The Ultimate Minimalist Teacher

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Bill Gerlach.

Never does nature say one thing and wisdom another.” – Juvenal, Satires

Sure, there are a lot of great minimalist teachers out there. Many who have tapped into the awesome power of living and thriving with less. Those who have shed unnecessary things, material or otherwise, and embraced the beautiful simplicity that remains. Blogs and books abound; lessons and lists; ways and means.

But the ultimate minimalist teacher is right outside our door. While voiceless, she speaks to the masses; has no books, but has authored volumes in the Story of Life; has no motive save for sustaining all creation in perpetual harmony.

Nature is this teacher.

If we were to pause for a moment, to stop the hustle and bustle of our lives just long enough to see, we would observe all those amazing ways that Nature lives the ultimate minimalist existence:

  • Nature does not want. The natural world lives in balance. There is no greed for more. Nature uses only what it needs to thrive in the most basic yet amazing way.
  • Nature does not waste. The natural world is closed-loop. It does not create things that serve no purpose. What lives does not die, rather it is transformed into another form to serve another purpose. Nature does not dwell in the realm of planned obsolescence.
  • Nature does not wallow. Go outside. Is anything ho-hum? There is energy—a vibrancy—that permeates every little nook and cranny. Nature is all about living with zeal; about living to the fullest potential; about living with a humble and determined purpose.
  • Nature embraces life. From the dawn of time, Nature has single-tasked quite nicely. Creating, embracing, sustaining.  Laser focus. No distractions from petty, frivolous pursuits. And because of that, Life teems on a frequency unlike no other. So should we.
  • Nature embraces diversity. Scientists estimate that there could be up to 100 million different species of life on the planet, of which only 2 million have been identified. This richness of life and the harmony that sustains it should give us pause. Homogeny is boring and limiting. Diversity begets a natural balance. The same is true in our lives.
  • Nature embraces the moment. There is no dwelling in the past or fretting about the future. Nature is about the here and now. This is an important lesson to learn. Allowing mindfulness to bring the moment into full focus can lead to all sorts of amazing things.

Nature is a pathway for seeing our life in a new way; a catalyst for changing our perspective about how we approach our day-to-day. When we step outside and immerse ourselves in this natural world we open ourselves to the enlightenment that is all around, just waiting to be reflected in each one of us.

Minimalism is powerful in ways big and small, opening our eyes to a new way of living and giving us the ability to reconnect with the beautiful essence of our existence. Such insight allows us to see our place in the broader world differently; to recognize that which allows every part of our lives to be – the Earth. Those pursuing a minimalist lifestyle are naturally inclined to see the connections between how we approach each day and the long-term vitality of the planet that makes it all possible.

A Buddhist proverb says that when the student is ready the teacher appears. Given all that ails our planet, the collective Student Body of Humanity is realizing that school is now in session. The biggest test of our lives is before us and it is simply pass/fail. Better get outside and start studying.


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. Shannon says

    Thank you for your beautiful post. I have always, always, always maintained that we have the most to learn from Nature. From our Earth and from other creatures. That we should strive to be more like them. That it is they, in fact, not us, that know the true meanings. What a wonderful way to start my day. Thank you.

  2. says

    Thanks, Shannon (and thanks to Joshua for hosting the post). You’re very welcome. You are absolutely right — there is so much to learn from Nature. Big lessons, small lessons and everything in-between. It’s really awe-inspiring. Be well!

  3. AnnMarie says

    Do know anyone trying to use minimalist practices in classroom teaching, particularly at the college level? I am trying to figure out how I could do so and would love to chat with someone who’s done it. I teach online as an adjunct and am overwhelmed at times (esp since this is in addition to a full time job).

