I started pursuing and writing about minimalism 12 years ago, in 2008, right in the middle of the global recession.
Back then, as you might expect, many were discovering minimalism out of necessity.
I can remember some of the email messages I received back then. One of them stands out as particularly significant. A lady wrote to me:
I was searching for ways to live on less because my husband just lost his job and I found your website. I want to thank you for what you are doing. I am beginning to see that living with less doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
For the next 12 years, the economy grew. Until today, where every indication is that we are going to experience a fall in GDP for two successive quarters—the definition of recession. This recession will be global in nature.
I sat down this weekend to reflect on that fact. And how the coronavirus recession will impact minimalism going forward—not from a health standpoint, but a financial one.
First, let’s be clear, I want as many people as possible to live a minimalist lifestyle. The benefits are incredible: more time, more money, more energy, more focus, more opportunity to pursue those things in life that bring real happiness—however we choose to define it.
Minimalism is a lifestyle that should be adopted by everybody.
But I don’t want anybody to be forced into it.
It is never an ideal circumstance for someone to lose their job or be forced into a situation of having to live on less through a recession or no fault of their own. I don’t want anybody, anywhere to be forced into minimalism.
I want people to choose it on their own.
For two reasons:
1. When people are forced into minimalism, it is less likely to have a long-lasting effect.
It might, but that is a rare case. Instead, when someone is forced into minimalism, they begin to see it as a sacrifice, a trial, or a setback. And as soon as life can financially return to the way it was before, people will return to their previous lifestyle.
2. Being forced into minimalism causes many people to adopt a disaster-focused mentality.
Think of the generation that emerged from the Great Depression and their learned behavior to keep everything just in case they would need it someday.
And it doesn’t require a 10-year Depression for this scarcity-mindset thinking to emerge. Sometimes just a natural disaster—a hurricane, fire, or earthquake—can cause people to respond with a desire to hoard items for the uncertainty of the future.
People being forced into minimalism is never an ideal circumstance. We prefer people to choose living with less on their own.
Of course, there are positive aspects that will emerge from this worldwide crisis that could spark voluntary simplicity:
1. There are a lot of people who are being forced to spend more time at home than before.
When we are forced to spend time at home, we are also forced to confront our stuff and our possessions. We begin to see how much we’ve accumulated over the years—and how much is unnecessary.
Being at home means we can take the time to figure out how our home functions and what we want it to look like going forward. As Michelle Obama said about the quarantine, “It’s a good exercise in reminding us that we just don’t need a lot of the stuff that we have.” This could be a response that many will have going forward.
2. The nature of work is going to change.
Working from home is going to become commonplace in businesses all around the world—not just in the short-term, but in the long-term as businesses recognize the overhead that can be saved and more and more employees demand it. The change in how we work holds great potential in motivating people to declutter their spaces and environments at home.
3. Many people are going to reassess their finances and budgets.
They will ask questions like: “Why weren’t we able to get ahead when finances were good? Where was all our money going? How much were we spending? And how much can we cut back both now and in the future?”
People may arrive at these questions because they are forced into them or simply from a desire to be more financially stable and prepared for the next crisis. Either way, many are going to stand face-to-face with their spending and start asking deep questions about whether their pursuit of physical possessions was really the best use of their limited resources.
4. Whenever we face legitimate concerns about life and death, we begin to ask deeper questions:
“What is important in life? Where should I be focusing my time and my energy? Am I giving my family and friends as much focus as I should? Am I living my greatest life of significance and meaning?”
As we ask these questions about values and purpose, we run into minimalist principles. Minimalism is, after all, about removing distractions so we can focus on those things that matter most. Life’s deepest questions often lead us there.
5. People will become intentional about re-entry into what they used to define as “normal.”
Our lives, just a few months back, were busy, stressed, hurried, and rushed. As life begins to take on a new normal, many of us are going to become intentional and reassess what we desire to bring back into our lives. What commitments do we want back? What hobbies do we want to continue? And what purchases do I want to continue making going forward?
