Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Jeffrey Tang.
“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life…” – Henry David Thoreau
Some people look at the minimalist movement and see a bunch of ascetics and misers, a group of modern monks who willingly deprive themselves of the material pleasures in life.
That’s not what I see.
In my eyes, minimalism isn’t about depriving yourself or about undergoing sacrificial suffering. It’s not about being miserly with your money or your time or your space.
Rather, minimalism is about becoming a high connoisseur of life. Being willing to burn away the chaff in order to enjoy the wheat of life, like a sommelier who discards a thousand cheap imitations in favor of a single bottle of fine wine, or like the biblical merchant who sells all his belongings to purchase a pearl of surpassing beauty.
Think about it:
- When you clear the clutter from your closet, what are you doing if not making room for the enjoyment of the few quality items you keep?
- When you sell off unneeded books and gadgets and toys, what are you doing if not highlighting the usefulness of the ones that remain?
- When you create space in your life, when you empty your schedule, or your inbox, or your to-do list, what are you doing if not making room for better experiences, better communication, better work?
In Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write: “Be a curator. You don’t make a great museum by putting all the art in the world into a single room. That’s a warehouse. What makes a museum great is the stuff that’s not on the walls … it’s the stuff you leave out that matters.”
Jason and David were writing about the art of business – but their advice applies to the art of life as well.
Be a curator of life. Edit. Leave out the junky parts. Don’t be afraid to say no – but when you find something worth saying yes to – treasure it. Enjoy it. Hang it on the walls of your museum and be proud of it.
When you look back in 20, 30, 60 years, what would you rather see? A life filled with stacks of stuff and a ton of obligations and a lot of scurrying around from errand to errand? Or a life centered around carefully gathering valuable experiences and items and goals?
Because that’s the other half of minimalism. The half where less gives way to more: more experiences, more enjoyment, more purpose, more connections, more laughter, more independence, more passion, more great work. The best kind of more.
We can let the world label us misers, or we can show them that we’re connoisseurs. Which do you prefer?
I love this so much. It perfectly describes the way I have been feeling about what remains after my massive decluttering. I truly cherish what’s left. And it was only after I let the unneeded go, that I discovered how much I loved what was left. I hate it that I waited so long to discover this. Thank you Joshua, I love reading your thoughts everyday.
Bernie Stevenson says
Fab article, totally agree! Pleased to see the comments about donating books to public libraries. Apart from creating space, it’s lovely to recycle & let others enjoy our books!
Steve Davis says
I have enjoyed reading, becoming minimalist, for awhile now. Each post has been interesting and thought provoking. I share your posts often. This latest guest host post by Jeffrey Tang, was equally great. Thank you Joshua for sharing this with us.
I am an Activity Director at an Independent / Assisted Living & Skilled Nursing facility. When your post spoke in regards to being ” a curator of life”, and ” looking back 20, 30, 60 years”, what would you rather see? Struck a cord with me. In a skilled nursing environment, I am often reminded what really matters in life. On a daily basis, my mission, along with my staff, is to bring purpose and meaningful experiences to our residents. In areas that promote their physical, mental, spiritual, social and overall well being. These residents come to us with various physical and cognitive impairments. Some who will never resume their former self. So..what does it mean to be a curator of life? Life is precious, a gift, something to cherish and to give hope. I filled so blessed to have the challenge and the privilege to do what I have been led to do. Be at Peace, Steve Davis
My best advise about books? Is donate them to your library. That way you can always borrow them, and they will store them for you.
Josh, thank you for this post. It is particulary inspiring.
Liz R. says
On the practical side of things, paring down the number of your possessions makes things easier to find. A friend of mine has at least 10 flashlights, and guess what she can never find? I have one and know where it is at all times. Same goes for sunglasses, reading glasses, scissors, etc.
Elaine Robinson says
I have the same problem with always finding items but as I de-clutter my house, it is easier to find what I need. Elaine
“Be a curator of life. Edit.”
Absolutely love this. So much so that I had to stop reading for a minute and just repeat it to myself a few times. I think “Edit” just became my new mantra!
I love the iSight, but also looking for the practical articles on clearing the clutter.
As I am decorating for autumn, I am also purging, finding the balance. Have two boxes going to charity, hauled some items to curb and bags ready for garbage. I still have plenty, just want what I need, someone else can use the rest.
Thanks Jeffrey! I just recently hopped on this train and I am tossing baggage out of the window along the way. I have moved out of the baggage compartment and I am making my way up to first class. It is unbelievable how much richer my life is with less possessions. Loved your post!
I am wondering what is the 80/20 ratio? My husband and I have kept a lot of things for our grown daughters in plastic bins for years. While trying to give my daughters the bins it is very clear that they really do not want all of the plastic bins full of their childhood toys, memories etc… But I have an extremely hard time just getting rid of them…hoping I will get better at this.
Liz R. says
I have a box of things from when my daughter was a baby (she’s 15). I kept it small by choosing my very favorite of each item, pajamas, stuffed animals, etc. It was enough to satisfy my sentimenal side but not so much to add clutter.
