Minimalism: Addition not Subtraction.


“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” — Hans Hofmann

Four years ago, my neighbor looked on as I pulled item after item out of my garage. Winter had ended in Vermont and our Saturday morning had been committed to spring cleaning around the house. I chose the garage. Unfortunately, minutes turned into hours. And hours turned into most of the morning and into the afternoon.

Fortunately, my neighbor noticed my frustration and introduced me to a brand new way of life when she asked quite simply, “Maybe you don’t need to own all this stuff?”

And a minimalist was born.

Starting immediately, and for the next months (and even years), my wife and I began systematically removing unnecessary possessions from our home. We sold, donated, or recycled items from nearly every aspect of our lives: clothes, toys, decorations, cookware, entertainment, sporting goods, furniture, storage—the list goes on. Eventually, even moving into a smaller house.

As a result, we have discovered some amazingly practical benefits to owning less. We have more money left in our pockets. We have more time available at our disposal. We have removed ourselves from the consumer-driven culture around us. We experience less stress on a daily basis. And we have discovered more freedom to pursue the things in life that we truly value.

Because we have chosen to live with less, we have found more opportunity to invest in relationships, grow spiritually, experience gratitude, express generosity, discover truth, and find contentment. With our newfound time, money, and energy, we are free to pursue our greatest passions.

An important realization quickly followed. Minimalism is less about the things you remove and more about the things you add. The joy of minimalism lies in what you choose to pursue with your life rather than material possessions. And in that way, minimalism is far more about addition than it is about subtraction.

Image: *m5

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

    Hi Josh,

    Great way of looking at minimalism. It really is a lot of addition but often in less tangible ways. Truthfully, I’d much prefer all that freedom that comes with minimalism because I really do feel like I have more. It’s funny when people see my closet and say I have very little clothes. I only keep the clothes I actually wear. The feeling of satisfaction I get from them is much more than I can ask for with a lot of clothes.

  2. says

    This article speaks to me! This is exactly how I feel. I have been in the process for the last year of downsizing stuff. It takes a while! I even go back and redo a certain area again…It takes time, but my uncluttered home and life is so worth it.

  3. says

    Appreciate your perspective. I want my life to be about more than stuff. These past few years I’ve been thinking about this subject & making lifestyle changes. It’s been a process for my husband and I; we’ve had to rethink what we need and what we want to do with our lives. It’s been fun to give things away to people or organizations who may actually need them.

  4. says

    Amen. I think what many people struggle with is the fact that they don’t know where to start. Much like how using crash diets provides a temporary solution to weight management, the process of becoming a minimalist is a fundamental change in lifestyle, and it won’t and can’t be done overnight.

    Start small with something like cleaning out a closet, and then month-by-month and year-by-year you’ll find you can easily tackle other areas to systematically remove unnecessary items. Before you know it, you’ll have changed your lifestyle (much like eating healthy all the time as the norm) and will probably be ready to move to a smaller home.

    • Monica says

      Starting is easy. The problem is that it is never-ending. Doing a lot of work and removing stuff — and weeks of work and removing stuff — and there is still too much stuff. So people stop. Continuing is hard. I know, because this is where I am right now — in the midst of a mess after weeks of daily work.

  5. says

    I really appreciate this article. TY! The perspective that it is less about the things you remove and more about the things you add really resonates with me on so many levels. Even what we put into our bodies and minds- foods and thoughts – I think the secret is to add “better things” and in the process- there is then less room for the not so good or not so important “stuff”. It’s nothing to do with deprivation :)

  6. says

    most of the time our anxiety is caused for attachment to things that actually we don’t have!!

    become minimalist would be a great way to be free

    • Jetta says

      can you expand on that? Like anxiety over what you might not be able to attain? Its an interesting thought.

  7. says

    This is so true! I think my favorite addition is time- time with my family instead of purchasing and maintaining things. It is also amazing how you start to appreciate everything so much more.


  8. says

    “With our newfound time, money, and energy, we are free to pursue our greatest passions.”

    I find this particularly true. Minimalism is not about not spending money or not having fun and being frugal all the time, having no belongings because you don’t enjoy them or something. It is about that you don’t buy crap that messes up your home and instead save the money and go on great vacations or even being able to take a year off from work.
    Minimalism enabled me to leave my old sucky job, move to a new country and do the job I like instead. If I had all the stuff I had one and a half years back, I would not have been able to do this, because I would have to deal with my stuff first (where to put it when I go and so on) which would have made the hurdle towards my goal much higher and I probably would have stayed where I was because it was easier.

  9. says

    I can personally attest to what you’ve said here Josh. My most recent example is in my divorce with my iPhone. I took this step just 10 days ago and reckon I’m experiencing much of what you’re saying here. Thanks for your regular inspirations and advice. Cheers, Jon.