Remember this: You can’t control the people around you. You cannot control how the entire world is going to respond to this pandemic and subsequent recession.
We can invite people to minimalism. We can make the case for it. We can argue for why it’s a better way of life than accumulating more and more.
When it gets right down to it, we can invite others—but we can only control ourselves. We can only take control of how we are going to personally handle our lives going forward.
If you have found this blog post because you’ve recently been forced into owning less, I am sorry for your circumstances. But let me encourage you, you do not need to view owning less as a sacrifice. Owning less means you can find a more intentional life, focused on those pursuits that bring meaning, fulfillment, and joy to your life.
If you’ve been pursuing minimalism for quite some time, I encourage you to be intentional about re-entry into the world when this crisis ends—which it will. Stay focused on those things that add value to your life, that bring lasting joy into your life, that help you pursue your values—and not those that distract you from it.
There is no doubt in my mind that this current crisis is going to affect the world in countless ways. Minimalism, as a lifestyle, will be positively and negatively affected—both individually and as a society.
Let’s make sure we learn from it as best we can.
S Thiessen says
Very right on. Thank you very much, Mr. Becker for your intensively writing on this topic.
David columbare says
There’s lots you can do for free or with little money. Like ride a bicycle, go for a hike. State parks offer a lot for very little money. Get outside more often, that’s what I find appealing about a minimalist lifestyle.
Joshua, this is your BEST writing yet!!! Very inspiring!
Ulli Nelson says
Like some folks, my life is actually more stressful, more crowded, and more complicated with the quarantine, not less so.
Food acquisition, exercising, bureaucratic interactions, taking care of elderly neighbors and extended family, creating more tech options and connections, ……sharing “too” much time in close confines with loved ones, etc etc etc.
And since all donation centers are closed, my decluttering / mimimizing in many areas has ground to a halt, as I am not (yet) willing to throw stuff in the dumpsters. I am working on paper clutter, though.
The emotional / empathy overload is huge as we take inventory of the world’s added suffering. I find this exhausting, and distressing. I have yet to regain my sense of balance.
Kim Williams says
I understand where you are coming from. I have six kids at home, five are teens. Grocery shopping was challenging when grocery stores had so many empty shelves. I am working from home too. Teens are not the easiest people to be around. I applaud you for tackling the paper clutter. I’ve recently started on mine. You found something you could do and you’re doing it. Bravo! Hang in there! This situation will change, eventually.
I think that there is a difference between minimalism and austerity measures. One is a philosophy of voluntary practice. One is imposed from outside circumstances. There is a danger in conflating the two, as the language may make us resistant to the minimalist philosophy and practice in the future.
Judith Johnson says
Good point. But it might be good for many people to impose their own “austerity” budget so that they can pay down debts and get an emergency fund
Interesting read! It’s nice to think that at least some good things will come out of all this.
Valerie Rogers says
Lifestyle changes out of financial necessity can eventually become totally accepted as mainstream. That long period of affluence,
accumulating junk, waste…
It’s coming to an end, at some point. Economies don’t keep growing forever without a leveling out, or, fallout. Best to embrace simplicity now as one’s new default lifestyle. Whereas it wasn’t planned on perhaps, one may have to, then finds that it ain’t sooo bad ?
The French frog is here.
This article is really impressive.
Like you I think the corona virus will change significantly in the coming years.
I discovered minimalism a short time ago (1 year ago) but it has radically changed my life for the better.
I hope people will come by themselves for their own good.
In addition I think this health crisis is the first that we know but not the last …
I hope I am wrong.
Many lives will be turned upside down.
As with everything in life, you have to know how to adapt.
In my opinion minimalism is one of the answers.
Thank you for your work.
Bonjour de France (where we are confined too!) !
I wouldve thought that this whole covid-19 situation would help with converting people willingly to a minimalist lifestyle.
Thank you for your message and guidance; just a gentle reminder: this to shall pass… be well!
Thank- for this article, I enjoyed it so much and I really get a lot from your book and blog articles.
