Start Big. Start Small. Start Somewhere.

“Your first step in the right direction doesn’t have to be a big one.”Source

There may be a number of factors that keep us from making the positive changes we desire in our lives. There is fear, complacency, laziness, distractions, negative peer pressure, addiction… there could be much written about each. But for most of us, the inability to change the course of our lives boils down to one simple problem: The change seems too difficult. And as a result, we simply don’t know where to start.

We understand the importance of healthy, life-giving habits. We’ve seen their positive influence on the lives of others. We envy the life they live. We desire it, but the road looks far too long from our Point A to their Point B. And we give up the pursuit before we even start.

I’ve seen this countless times in my conversations with others (both formally and informally) concerning the importance of decluttering our homes and lives. I’ll mention the countless benefits we have discovered by purposefully living with fewer possessions. The message will be well-received… even desired. But almost immediately, the pursuit of this specific positive life-change will be countered by the most difficult of objections. They usually sound something like this, “But what will I do with my book collection?” “I’m a sentimentalist. I could never get rid of this or that. There’s too much emotional attachment.” or “I’ll never get my husband/wife to go along with it.”

And my response is always the same: Just start small. You don’t have to start with a big step. You don’t have to have everything figured out before you start. Just one small step down the right path is all you need to start heading in the right direction.

This truth applies to every positive life change we desire to embrace with our lives. The journey anywhere almost always starts with one small step. As I look back over the past four years of my life, I see this theme recurring over and over again:

  • The journey of removing most of our worldly possessions began by simply removing the clutter from our cars.
  • The accomplishment of running my first marathon started by waking up one day and running one mile.
  • The journey of establishing this blog and inspiring others began with one simple post.
  • The goal of becoming a life-long reader started by picking up one book on January 1st.
  • When my wife wanted to learn how to sew, she accompanied her friends to a sewing class at a local church.

Interestingly enough, I am not alone. In fact, this is a theme I see recurring in all sorts of pursuits and personalities. Each of them successful in their field, each offering the same advice: Start small. For example…

  • Chris Guillebeau recounts that his success started when he simply decided to start writing twice/week.
  • Leo Babauta has written for years the key to changing any life habit is to start as easy as possible.
  • Dave Ramsey tells those in debt to get out by paying off their smallest debts first.
  • Tsh Oxenreider started her blog by combining her two existing passions, mothering and productivity.
  • Lori Deschene began building her powerful online community by posting one inspirational quote each day.
  • When I asked Brad Lomenick for advice on taking my message to a larger audience, he replied, “Just keep showing up.”
  • Benny Lewis says the first step in learning a new language is to simply embrace an optimistic attitude (and a simple phrase book).
  • Jeff Goins claims his writing career took off when he intentionally began telling himself, “I am a writer.”

When it comes to embracing positive life change (whatever that may be in our unique lives), the road may indeed be long from Point A to Point B. But it always starts with one step. So go ahead, take one small step in the right direction. And then, take another one tomorrow. Before you know it, you’ll be further down the road than you ever expected.

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

    “From our Point A to their Point B”…love that. Perfectly said!!! This is my goal this summer. And to involve my kids, one small step at a time. Thanks!

  2. says

    It really is true. The idea of starting a new job or a my own business like I want to is intimidating as hell. Intimidating enough that I keep putting it off, but actually, all I need to do is take one step first. Just one little step. LIke looking up a new job in the classifieds or getting a book on how to start yoru own business. Neither of those are big or scary. Just a little step is all I need to get going!

    • says

      That’s what I did to start the business I’ve always wanted to do, pet sitting/walking!!
      I didn’t want to work for anyone else anymore and thank goodness my husband believed in me!! I went from having one client that went out of town once in a while to having 4 customers Monday through Friday and 5 others that use my services when they go away! And that’s since July 2012!! I started small, and used a lot of free resources to advertise and low cost business cards and made my own flyers that I put up in places where I might reach clients. And look at me now! I could hire people to help me but then it would defeat the “personal” touch I offer to my clients. They love knowing I will be taking care of their “babies” myself.
      I truly LOVE my “job”!! Small steps got me here and now I’m working on minimizing my possessions since I have no time to keep “reorganizing” everything. Just going to downsize big time!!