    • says

      AnnMarie, I’m a teacher, coaching homeschool kids 4th-6th grade in writing. While my curriculum is straightforward, building on what students have already learned (that seems minimalist to me), the overall methods of teaching writing necessitate using A LOT of printed materials (which is not minimalist). I know teachers who are doing all their teaching online but that’s not often possible for younger students who don’t always have access to their own computers. My experience with most elementary and high school classroom teachers has been just the oppositve of minimalist. They feel they have to save EVERYTHING and use EVERYTHING they save. Elementary teaching requires use of paper, pencils and books at the very least. The best idea I can offer for university level (which my husband teaches) is to keep files and data online as much as possible and keep your own work space as minimalist as you can. If you have ideas, let me know!

  4. Duncan England says

    Neat post.
    -> Scientists estimate that there could be up to 100 million different species of life on the planet, of which only 2 million have been identified.
    Simply mindblowing! And where the heck are these other 98 million species??!!
    Maybe contentious to some, but Dawkins is surely right when saying nature provides more than enough for us to marvel at / be in awe of without making up inventions in our minds to worship (or something like that :-))

    • sky2evan says

      Well, there are anywhere between 10-100 million species. The average estimate is between 10-15 million (100m is the upper estimate, not the average). The unidentified species are predominantly plant & insect species living in the tropical rainforests & oceans (the least explored areas).

      Not to put a damper on the original post or anything (I was originally just going to answer your question), but over 20% of species of all types are endangered (see the IUCN Red List), so now we’re experiencing the 6th mass extinction event in earth’s history. Actually, we’re not just ëxperiencing it, we’re the ones who are implementing it.

  5. says

    Isn’t it interesting how in our culture we think of ourselves as separate from nature? I agree that when we consider ourselves to be part of nature, of this planet and not just on it, we will improve our own health and that of our natural world too.

  6. says

    Thanks everyone for the kind words. I’m so glad you are able to connect with the post. Couple specific replies:

    @Duncan // Here is the source of that stat: My feeling is that how or why you connect with that which is bigger than us is not important. What is important is that you find a way to do so. It’s an amazing feeling.

    @Lindsay // It is exactly that shift in perspective — from being apart or above Nature to being One with it — that I believe is underway. When we run out of things to do to ‘save’ Nature, we will realize that the greatest step we could take is to reconnect with it in a very basic yet very deep way. You might also be interested in my series on shifting perspectives in this way:

    @Rachel // Your hedges, my squash vines. Maybe they are trying to tell us something? :) My son once told me — as I was trying plant something in a patch of ground full of roots and rocks — “Maybe the tree doesn’t want you to plant there.” Sometimes we just need to roll with it. Be well!

    @AnnMarie // That’s a great question. I did a search and came up with a few things you might want to check out: A Minimalist Approach to Web-Based Teaching (, Minimalist and Traditional Training Methods — A Comparative Study (, Minimalist ALT (, Promoting Students Thinking Skills Through Minimalist Approach ( Good luck!

  7. says

    It’s funny to think about how if we were living in any other time period of human history, we most likely would be working directly with nature — whether we liked it or not. Especially considering most people were farmers. I hope that the transition towards working in cities more than the land doesn’t mean we lose that connection to nature as a culture.
    Speaking of which, today is a beautiful Saturday so I am going down to Penn’s Landing with a few friends visiting from Boston so I will be “reconnecting” with nature! LOL.

  8. says

    @ Ramblings of a Woman // You’re absolutely right. Nature is the ultimate BE-er. One might also argue that aside from the act of BE-ing, Nature is itself a BEING, a living, breathing entity of Life on the grandest of scales.

    @ Reggie // Think about indigenous cultures of yesterday and today. Harmony with the land was the backbone of their existence. Sure, some grew too big and made a mess of things, but there are clear lessons to be learned from their simple and respectful relationship with the Earth. You pose an interesting question. I don’t know. I think there will always be people who steer clear of the cities, working hard to keep that connection to Nature alive and well. Enjoy your time at Penn’s Landing — never been there, but if it’s on the water, it should be nice!

  9. lauren says

    This is ingenious—-I mean the facts of Nature are well known yet I’ve never considered them in the context of a lesson in minimalism. Truly worth contemplating and emulating Nature as you’ve described her. Well done!

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