I love that the judging element is taken out of it. When this occurs people are doing it with a more positive and healthy mindset.
I liken having a lot of possessions to having to a long luxurious hairstyle that looks beautiful but needs to be constantly washed, dried, straightened, curled, trimmed and treated with expensive products. It looks beautiful and fun to have but is the work, time and expense paying you back enough? If you had a shorter, simpler style where you can just wash and go your beauty will still shine through and you would have more time energy and money to do something else like; yoga, fitness, cooking, playing music, writing, making art, crafts or whatever. Goodbye licks- hello life!
What you said about the hair hit home with me. A few years ago I decided to do something that I had always (thought) I wanted… to grow my hair long. Well, Now I have it, and I don’t want it. It rarely looks luxurious because I simply don’t want to take the time necessary to care for it and it causes anxiety. It gets in the way, its thick and cumbersome, and makes me feel weighed down emotionally. As soon as the salons open up, its getting cut. The upside to this is, I now no longer feel like I’m missing out on having long hair. and I’ll appreciate the simplicity of an easy to care for hair do.
We have been following your blog for a while now and fully embrace this life style. I agree you can’t force people into this life style, it has to be embraced.
My wife by nature is neat and tidy so this has come fairly easy for us. Now that we have decided to move across the country to a smaller home, this pandemic has given us the opportunity to really clean out our possessions. It is good therapy. Some things are much harder to part with than others. Photos, wedding gifts and kids artwork are really hard to part with. We are still going to move some of that with us and go through it again after retirement. All in all, we reflected back on the money we wasted buying things that gave us momentary joy but ended up sitting in the basement storage closet. It feels great to be rid of all this unnecessary stuff and donating it to others who may find joy in it.
We are so much more intentional when we buy anything nowadays. It saves money, space, and stress.
Judith Davidson says
Good read. I started my own minimalist journey about 4 years ago with great conviction. Friends and family thought I was crazy lightning my load.
God has a plan , I would like to share you his instruction.
” But seek his Kingdom and these things will be provided for you. Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your father delights to give you the Kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, and exhaustible treasures and heavens, were no thief comes near and no moths destroy. For your treasure is common there your heart will be also.”
Luke 12:31 – 34
Beehive State says
In 2012 our only child died. He was 38 with a little son, aged 20 months. A friend just mentioned that her daughter calls her every day and brought flowers. I’ll never have that. My grandson will never know his father. I still cry every day and so does my husband. The worst has already happened and we survived. Life is hard. I can do hard things.
Rhonda O'Keefe Arsenault says
Thank you for this timely and smart article. I have been studying minimalism a few years and have been following you over a year. Thank you for your wisdom. My husband and I have been spending years clearing, de-cluttering, sorting, downsizing and donating, all while moving 7 times in 20 years. My husband was military and served in the Canadian Forces for 25 years moving around the country. We have 3 beautiful adult children and one grandchild. When we settled home in my province we took on opening a cafe then, after 7 years, turned it into a cottage for rent. Since then we have been restoring an ancestral family home that we now rent. A true Labor of Love. We have three properties, two accommodations that we rent in a beautiful rural seaside town called Ferryland, and our home just 5 minutes away in another community called Aquaforte. Because you have shared so much along with our learning from other readings, our faith and prayers to God above, joyfully and thankfully our house was fairly ready when this global pandemic hit here in our small town in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Our daughter had to fly home from Ontario where she is doing her masters in Music Therapy and we all had to self isolate for 14 days. We are now in Day 11 and are feeling well, thank God. Many people around the world are unfolding, transforming and so much good will eventually evolve from this. Please God when we all get through the sorrow, loneliness and loss, it will be a better world. My daughter and I are both musicians and singers and have been sharing our music in gratitude and Love with the world. If you want to see our Facebook page, it is called Ferryland Cottage. Both our places are listed on Airbnb. The Valley House and Ferryland Cottage. Joshua, it is because of your great teaching, together with grace and our dedication and action to following minimalism, we now are ready to face this new world. We were able to have her isolate in our basement clear and clutter free. We set up a study table where she could attend online classes every day, a tread mill for her exercise, her own bathroom and bedroom. It has made our time in self isolation so much easier and our home so much more organized, clean and joyful to spend 14 days together in. We will now continue on this journey and pray for all the world to wake up to what really matters in life and that is surely not more stuff. Thank you again and God bless you and your family. Someday you may come visit us in beautiful Newfoundland and Labrador. We would welcome you with open arms.