  3. says

    Yes! My husband and I have been getting rid of a thing a day for the past two months or so, and that little start was all we needed to get going. It’s amazing once you start how much easier it gets and how good it feels. I even recently visited my parents’ house and went through the childhood stuff I still had stored there! The experience has been a great eye-opener for me, someone who has chronically felt there’s no point in doing things if the results I want seem way beyond my reach.

  4. says

    I was browsing for more information for my blog when I stumble here. A new online friend introduced me just yesterday to minimalism as a lifestyle and I think this is something that I have been trying to do although I haven’t yet heard of the minimalist. This idea and lifestyle perfectly fit to me and to my blog.

    I really find the advice of Brad Lomenick very inspiring. Same goes to Jeff Goins and Chris Guillbeau. I like it here.

  5. says

    There’s a phrase that springs to mind when reading this.

    ” Rome wasn’t built in a day ”

    So often today we ‘want in now’ its become an expectation, but things really worth having take time. Seldom are the quick wins worth long term value. Start small and keep going, and when it gets tough, still keep going.

    There’s many words of advice in the links.

    • says

      Nice quote to add the discussion Chris. It will definitely take longer than one day for good habits to emerge… after all, most of our bad habits weren’t learned in one day either.

  6. says

    This is great, Joshua!

    I think it is often tied to the notion of comparisons too – which are largely unhelpful. People look at the life you and your family have intentionally created and say, “Well, I want that. But it’s so easy for them. It’s different for me. It’s harder for me….*insert reasons here*”

    Meanwhile they dutifully ignore the hundreds of small steps it took to get to where you are.

    There is absolutely no point in comparing apples to orangutans, you just need to worry about what your first or next step will be. Then the one after that…

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. says

    “Start small” would have been a good mantra for me when I started my storage unit project this year! It’s been 3 years now and it’s only by going in every weekend and doing something small that I’ve made any progress at all.

  8. says

    You have truly inspired my husband and I. Having been married for 4 years now we are longing to be more than the status quo. God has blessed us and we desire to bless others. Reading your blog has challenged us to start living simply now so we can bless others even as our family grows and during all phases of life. Thank you!

  9. Paula says

    I didn’t know you had run the Vermont Marathon in 2010! I did too. What a great race and what a beautiful city Burlington is! It was a huge out-of-my-comfort-zone step for me to go there by myself and do something I had no idea i could do… It still remains one of the best days of my life (including the pain, the hills and all!).
    I think this is a sign for me that i’m in the right path to continue in this beautiful journey for the rest of my life…
    Thank you!

    • says

      Congratulations Paula! What a splendid coincidence. I have a number of memories from the run, but the two that stand out the most include: 1) running up the hill at Mile 16; and 2) you pointing and laughing while you were passing me. I’m surprised you didn’t remember that :)

  10. says

    Great post. I see this firsthand in my immediate family. They constantly talk about “I can’t” do this and “I can’t” do that. You make a great point that people look at the entire desired change and feel overwhelmed. But if you break it into smaller steps, it’s much easier to say “I can”.

  11. Brett says

    What started me on my journey was to realize that I did not need a complete overhaul of my life. I think sometimes we see green grass somewhere else and want to move. Once I took personal stock of who I was and where I was, I found that what I wanted in life was not somewhere else, but right in front of me. Once you are in a place of gratitude, taking steps toward the next level is enjoyable and rewarding.
    Dr Wayne Dyer stated, ” Let go of your need to have more. When you stop needing more of everything, more of what you desire seems to arrive in your life. Since you’re detached from the need for it, you find it easier to pass along to others, because you realize how little you need in order to be satisfied and at peace”. ~ Dr. Wayne Dyer


  12. M says

    Just earlier, I read Steve Kamb’s take on how to form new habits, see Reading through both your articles – in the light of having recently read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” – I then realized:

    Forcing yourself to start as small as you can is related to GTD’s “next action” step.

