Minimalism is the pursuit of owning less.
Physical possessions do not bring lasting joy into our lives. But even worse, physical possessions often become a distraction from a more joyful, purposeful, and focused life.
It is one thing to admit that possessions don’t equal happiness… it is something else to recognize how they keep us from it.
But this realization, that our possessions have become an unnecessary burden, forms the foundation and basis for minimalism. For those who see (or have experienced) this weight, minimalism is a means to an end. By owning fewer possessions, we free our lives to pursue things that matter.
This, then, is minimalism—and why the lifestyle continues to grow in popularity.
Those who pursue it with passion, at some point, run directly into a new question, “How do I know when I’m done minimizing? How do I know when I have removed enough?”
Often times, when minimalism is first discovered, the pursuit for more becomes replaced with the pursuit of less. And those who are captivated with the benefits of minimalism can quickly become obsessed with its pursuit. So how do you know when you’re done minimizing?
To those who have reached that point, and have begun asking the question above, allow me to offer two thoughts:
1. Celebrate your progress.
Desiring to own less holds more potential than desiring to own more. You have overcome (at least for now) a common lie told in our society—that happiness is found in the pursuit and accumulation of material possessions.
You have seen the foolishness of this claim and have embraced a lifestyle counter to it. Good for you. Celebrate the fact you have minimized many of your possessions and have freed up valuable resources. In many ways, you live an enviable life and have discovered that less is more. Be thankful.
2. Remember why you chose minimalism in the first place.
What was your motivation? What pursuit compelled you to free yourself from the burden of physical possessions? Did you want to spend more time with your family? Save more money? Pursue a hobby? Align your life with spiritual values? Or make a bigger, more specific difference in the world?
The goal of minimalism is not to own as few things as possible… nor is the purpose to be constantly chasing less and less. The goal of minimalism is to be living your life centered on your passions and values.
So recall your initial motivation. And then ask yourself, “Am I doing that? Have I gotten to a point where I’m able to do what I said I wanted to do with my life? Have I freed myself enough to pursue it?” If so, you’re probably ready to move into management mode of your minimalism, as opposed to a decluttering/minimizing mode.
Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it. If you have achieved that in your material possessions, it makes no sense to constantly obsess over chasing less. Not when you should be enjoying the life you have created that is now right in front of you.
Debbi Johnson Trester says
The older I get (73), the more I am minimizing and I do know why. When my mother went into a nursing home I had to empty her one bedroom apartment. Thankfully, it wasn’t a big house because she was a hoarder. Could never make a decision to get rid of anything …even love letters from my Dad long after they were divorced. I made up my mind that I didn’t want my child to have to go through that so I AM CONSTANTLY TAKING STUFF TO A THRIFT SHOP THAT BENEFITS SHELTER ANIMALS. I am keeping the most valuable items to be part of my estate, but I know he is not interested in the rest. I have always been organized and on the less is more wave, but now it has increased to the point I am trying to convince other people they will feel better and less stressed without so many possessions.
Since reading The More Of Less twice, I have been to Good Will at least 5 times and feel like a whole new person with a bigger house, more free time, less worry and anxiety and more inspiration to do what I enjoy. Life changing. I can’t believe the amount of STUFF I had stored all over the place! No wonder I had insomnia. No more retail therapy for me.
Julia Hufford says
“The goal of minimalism is not to own as few things as possible… nor is the purpose to be constantly chasing less and less. The goal of minimalism is to be living your life centered on your passions and values.”
This statement may seem obvious to anyone who isn’t from America. I Love this nation with its open possibilities and its prosperous, free economy. But, if we aren’t keyed into our purpose, (guided by our true passions and values), it’s easy to get off mission, and see the prosperity or even the dizzying array of possibilities AS the Destination, rather than a way to get there.
I’ve done enough attempts to, “go minimal”, that I know that even THAT is not the Desination…It is, like every other “tool”, useful to this extent: – that it is useful to achieve another, even more fulfilling, “end”.
As always, another great post Joshua! I suppose there are still things I could minimize, but I don’t obsess over it. As my clothes all fit in the closet, and I them all, and our kitchen cabinets are not overflowing with unused cookware, we don’t feel the need to go crazy getting rid if things.
Our biggest purge was when we moved cross-country and had to dispose of a large portion of our goods, we didn’t need to conduct a major purge after that. Now, it is a matter of critically reviewing things as we see items in our home, and make the occasional trip to goodwill.
BTW, love the header pic; it’s Triple Falls, in North Carolina’s DuPont State Park. It is one of my favorite spots to go hiking.
Deanna Perez says
Great points Mr. Becker. I’m always minimizing because life is a season. What I need now I don’t always need later. When I retire, I look forward to donating my capsule wardrobe, but for now, it stays. Because I periodically purge physical items, it frees me to ponder the emotional, mental and spiritual things I may need to purge. I no longer have the distractions to keep me from living an intentional life that invests in eternity. I have time to serve/ volunteer without the stress of thinking, “I need to be doing —————-.”
Brooke @ HappySimpleMom says
I feel like we reached a point of management in our minimalism journey, and then we moved. Now I feel like as we enjoy our new space, we are starting over a bit. Finding out what has a purpose, if we still love it, and if it aligns with our new values and situation. Minimalism helped me focus more on what mattered most to us at this time in our life, and that was me being home with my kids instead of in a typical 9-5 career. We also moved to the mountains and are enjoying a slower pace in life. The trick now is to find out what stuff fits into this new life. It does seem like a process that sometimes repeats itself.