Rhonda O'Keefe Arsenault says
Thank you for this timely and smart article. I have been studying minimalism a few years and have been following you over a year. Thank you for your wisdom. My husband and I have been spending years clearing, de-cluttering, sorting, downsizing and donating, all while moving 7 times in 20 years . My husband was military and served in the Canadian Forces for 25 years moving around the country. When we settled home in my province we took on opening a cafe then, after 7 years, turned it into a cottage for rent. Since then we have been restoring an ancestral family home that we now rent. A true Labor of Love. We have three properties, two accommodations that we rent in a beautiful rural seaside town called Ferryland, and our home just 5 minutes away in another community called Aquaforte. Because you have shared so much along with our learning from other readings, our faith and prayers to God above, joyfully our house was fairly ready when this global pandemic hit here in our small town in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Our daughter had to fly home from Ontario where she is doing her masters in Music Therapy and we all had to self isolate for 14 days. We are now in Day 11 and are feeling well, thank God. Many people around the world are unfolding, transforming and so much good will eventually evolve from this. Please God when we all get through the sorrow, loneliness and loss, it will be a better world. My daughter and I are both musicians and singers and have been sharing our music in gratitude and Love with the world. If you want to see our Facebook page, it is called Ferryland Cottage. Both our places are listed on Airbnb. The Valley House and Ferryland Cottage. Joshua, it is because of your great teaching, together with our dedication and action of following minimalism, we now are ready to face this new world. We were able to have her isolate in our basement clear and clutter free. We set up a study table where she could attend online classes every day, a tread mill for her exercise, her own bathroom and bedroom. It has made our time in self isolation so much easier and our home so much more organized, clean and joyful to spend 14 days together in. We will now continue on this journey and pray for all the world to wake up to what really matters in life and that is surely not more stuff. Thank you again and God bless you and your family. Someday you may come visit us in beautiful Newfoundland and Labrador. We would welcome you with open arms.
Steve Hill says
I actually don’t think it’s possible for someone to be forced into minimalism and it’s because there is a significant difference between experiencing scarcity and pursuing minimalism.
You aptly described minimalism as a lifestyle that should be adopted by everybody and not something to be forced into. I would take it one step further by saying that “lifestyle” implies choice (at least in modern society). I’m of the belief that scarcity is something that happens to you regardless of whether you choose it or not.
Barring life/death circumstances (scarcity of oxygen, food, water, warmth), how you deal with scarcity, is a choice. Minimalism may be one of the better response choices afforded to people. Bad responses (thus choices) also exist; e.g. over-extending your credit, stealing, hoarding, etc.
The point is that scarcity (even that of money) confronts us with a choice in how we deal with it and minimalism is just one (albeit one I choose and one that’s better than many others) of the options on the table.
Kathleen morrison says
I believe that there is a difference between scaling back and minimalism.
Scaling back is out of necessity in a reaction to external forces. Once those external forces are removed or relaxed one will return to the level they were at before.
Minimalism is a mindset a reflection of how the person wants to live during times of calm and abundance.
During hard times mind shifts do happen. A person could be so frustrated that they didn’t have savings during a hard time that when things improve they CHOOSE to keep sacrifices going till they have a proper emergency savings. And possibly develope a lifestyle of frugality.
During hard times minimalist still find things to scale back on because the necessity dictates the need to do so. After the time of crisis if the the minimalist remaind scaled back it is was because they chose to still reflection of how they want to live their life.
