This article is an excerpt from The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life.
There’s something I hate when the term minimalism crops up in conversation. What I hate is the misperception that so many people have about it.
Many people think of minimalism as a “style” of home, on a par with Colonial homes, Victorian homes, or Southwest adobe homes. A minimalist home, to them, is a boxy white house with almost nothing in it, and if you do happen to find a chair or sofa somewhere, it’s going to be really expensive—and good luck feeling comfortable sitting on it!
A minimalist home, in this sense, is for people who don’t care much about coziness or comfort and definitely don’t have kids or pets or hobbies. Such a house might look good in a magazine photo spread, but who wants to live there?
Creating a minimalist home doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your favorite design style—or even your “no-design style” or “frugal living style”—to accomplish it. In my home, for example, we still use my wife’s grandparents’ old bedroom set. It’s anything but modern in design, but it works for us. My wife, Kim, our two kids, and I got rid of a lot of things when we were transforming our home, but we didn’t get rid of everything, and we didn’t feel every room needed a different look or style than it had before.
What’s widely known as minimalism in architecture and interior decoration today is fine as a design style, if you happen to like it, but that’s not at all what I’m talk about here. I’m promoting an approach to owning less that you can take regardless of the style of your home. It’s not about making an artistic statement or glorifying emptiness. Instead, it’s about transforming your home so that you can transform your life.
Minimalism, as I’m referring to it, is not about taking something away from you; it’s about giving something to you. My definition of minimalism is “the intentional promotion of things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from them.” As I sometimes like to say, minimizing is actually optimizing—reducing the number of your possessions until you get to the best possible level for you and your family.
It’s individual, freeing, and life promoting. It’s a makeover that you can do on your own, in your current house, just by getting rid of stuff.
In battling against misperceptions about minimalism, I sometimes feel like Henry Ford when he was trying to convince the masses that automobiles didn’t have to be just for the rich. Except what’s available to everybody now—in our affluent age when it is sometimes said we’ve reached “peak stuff”—is a radical and amazing home makeover courtesy of minimalism.
This is an idea whose time has come.
Minimalism isn’t just for the few who happen to have some spartan quirk in their personalities; it’s for everyone. Homes everywhere would benefit from a thoughtful and deliberate reduction of their possessions load.
So that’s how I wrote The Minimalist Home—with everybody in mind.
This book is for you if you’re single or married.
It’s for you if you are childless, have one or more kids at home, or have an empty nest where your kids and grandkids come back to visit you from time to time.
It’s for you if you have an apartment, condo, town house, duplex, detached single-family dwelling, cottage, trailer home, cabin, farmhouse, houseboat, or mobile home.
It’s for you if you live in the United States, Australia, England, Japan, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, or anyplace else and your home is overcrowded with stuff.
I’m not trying to make you into someone you’re not or turn you into some kind of doing-without extremist. You don’t have to live in a tiny home or wander the world living out of a backpack. (My family and I don’t.) Now, after minimizing, you may want to downsize to a smaller place, but you certainly don’t have to move in order to enjoy the benefits of home minimalism. You can change your environment and change your life right where you are.
You bought or rented the home you’ve got for a reason, right? To some extent, you must have liked it, or at least liked what you imagined it would look like after you were done making it your own. Most likely, it’s the overaccumulation of goods since then that’s keeping it from being what you wanted. So let’s address your “stuff problem.”
Give yourself the house you’ve always wished you had. You’ve already got it! It’s hidden underneath all your stuff.
This article is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of my book, The Minimalist Home.
“It’s not about making an artistic statement or glorifying emptiness. Instead, it’s about transforming your home so that you can transform your life.”
That first statement spoke to me. As a Christian, I never want to be part of glorifying anything or anyone but Christ. It’s why I avoided articles and speakers who attached the word to new age beliefs. But from a Christian worldview, it’s beginning to stir my heart. Less for me, more for others. Consumerism and materialism are satanic traps, distracting me from being effective as an image bearer and gospel bringer. If I can pare my belongings down AND redirect my selfish urge to mindlessly spend and acquire, that’s worth thinking about and pursuing. Just admitting that to myself brings relief. Now I need to figure out how. Thanks so much.