  10. Diana says

    Love this post, Joshua. It’s so true that simplifying our lives isn’t just about endless subtraction & declutter. Rather they serve as a part of the process to free us from meaningless distractions. I think sometimes people get so caught up with the deprivation model (out-fighting each other to own less number of possessions etc) and unfortunately lose sight of the true essence of minimalism & simplicity, which is to actively live each day intentionally cherishing and doing things that truly matter & add value to our lives. Thanks for the brilliant reminder :)

  11. says

    Another superb article Joshua,

    What many people fail to see is how a life of materialism can become completely life-consuming. It’s only any when you step away from the bright, dazzling lights of consumerism that you realise how much of your life is taken up by the drive for more material possessions. Just think about it for a moment! You spend time reading and watching adverts about stuff, you may even spend some more time researching that stuff (you wouldn’t want to go and buy the wrong stuff!), then you have to go and buy the stuff (where sometimes you end up buying a little more stuff), after which you have to go to work to earn the money to pay for the stuff! At the end of this process you usually spend a little more time getting rid of the stuff before starting the whole process again.
    To put it simply material possessions do not equal happiness but having less debt, spending more quality time with family and friends and flourishing personally (physically and mentally) does!
    If you want to enjoy reading another inspiring website about how to live a simple,
    frugal, debt-free, minimalist life then please check out the

    My latest articles include:

    Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after you. (A tale of accumulated marginal gains)

    Are you a clutterist? Take the 5-a-day challenge (and i’m not talking fruit!)

    The duvet which made a difference (a tale of giving)

    Is the iPhone such a smart phone?

    A tale of opportunity cost (and the effects of compound interest)

  12. says

    I often wonder if becoming a minimalist is inherent with age. I have heard how as one gets older, there’s this tendency to get rid of things. Now, I’m doing it, too. I look around the house and realize “things” get in the way of a neat and orderly environment. If only I had learned this concept when I was younger. Less possessions = less clutter=less stress. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.

  13. Barbara says

    I have been in the “simplying” phase for many years. What I think I need today is not what I think I will need tomorrow. It is like peeling an onion – layers of things sloughing off as I continue to review and reevaluate my life and needs. I love the less than lifestyle! But for me it is an ongoing process.

  14. Monica C says

    Really love reading your posts. I have come to minimalism late but already I am enjoying the benefits. Thanks!

  15. says

    Great article. This is THE definition of minimalism. A lot of people get caught up in what to minimalize, especially the physical possessions. The idea of minimalism is actually to increase – increase what makes you happy and come alive. It’s about putting your efforts into those things. When that’s the spirit, the things you don’t value much will naturally take a backseat.

  16. Janice Franklin says

    Glad to have a chance to read this article again. I have spent hours this evening cleaning out all the lower cabinets in our kitchen because the floors and counter are going to be replaced. I thought I had already done a pretty good job at getting rid of things we don’t need. Boy, was I ever wrong. There were about 100 pens, pencils, markers shoved in the back of a drawer, 6 rolls of tape, plastic cutlery, and more, and more, and more. I have a couple of give-away bags and lots in the garbage can. I expect much of what I have stuffed into a spare bedroom will never make it back into the kitchen as well. I am hot and tired, but glad of the opportunity to lighten my load in life.

  17. Jeanne says

    I am trying to get rid of stuff that is either sentimental or that I might need later and wonder if there is some way to help me decide? Some words I can tell myself, like, “The muffin tins are not necessary…just don’t make muffins anymore.” Or I try to imagine I am a decorator and would find the stuff tacky. Any advice?

  18. Monica says

    “And a minimalist was born.

    Starting immediately, and for the next months (and even years), my wife and I began systematically removing unnecessary possessions from our home. ”

    So, you became a minimalist and then disposed of the stuff instead of the other way around. I like that. I may be a minimalist; however, I won’t know until I dig myself out. Months you say? Years even? What was this process like for you? How much stuff did you own? Were you upbeat all the way?

  19. Scott Beasley says

    A great article. If anyone is interested more in this topic, the book “Voluntary Simplicity” spells it out, though written in the 70s the general philosophy is the same. Awesome book, changed my life.

  20. says

    I love this post. And I am finding some of the things you mentioned at the end coming true in my own life. Minimalism is not just about stuff. It may start there, but it moves over into so many other areas of our lives.

  21. Lizzie Hough says

    One thing about living a minimalist, frugal life style… You become cautious about buying anything because, well, you are probably going to be stuck with it for a long time.
    Case in point… I just, today, hung curtains on four small windows in the back room of our house. We closed in a porch because, quite frankly, our one bedroom house really was too little when our five grown children and our nine grandchildren come around. But I have lived without window coverings for years and finally got tired of looking at the small blanket hanging on one window and the heavy towel hanging on another, blocking the hot afternoon sun. Aesthetics are important. Granted, the curtains (more like shades) I hung were made from two inexpensive room darkening panels, but they at least match our “decor” on a budget. I hadn’t hung anything before because 1) Curtains are expensive 2) I wanted curtains that were pleasing to look at and 3) The towel and blanket DID block the sun. Still, this was just a reminder to consider what makes you happy as well as what saves you money.
    We lived in our old house for over ten years and never did replace the linoleum in the kitchen…even though there was a bare spot where we had taken out a bar when we took out the old, very low cabinets and installed the new-to-us cabinets my aunt gave us when she totally revamped her whole kitchen. (They spent more updating their kitchen in 1996 than they spent building their three bedroom ranch w/basement) in 1959.) I just threw a rug over the bare spot. Still, part of me wanted new flooring but it was never one of those issues you die over. Plus, that old house still stands, is used as a guest house and my children love that kitchen…bare spot and all. It is all about priorities and the person you choose to be.

  22. says

    Hi Josh,

    Thank you for all your insights. Keep it coming.

    We need this as my country is vying into the hyper-consumerism. Most of the mid-class are buying or consuming things they don’t really need or understand. Sadly, even those in poverty line are making a treasure box of small-luxuries from China. Your a

  23. says

    Your articles will be shared into my wall, continuously – to mainly educate those in the dark. Thank you for the inspiration.

    Good thoughts from the Tropical Paradise – Philippines.

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