My daughter moved in with us over a year ago due to illness and job loss. We took early retirement in 2002. While I ‘ve watched people shop for the current zombie apocalypse, I have been grateful that we have cell phones and computers. We have a few bars of soap. We have clothes and food. We have paper and pencils for word games. I filled three bags with clothes to give to Goodwill and three boxes with dishes and knick knacks we don’t need. My older son will bring food if we need it. My younger son visited ten days ago with his wife.
Polly O'Neill says
Due to unforeseen circumstances, I have moved into tiny retirement housing. I now have half the space I had before, which wasn’t huge, and consequently have been forced to ‘get rid of’ a lot of furniture and clothing. On the one hand it’s been liberating, but admittedly a bit of a shock to the system. I’m just going to have to adjust…
After the crash in 2008, I had a frank talk with my husband about our spending habits. When we relocated to this small town and house, it was my chance to work on HIS mindset about money, stuff and turning your back on other’s opinions of your lifestyle because that’s what was holding him back. It was a discussion with his father that helped him move forward. “Do whatever you need to do to keep your family ahead, not behind”. Then he came to me and asked, “How do I do this?”
BASEMENT! It was a nightmare.
Danielle Wurth says
Great article and perspective shared! For our family, the extra time at home has motivated us to engage in some DIY house projects and that needed to be buttoned up regardless. As we moved into this “new normal” it has helped me focus on creating organized systems that will impact our family the GREATEST for the long term. THIS what is so great about minimizing and organizing…it truly IS an area we HAVE CONTROL OVER so motivates our family daily to pursue it all the same!
ELOISE M GELNER says
Great article, thank you for writing and sharing.
Bonnie Hubbard says
With the schools closed I sure am glad we hung onto all those toys we haven’t played with in awhile ?
This is so true. You are very wise. More people should realize this. i’m working on it.
I have lots and lots of things to donate and all the places I want to donate to are closed! So I’m having to hang onto my stuff for just a bit longer. I have most of it consolidated into one room so I can close the door and not have to look at it. It’s not stopping me, however, because I just keep finding more things to add to the donation pile.
Diann Carnahan says
Thank you for each of your blogs and email. I receive inspiration and information you share. You motivate me through your thoughts and ideas that results in a better me and environment in our home. I also let go of “things” that others can use and may need!! I cannot say enough about your positive attitude and leadership.
Thank you Joshua!!!! Bless you and your family!!!!
Carrie Doty says
I started my slow journey into minimalism last fall. I was following a few Websites (including yours) to understand what a minimalist actually was and where to start.
I really began living with “more” after I read your post “How to Reset Your Life” via a shoutout & link on Quilter, Sherry McConnell’s Blog “A Quilting Life” one Saturday Morning. Your great article changed my whole life for the better! I not only continued to Declutter, I spend only what I really need to. I also made several other positive changes in my life.
My only hope is that people will learn from this.
Thank you Joshua.
There is opportunity in adversity. We can stay glued to our TV’s in fear, or we can take action. We can reevaluate what’s important. Declutter our lives, focus more on loved ones, and reinvest in our passions. Thanks for another thoughtful post!
Spot on! ??
Debbie M. says
This is such a beautifully written and thoughtful article. I know I will be referring to it often to help me focus on what truly matters. I too want to thank you for the work you are doing – it is making such a positive impact in this world.
Great perspective. I’m a home health nurse so I’m still working. I have been a minimalist for a long time but just didn’t know there was a term for it. I’m also extremely introverted so this stay at home thing is how I live anyway. Just now if I have to go to the store I’m wearing a mask. What has changed is I’m a single parent and my twin 17yr old boys are out of school and home for God knows how long. I really love it. I am enjoying the time with them. I hope that parents take the time to really enjoy their kids that are at home during this time. That to me is a gift in a time of crisis.
My son too, is 17 and home. I am enjoying having him at home as well. Enjoy and stay safe!