I love the life am living. Am trying my best to be minimalist. This site has helped me a lot.
I don’t bother about many things again.
Thanks for another interesting read Joshua, and you are of course correct to list England as a country! Having lived 38 years there I can say with certainty that Britain refers to England, Scotland and Wales collectively. :)
By the way, the proper word is childfree, not childless. And the country is Britain, not England.
joshua becker says
Thanks for the feedback S. Childless is an adjective that means “not having any children.” And it’s the correct word that I wanted.
Child free implies (to me) that children are a burden, that one is free from them. My nest is about to empty as the youngest will be heading off to college in a few months, and I feel bereft– and neither acquiring nor purging stuff will fill the holes they leave when they grow up and go. I am neither childless nor child free. I will always long for them, pray for them, care for them. It’s really not about the stuff in the end, is it?
I love the reminder that minimalism is what you want it to be for your home and your life. I loved Minimalist Home, because it gave me fresh energy and enthusiasm in my new home to go through each space and really think about what we needed to keep and get rid of (even though I’d gone through the process in my old home). I’ve decided to keep a lot of framed photos out, but they’re important to my family and we love them, so I’ve given myself permission to have my minimalist home look like that. The process has given me an inordinate amount of joy and peace, all over again.
Thank you, Joshua for this timely article. For me your article highlights contentment, being satisfied with what you have. So often, while perusing minimalist websites, design or lifestyle oriented, one half gets the idea that what you have in your home is not good enough, that the lifestyle you are living needs to be somehow pinterest worthy. Thank you for highlighting this issue.
Jeffrey Pillow says
This is rational minimalism, and I like it. A minimalist lifestyle in my home means less dishes, less vacuuming, and more family time. It’s less about the aesthetic, and more about what is needed — no more, no less.
Certain minimalist bloggers and vloggers on YouTube, who shall go unnamed, promote a brand of minimalism that caters to an Instagram-worthy aesthetic that is unattainable for most, particularly those of us with young kids such as myself, or who lack the financial resources to revamp their home to a white painted wall haven with uncomfortable black seating. I like the look, but can’t really bite the bullet to refresh my house in this way. And, with two young kids, I’d wind up frustrated that my once spotless house was scattered with toys and game pieces each and every evening — which it is, every single evening.
Rational minimalism is the way to go. Otherwise, quite often, you’re chasing a trend and lifestyle. And with trends, they come and go. That’s why they are trends.
Thanks for sharing your words, Joshua.
Sometimes it can mean getting rid of a huge something and replacing it with something smaller. I got rid of a big chest of drawers and replaced it with a much smaller version. We didn’t need all that space for clothes after I declutter clothing.
I also go rid of end tables with lamps and coffee table and replaced with pole lamps and plants. Gave us a lot more space because we never used any of it. It was for show.
We also downsized our dining table to a small round one which fits the two if us much better. It has extra leaf and 4 chairs. More than enough.
Downsizing is minimalism too.
Angeleck Nance says
Although minimalism is still new to me, although I have taken the course once, it is staying in my mind even when I dream! Keep up the good work, Joshua, and thanks for all of your encouragement!
Since you put so much effort in describing your attempt to minimalize, let me tell you about mine:
I have a house in the US, stuffed with stuff from 40 years of living here.
I also have a house in Germany with six apartments, one of which I renovated two years ago and set up for my minimalist escape.