Katie O'Brien says
What a beautifully written article reminding us minimalism has nothing to do with lack. And that frugality and minimalism don’t necessarily go hand in hand. I choose to embrace minimalism in my life and business because of all it adds to my life rather than what it appears I’m clearing away.
Minimalism to me simply means more purposeful living.
Bruce Elkin says
Excellent piece. A simple or minimalist life is about making room for what matters most in life, work, relationships… Simplifying is not primarily about solving problems, it is about creating — bringing into being — what we most deeply care about and aspire to. And giving it to the world.
With immigrants and refugees flooding in, weigh them down with your donated stuff and become a light traveller yourself.
Kevin @ ChristianSimplicity says
Great post. From my perspective it reminds me of this quote by Oswald Chambers.
God never tells us to give up things just for the sake of giving them up, but He tells us to give them up for the sake of the only thing worth having, namely, life with Himself. It is a matter of loosening the bands that hold back our lives.
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Good article. I think the message is another interpretation of the 80/20 rule. Nothing new, really – just a fresh way to interpret it in this modern life we live.
Brilliant post. Thank you! This is a must share. The way you describe it is exactly how it truly feels for myself and my husband – clearing away the clutter to be a connoisseur of life, focused consciously on what matters most to us. I often wonder if people think we’ve gone mad, or perceive our minimalism and nomadic life now as being woo-woo spiritual or if they think we’re anti ‘things’ or anti the way they live their lives. On the contrary! We just want to spend the rest of our life immersed in meaningful experiences, with the things, people and situations that are most valuable to us and minimalism has been a pathway which practically supports that vision and aligns to our values – to me this is a no-brainer rather than looking back at the end of our life… like you say… to see “A life filled with stacks of stuff and a ton of obligations and a lot of scurrying around from errand to errand?”
Thanks Jeffrey for a great post and thanks Joshua for sharing! :)
This might be the best one yet. : -) I’m a relatively new reader, and I do read each and every post – but haven’t commented yet. I’m new on this journey, and loving every minute. Today’s work? Cleaning out the kitchen to the bare minimum. I have two four-cup measuring cups. Why is it so hard to let one go? Rest assured, by the end of the day, I’ll only have one – and a few boxes by the back door to donate to the thrift store. Thanks for all of your insightful blog posts.
What a great article!
Eva Z. says
Great post! I love the idea of minimalism and would like to put it into practice. This article resonated with me because I too refuse to live like an ascetic and miser (I like beautiful clothes and art too much) but it will not be necessary if I just let go of stuff I don’t love and keep only the best. I recently moved and thought I did not have much…until I started to pack and the stack of eight boxes of books (just books, not to mention other stuff) was eye-opening. As for the books, any advice what to do with ones that you own and are not available in digital version and want to keep or read again some time later (I do that often)? “Lend” to friends? :)
I suggest that you take those books to the library – you can always find them there + other people will be able to enjoy them too! Thats exactly what I’ve done today with my books that I’ve already read.
Linda MacRae says
Joshua and Jeffrey,
This is such a great thoughtful post! I cannot look back at the last 62 years and say ,”I haven’t been nice to myself or someone else, even including my own family!” I deprived myself of my family through employment and social obligations, I lived the life to acquire more and then more! In the end I gave it all away or sold it!! Now I travel out of my backpack, spend an enormous amount of time traveling from coast to coast with my daughters and their families. Because I am not buying all the time I can eat in a fabulous restaurant once in a while, and I have become choosy over what I buy to wear. I’m free of stuff I can’t live without, I’m the connoisseur of my own life and I do not think I live or feel like a monk. I eat healthy and have lost 110 pounds since taking on the Minimalist lifestyle! At 62 years of age I am the happiest I have EVER been in my life!!!. I do not care if someone calls me a miser, just because I save my money to travel and be free to do what I want to do.
The funniest thing is, my daughters used to ask me, “Where is our Mother and what planet are you from?”. Now they have also started to live a more easier lifestyle and at times come to me for more information or ideas!!! I LOVE BEING A MINIMALIST!!!! Thank you Joshua for bringing me to this point in my life! I love it!!!
Wow!!! My hat is off to you!
There is a part of me that thinks about doing something like this. Then there is another part that reminds me of my lovely garden and the woodlands around my abode, and my dog. They all bring me such peace and beauty.
I’m so torn. But it may be that I need to think of doing this in stages, move gradually to living like this permanently or I could make it a one time fling and see if that gets it out of my system. I wonder how you came to your decision? Anyway, thanks for sharing and Happy Trails to You!
Linda, you are inspiring! I am 46 and just getting started. I have gotten rid of so much in the past year! It has inspired me creatively, given me more time, and I have been able to bless others in need.
So love this post. Thank you!
LOVE this!!! Best I have read yet!!!
Lynn J says
As someone who is just beginning to ‘pare down’ toward minimalism, I find this very inspiring. I have been aware for many years now that my stuff is not only unnecessary, but weighing me down… and honestly, I think I have a lost less stuff than most Americans do. Thank you so much for being willing to share your feelings and experiences on this seldom-chosen path.