Jill Pontiere says
Well, here we are, right in the middle of “less is best and more is a chore.” We were notified last week we need to move in 90 days! Our landlord is moving back into his house. We have had 5 glorious years here, gourmet kitchen, pool, small house but well laid out. I have had poetic license with the inside and the outside. I love gardening and put a lot of time and money into the landscape and inside. But I was enjoying it all for the past 5 years.
I’m actually excited, because I have been downsizing now for 11 years and it just gets better and better the more I give away my things that I really don’t need any longer. So freeing.
Love your blog and it has helped me many times to make decisions that are lasting and purposeful in learning to live with less and enjoy life more.
So, that being said, today I will walk the property and decide what stayed in the garden and what might go…..actually, I might just take my potted plants….leave the rest for the landlord!
Thanks for your thoughts and articles about a better and simpler life.
Kim Harris says
This post is so well written and so many truths to be gleaned from it. I wish I had this mindset 30 years ago when starting out life but the one thing I have discovered is that life only moves in one direction and that’s forward. Don’t look back at regret as you wouldn’t be the person you are today without experiencing everything you have gone through. Learn from it and make different choices moving forward and who know’s what joy and fulfilling life you have waiting for you. Change begins in the mind. Thank you Joshua for writing such insightful articles that are always challenging me and asking what do you want out of life? What is important to you? Reiterating that your Life does not consist of the stuff which you possess. Keep doing what you are doing. God bless.
Excellent observations, especially ‘life moves in only one direction, forward..’. Thank you.
A most excellent article. For years I’ve been voluntarily moving toward minimalizing, and I can proudly say kicking and screaming all the way—or at least doing so with a significant amount of frustration. I would never say that this is a ‘good’ thing coming out of the current crisis (no sane person could say there is anything good about this crisis), but I will say that this crisis has forced many of us to embrace a more focused lifestyle. Achieving goals that I previously intended, often without a lot of success, have now become crystal clear now. As I’m sure happened after the bombing of Pearl Harbor that led the United States entering World War II, the current crisis has forced many of us to reevaluate our priorities and zero in on what’s really important for each of us, and isn’t that part of what minimalism is all about anyway?
Tamara Jenkins says
I have changed during the nation’s distress. I am presently a minimalist and I continue to downsize. My quiet time will increase, such as spending time with nature, conversing with neighbors, chosing lifestyle changes concerning my health. These are the things I have focused on during this challenging time.
I have been reading your email posts for quite some time. I look around at my house and think, gosh if I only had time to clean up everything.
I’ve always had kind of a girl scout mentality. I hang onto things I keep them clean and organized but there’s a lot of things. I like to craft so I have projects, projects and projects.
This quarantine has given me the time to deal with all the extras that I no longer need in my life.
I for one am extremely grateful. Thanks for being there with us and encouraging us all the way through.
Eppie Bailey says
Thank you! This is beautiful and encouraging.
Cindy Helton says
Excellent article Joshua. Since retirement, living a minimalist lifestyle has been my goal, so thank you for the inspiration I’ve received from your blog. About this particular article, one thing in particular struck a cord: “we can only control ourselves..” Encourage – of course! But at the end of the day we EACH are either part of the problem, or part of the solution. Hopefully, more of us can fall into the latter group.
Amanda Frumkin says
While these are anxiety-provoking times, they do afford us the opportunity to reflect on what is important and what is unnecessary. I want the fear of illness to end for the world but I do hope that globally, we don’t automatically rush back to “normal.” My wish is for the world to live in a sustainable, compassionate manner. Thank you for your articles.
I intentionally live in a small house because I’m a single woman. A nurse at that. I’ve been working on paring down everything that I own for a while now, but being able to stay home for me has been a Godsend. It allows me to breathe, gives me the TIME to focus on what I CAN do. I’m grateful that the world has slowed down for a bit. I hope many others will take this opportunity to become empowered by what they can do for themselves AND for others around them.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this potentially life-changing thought provoking article
Telf AG says
This is the place to be here now. Many people lost their jobs and it’s good if there is a cash reserve