All I needed was a bed, a kitchen and a computer, and that’s all that’s in it (ok an IKEA couch and a table and two chairs). So I go three months every year to live minimalist. My wife does not like it at all. Eventually I have to choose wife or minimalist home. Not to worry, we’ll find a compromise. Greetings – Wolfgang
Thank you for this. I read recently a post reminding us that the one resource that is non-renewable is time. And that is what your kind of minimalism gives us. More time, because we don’t have to spend it on looking through our stuff, moving our stuff, storing our stuff and cleaning our stuff. Sure, decluttering our stuff takes an enormous investment of time, like paying off massive debt. But once it is done, the wonderful sense of freedom and gift of time is a terrific payoff. Thank you for sharing your vision!!
halle reed says
I understand your frustration with Minimalism vs Minimalist Architecture. I am an Art Historian by nature and was initially confused by your message. You have done a great job of creating a lifestyle concept.
Minimalist architecture is a fact of life and history. It stems from the blocky, industrial styles that were inspired by the effects of the Industrial Revolution and the Nihilism created by WWI. I feel your Minimalistic Revolution has similar roots. In both cases, we are looking for a psychological gleaning. I have never been a fan of Minimalist Architecture, but Minimalism speaks to me.Thank you for that.
Marie Catherine says
I grew up associating “Minimalism” with a type of style, arts and other mediums, a movement which began post World War II.
Later I thought of minimalism as people going “off the grid” and foregoing all modern amenities. More recently, I’ve been happy to discover your and others more recent interpretations of “Minimalism”. I am on board completely and feel that I finally live a much more authentic life in all aspects (less stuff, less clutter, less stress, less “monkey mind” etc.). Thank you Joshua for sharing your experiences. Keep up the good work! We hear you.
Ann C says
I purchased my book right after Christmas and received some bonus articles etc. are these the same or should I be looking up my receipt? Loving what’s happening in my home!
joshua becker says
They are the same. The book has been out-of-stock in many places (the first three printings all sold-out). Now the book is back everywhere, so we’re offering the opportunity to receive the bonuses once again.
Well said! Our life has certainly gotten better in many ways since we decluttered our home. We spend much less time cleaning and more time doing what we like to do.
The other benefit is the sense of calm I feel when there are no piles of stuff around me and I don’t have to waste time digging through them to find what I need.
I get it, Joshua. No-one would ever look at my home and think I’m a minimalist! ;) —–
So many misconceptions in this world…
I’m sold, now I just have to get my husband on board. I have a pain condition that makes cleaning our home terribly difficult. Looking at each surface covered leaves me not even come wanting to try! It’s double the work to clear, clean and replace all of the items! Any suggestions with spouses of those who struggle with pain, etc, please send it my way. Thank you for all of your information. It’s wonderful and gives me hope here or on my own! ?
laura ann says
Hubby and I have a common “over the hill” cond. (arthritis) that several yrs ago motivated us also to downsize and waiting now for apt. I do stretching and other exercises daily to keep up w/ daily chores, activites. I have 8 houseplants, no nik naks, and bought a wire shelf for the plants to eliminate dusting. Plants are taken outside and blow off dust every so often. Cat sheds little, now down to one cat after two died of old age. Donated much, but have bag in laundry room for accumulated donations now. Group homes in my area got most items incl furniture. I encouraged others in my area to downsize (retirees) but they don’t care-even if they can’t clean like they should. My inlaws were like that- we had to clean the mess, yrs of clutter mostly junk, to sell their house. Also tossed old photos siblings didn’t want or their kids, got rid of books, 3 newsletter subsc., etc.
the gold digger says
My husband spent weeks cleaning out his parents’ house after they died. They were not to hoarder level, but – does anyone really need to keep Medicare EOBs for eight years? Or to-go coffee cups shoved in the back of the cupboards behind the coffee cups they actually used?
Does anyone need to move a paper grocery bag full of newspapers from Pittsburgh to Florida? My husband’s parents did.
And as far as subscriptions – they died almost four years ago and we are still getting their junk mail. After my second “stop this mail” email, I now write, “They are still dead. And I would never want to buy the tacky things in your catalog so you are just wasting money.”
(I know that’s kind of rude, but – I do not want my in-laws’ junk mail.)