff.”

    So concise…and applicable even for those not living a strict minimalist life. We can all look at our “stuff” and take time to realign our external with our internal values, etc.

  3. says

    This is absolutely perfect! I have friends who ask me to come to their houses, and basically do the work for them. Instead, I’d rather them come to my house and ask questions. I hope that by leading by example, it will be enough to inspire others. I’m still there to help if they feel stuck, but I’d much rather them find the truths for themselves rather than me telling them what’s “right” and “wrong.”

  4. says

    I “liked” this via FB widget, but really I love it. You hit on an extremely important concept that turns some people off from “minimalism” without even giving it much thought, i.e., that minimalism doesn’t have to mean sitting on the floor in a bare room eating grass or something. Of course, it *can* mean that if you want it to, but the takeaway here is to think about how *you* and your family can incorporate minimalist principles into your own life and not simply dismiss the idea because of what you think it means. Great post.

  5. says

    I absolutely agree! I’m just starting out on my minimalist/simple living journey and it’s definitely all about the inspiration! Over the past few months I’ve been reading different blogs by people on massively different paths. Some are living with practically nothing in a tiny home; some are living out of a backpack and travelling the world; some are working with their passion; some are balancing a minimalist ethos with a life enriched by family and children.

    Throughout all of these blogs the thing I really gain from them, the thing that sticks with me when I go home and look around, is inspiration. I see the benefits being derived from all of the different paths to a simpler life and I listen to the feelings of hope bubbling inside when I think about how I could change my own life for the better. That inspiration helps me make decisions, helps me work out what I want most, and ultimately helps me define my own path.

  6. says

    Oh wow!
    I appreciate you sharing about your family’s experiences; they are inspiring. I feel so much relief as I get rid of more “stuff” each day. I do wonder though, how did your wife and children react to your desire for a minimal living style?

    a minimalist in the making,

  7. says

    I do believe it is entirely possible to become a millionaire by maintaining frugal life style. Irony of life, that people do not change themselves…once target is reached, they want to spend them all..

    So it is not minimalism, but rather changing your priorities. We are still going to spend all the money we just depends when and how : -)

  8. Mark says

    I suppose this may be a great way to live for some but, I feel the more you have the better.
    Great that it’s working for you. You are not taking into account that some peoples lives are
    Put on hold due to illness, or some such thing,
    Then they need to go and redefine themselves.
    Those people have been forced to live minimalist. Not funny, no happiness from that.
    No, the more you have the better.

    • Evie says

      There are some differences between simplicity and poverty. Mainly, I think, they com e down to control and perspective. Simplicity is about being in control of what you have, while someone who is poor has little or no control over the things they don’t have. More is better, the question is, what do you want more of? Because if you have more of one thing, you necessarily have less of something else. Things are inversely related. If you have more stuff, you have less space, less money, etc. If you have more kids, you have less free time, less money. If you have more money, you have less sleep, less fun. You get the idea, everything in life is a trade-off.

  9. jaclyn sisk says

    I don’t always post in the feedback but I read your articles just about religiously. So I just wanted to say thanks so much for a great post. You are right…. it is about inspiration. And your articles are very inspiring. Thank you.

  10. says

    Lovely post Joshua. I write a lot on the practical, how-to aspects of simplicity, but the inspiration posts are the ones that keep me going. On those random days when I feel like I want to go back to “more,” I just go back and read all my favorite “why” posts and remember why I love simplicity. My priorities center on living life, not maintaining my stuff.

  11. norma says

    I have a long way to go, but my decision to minimize came when my ex told me he would sign over the house to me. I figured it would take me a week to purge the house. OMG! Its been two month and still working! It feels great!

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