I love this post. It describes my form of minimalism. A minimalism that isn’t about having the least amount of things, or even only the bare necessities, but that’s about consciously valuing things according to my values, verses just mindless accumulation. Great post, Jeffrey. Thanks, Josh.
Ben Tremblay says
Years ago a close friend moved to a neighboring city (Vancouver). That summer I visited him in his new apartment. “Spartan” would describe the decor … as an under-statement.
He had moved things in 1 thing at a time, exercising extreme triage. The first thing was a tea set, which also happened to be his most recent acquisition.
When I visited again, the next year … the term that comes to mind is “impressionistic” … perhaps also “symphonic” … almost stark, but not quite. Not by intent, but what he had actualized was quintessentially Zen, c/w wabbi sabbi. It was was quite wonderful!
Matt Manfred says
Let’s not be rude. Do and say unto others as you would have them do and say to you.
I hardly feel like a miser (but i have been called one plenty).
It is so true that when one pares down their belongings what is left does become more precious. You start to look at that item in a whole new light. When you have 20 of something (t-shirts for example) none of them are all that special. Remove them all but 3, now those 3 are like the greatest gift in the world. You treasure them more, care for them more, appreciate them more.
If people would just stop the over consumption and start to take care of the items that they already own then i think the world could be a happier place. It’s not about deprivation, but only those of us that have figured this whole thing out really understand that. Unfortunately the ones that have everything, they are truly the deprived ones.
Damien Olenslager says
This post makes so much sense! The more things we have, the more diluted our love for each of those things becomes. By keeping fewer things, each one of those is more cherished.
This explains why my wife’s parents love her more than my parents love me. She’s from a family of two kids; me, a family of eight. Hehe.
More children do NOT mean less love!!!!!!! You appear to be the one who has less love for your own brothers and sisters since you are wishing some had never been born. Consider your words carefully; they sound quite self-centered.
Liz Robinson says
I believe the “hehe” at the end of the sentence indicated his statement was in jest.
Brianne Villano says
This was spot on. You are not refusing the pleasures in life, you are clarifying them to yourself. By reducing the superfluous distractions in your life, you are then able to focus on enjoying what really matters TO YOU and no one else. Great post.
minor keys says
What a nice read, Jeffrey. Who doesn’t want to be a high connoisseur of life?
Christianna Pierce says
Jeffrey, this is a wonderful post.
I love the sentence, “Be a curator of life.” Yes! We do have a choice and we can choose to leave out the junky parts and embrace those treasures (experiences, connections, laughter…) we find along the way. Thank you for articulating this so well.
Deb J says
Great post. This is what I am striving for. Thanks Joshua for posting this and Jeffrey for writing it.
What a wonderful post! This is exactly what I strive for in my minimalist journey!
Michael Rakowski says
Nice post Jeffrey.
I like to look around the space where I am and ask myself “how is this thing going to help me get where I want to go?” If the answer is that it won’t or that I don’t know then I probably can get rid of it. I love that feeling of clarity.
I also like the idea of re-distributing (selling or giving away) stuff because someone else might need it themselves and it’s win-win for them to have it and for me to get rid of it.
It’s kind of funny how you can have a whole bunch of clothes but can only wear one outfit at a time. I aim to simplify to prevent being overwhelmed by choices and to move towards exactly what I do want.
Jeffrey Tang says
@Mars – Hey, if macho works for you, I say do it :) I’ve pretty much moved entirely to digital as well, and though digital clutter can be a challenge too, at least it doesn’t take up physical space. I completely get what you’re saying about confidence, because that’s part of what minimalism comes down to – the confidence that you are enough, that you don’t need to constantly buy things to solve problems or make you happy.
@Gip – Thanks so much for the compliment! You’re right – minimalism is about making a (conscious) choice. Where do we spend our time, our attention, our resources? Do we throw them around randomly, or do we carefully prune away the extraneous to leave space for the truly valuable?
Jeffrey, do you have your own blog or site? I really enjoyed this article and have come back to re-read a handful of times.
Hi Cathy, I was thinking the same thing then I noticed you can click on Jeffrey’s name on the reply above and that will take you to his blog. Kind regards, Lorna
Gip @ So Much More says
I don’t want to overstate it, but this could be the best post on TRUE minimalism I’ve ever read. (Perhaps I did overstate it, but I’m not so sure.)
I’ve been working on some posts for my blog recently to put up in the coming weeks about living deliberately or mindfully — and that’s exactly what you’re saying really. We choose carefully to make sure we get the best from life.
Thanks, Jeffrey. And thanks Joshua for putting it up.
Mars Dorian says
Jeffrey, that’s a wonder-ful example – becoming a connoisseur of life.
I always had this Spartan approach where I just want to rely on the most basic stuff to survive – that’s probably the macho version of being a connoisseur ;)
I barely buy material stuff anymore – it’s mostly digital now.
It’s so relieving if you don’t need much to lead a wonderful life, and it stresses the communication with yourself.
That’s why I luv Diogenes – the old Greek philosopher who didn’t rely on anything but himself – and what confidence he possessed !