    GTD’s “next action” step works so well because it clarifies the next immediate thing you can do to progress on that project. Starting small when forming habits is similarly a “next immediate thing” you are doing to make that habit stick. Because both of them force you to think beforehand what said next action/small start would concretely look like, you don’t have to deal with a “shapeless” project/habit anymore (and all the uncertainty and anxiety associated with it).

    Since there seems to be a connection between habit forming and GTD, could you maybe find some other parallels between the GTD methods and habit forming steps? Or even take some of the GTD methods and adapt them for habit forming? The first one that comes to mind is the weekly review, which looks like it’s related to setting up an accountability system for habit forming (except that the weekly review seems to me more like being your own accountability inspector).

    Any thoughts on this?

  13. Bryanna says

    Do you have any previous blogs with pics of your living space for inspiration with living spaces, including little ones?

  14. Allie says

    Joshua i realize that excuses are so easy to come by. I have been decluttering and throwing things away because I realize that they are simply “things’ and if I wish to move forward I have to make the hard choices regardless of the emotional attachment. It only comes along with emotional baggage as well.

  15. says

    I have begun the process of simplifying my life and it really is one step at a time. I enjoy getting the inspiration from your posts and hope that by living simply, decluttering and downsizing I will have more time to spend doing the important stuff (i.e. hanging with the kids and being present when I am with them)… because really… all that matters I can hold in my hand. I hope I can teach them that you don’t need wealth or stuff to be happy. Thanks again for the inspiration!

  16. says

    Wise words indeed!! It can be daunting when you start to try and change your life for the better. Overwhelming for sure. One step at a time, easy does it and slow and steady wins the race – all tried and true ;)

    Keep up the blog, its a lovely addition to the minimalist blogosphere!! :)

  17. says

    No advice is closer to the truth! My transition to minimalism started abruptly since I moved into a small motorhome, but my current habits of possession curation are gentle and day-by day.

    I’m actually in the middle of writing a book about my transition. I’m excited to share my journey toward a more focused, experience-driven lifestyle!

    Thanks for your insight!

  18. Alanna says

    I began cleaning my desk before I was even finished reading your post. Therefore, it would seem your mission is a very effective one! :)

  19. Jo says

    Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time! I’m a fan of removing a small amount of unessesary stuff each week. Bit by bit it disappears (as long as you don’t bring new stuff in!!)

  20. Rainy says

    Yesterday we cleaned out the basement and our bedroom closet and worked on a spare closet and our smallest child’s closet. Three cars full of trash. We have five children and have been working on cleaning out for a while but we are in full speed ahead and today will be spent cleaning out also. The garage. No only does it make it easier to spend more time with your kids. It’s easier to keep clean and since I am going to the process of being tested for ms. The doctor is pretty sure I have it. Getting rid of unwanted and just material things you don’t need will make everyday life easier for me.

  21. Elizabeth Helen Connolly says

    I realized that I am not getting any younger. My kids are all grown. I do not want to leave them with the burden of sorting through my things so I began the process. I still have a long way to go and I realize when I’m gone most of the things I’m filing will be thrown away. But it is hard to thrown away anything when the thought is there that it might have a use. But I’m doing it and finding that occasionally I end up wishing I hadn’t thrown something out but most of the things haven’t mattered. I still have a long way to go. What can I do with all these books I don’t need? I would hate to throw them away…

    • Sally Kaye says

      Books are among the hardest to dispose of these days. We recently had to work through and clear out my mother-in-law’s unit when the time came for her to enter care in a nursing home. We ended up donating the books in good condition to the local library, who happily accepted them. Any they didn’t want to add to their library collection were to be sold at a charity book sale. She was happy that they weren’t just “thrown out”.

  22. says

    I so desperately want to find peace in my home ; l know THE MESS is a big trigger. Any suggestions for ME, because my family of absent father and always opposing teens, (17, 15, 12) have learned from ………. that I complete ALL tasks (speaking now just on clutter, mess, cleaning and deep cleaning. I have a 4800 square foot house plus basement, that is always my responsibly. P.S. it is NOT an option for ME TO JUST give kids chores- how many times have I heard, ” thats not my job. You do it” -HELP. BARB

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