Courtnee White says
I have wanted to declutter/minimize for more than a year but it is our upcoming move that actually created the space in the schedule and a deadline. We have made amazing progress in a short amount of time. (Kudus to most people who minimize gradually in the cracks of everyday life!) But I did notice a rising obsession in my brain that sounded like, “I can get rid of more. I know I can get rid of more.” And then I realized that I needed to shift my focus to other priorities for the move, especially my children who are experiencing the stress of the move and need my attention. Your essay is perfect timing to affirm that still small voice that we have achieved enough minimizing for now and can enjoy the life we have discovered. We really look forward to collecting more experiences and less stuff at our new location!
Cindy Clough says
Thank you for your continued thoughts and articles on minimalism. I find myself in a similar situation as Bethany@Happily Loco; I’ve been at this for nearly 20 years and was able to retire from my job last year. My initial “why” was for the sake of freedom. I have certainly been celebrating my freedom through the years – and then I would see another part of my life that needed minimizing or I was able to let go of other things in another round of decluttering. I’m ready to go another round, but your article made me question if I am obsessed with the pursuit of less. I’ve been questioning my “why” for a few months now – has my “why” changed? how has it changed? how can I narrow the reason? So I’d be interested in your elaborating on “management mode of your minimalism.”
laura ann says
Cindy: Like house cleaning and preparing meals, minimalism is ongoing, which is why I keep a lg bag in laundry room for anything I want to donate or give away to friends. After awhile I don’t think about it as I come upon items that I see are not being used or worn in some time. Even when something is on sale just buy two like laundry soap, toiletries, etc, to avoid clutter. Staying out of Sam’s and Costco is a good idea which we quit five years ago.
Bethany @ Happily Loco says
For me, “management mode” would mean that we’re keeping tabs on things, to make sure that the clutter isn’t creeping back. I follow Fly Lady’s program, which involves putting out clutter “hot spots” every morning. Management would mean taking care of new clutter before it gets worse, but it does not involve getting rid of things.
Jennifer Darling says
Good article, Joshua. I’ve seen evidence that the extreme pursuit of minimalism can be as controlling as the pursuit of owning too much. Minimalism can become an obsession. Balance is needed in this area as much as any other in our lives.
laura ann says
Ms Darling: agree, once we’ve downsized to a comfortable level, then we can see when things start to pile up over time. Clothes no longer worn (purge after summer and winter, sell or donate) . I stopped buying stuff for the kitchen the worse room in the house to accumulate gadgets, mugs, etc. When people get close or into retirement, it is another good time to purge, yet most people in this age group have clutter and too much of everything. Good you tube downsizing videos are : vested interests and more Melody. Mari Kondo’s ideas work on every style decluttering.
Jennifer Darling says
Laura Ann, Thank you for the tips. I will check out your YouTube recommendations.
This is a fantastic, to the point message! I read through so many comments and stories from seemingly confused people who are trying to see just how much they can live without, or how little they can live with, when that’s not the focus of the big picture at all. I long for the day when the unnecessary stuff I still have hanging around will no longer own me and be stealing my joy. The struggle is real! Thank you for your encouraging posts.
Corrie Hoffmeier says
Just wanted to give you a heartfelt thanks for your book, “The More of Less” and the articles you share. This has been a challenging year for us as a family (hubby and 5 kiddos). Your articles lift my spirits as we heal :0). My bucket is “more full” and I am better able to serve others because of your writing. You and your sweet wife must be truly inspired.
Over the years I have found the minimalist lifestyle to have an ebb and flow. I get too comfortable and the stuff starts to slowly accumulate. Then I find myself vaguely unsatisfied and nothing seems to be right. A “lightbulb” goes off in my head and I realize I need to work on getting the excess out of my life. Then all is mostly right with the world. LOL! Several years ago I discovered a way to keep myself on track. Every February I do a “no spend” month. I pay my bills and spend only what is absolutely necessary on true needs. (You can google that and read the particulars.) This practice seems to help keep me focused on my priorities.
I cut my finger a week ago and have stitches so cannot work at my chosen profession until it heals. Time off without worry of pay or whatever is wonderful. Some found out and want my help in their sorting jobs. But I’m at home eating fresh garden produce, reducing some piles in my project room, helping do some things with my husband and asking what am I to accomplish while I have this gift of time? Thanks for the encouragement for the journey!
I enjoy decluttering. I’m getting to the point where it’s really paying off! I love this feeling of intention and space.
Bethany @ Happily Loco says
I’ve practiced minimalism for nearly a decade, and I’ve found that it’s an ebb and flow. There really is no “graduation.” We decluttered, then clarified our “why”–which led to us getting rid of more stuff and moving across the country. We lived on a boat and slowly accumulated more stuff, while there was this unrest in our lives. When we clarified our vision for ourselves once again, I ended up quitting my job, which brought with it an immense freedom. After discovering that freedom, I have been doing more decluttering. It’s a constant process of examining and changing the physical environment to fit with your vision.
Mike Wanek says
Excellent assessment of the process. You seem to have grasped the concept beautifully.
Thank you gor your wisdom and knowledge of this. Are the modules of uncluttered going to be accessible after the 12 weeks? I’m still working on them.
Great article Joshua. I’m not done minimising exactly. But I’m at the stage where I can start to slow down the decluttering and learn to live according to my values. I hope to become mindful of what’s really important in life because I still feel the pull of stuff I really don’t need.