In sociology, a tipping point is “a point in time when a group—or a large number of group members—rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice.” In some circles, it represents the percentage required to change the direction or behavior of a crowd.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a New York Times bestseller on this entire premise, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.
According to Gladwell, the percentage required to change the direction of a crowd is usually much smaller than most of us assume and the notion of tipping points can be used to explain why change often happens quickly and unexpectedly.
In the same way as a virus can spread rapidly through a population, so too can behavioural change, particularly within a group. For instance, a small action by one individual within a crowd can influence the actions of other individuals within the crowd, and so on, until the behaviour becomes widespread. Thus, small, initial changes have the potential to make significant differences overall.
One of the best examples of how a small action can influence the behavior of an entire crowd is this famous YouTube video of one person who single-handedly sparked an entire dance party among strangers. It’s short and pretty good.
Tipping points can often be much smaller than we realize. Some have even made the claim that it takes only 6% to change the entire direction of a crowd (though that statistic appears unsubstantitated by any legitimate research).
In reality, the actual percentage required to change the direction of a crowd is based on any number of significant factors: the change agents involved (how persuasive and reputable are those attempting to change the direction), the focus/intent of the crowd (a meandering protest is easier to persuade than a focused crowd heading to a specific location) and the substance of the change (drawing attention to the need for a hasty evacuation, for example).
But the point is, a small action by one individual within a crowd can often influence the actions of others within the crowd—which holds the potential to influence even more, potentially to the level of reaching a tipping point for the entire crowd. And I think that is important to realize.
I often wonder to myself if minimalism could ever reach the size of critical mass in society. Could the number of people intentionally owning less ever grow to the level of tipping point that causes others to rapidly and dramatically change their behavior even though it is a previously rare practice?
My hope is yes.
This website and others like it continue to grow. Stories get covered. Books are being written. New websites continue to emerge. And films are being made.
Even so, despite the growth, there is significant work to be done. Last month, over 1 million readers visited Becoming Minimalist and the Facebook group has grown to 2,500,000 people with a weekly reach over 15 million. Those are impressive numbers. But still, to reach even a 6% threshold, in America alone we would need 20 million readers… and that’s still a bit off (plus, there is no assurance that percentage would even have the desired impact).
Which got me wondering… maybe I’m focusing on the wrong crowd.
Maybe the question shouldn’t be, “How can we change an entire society?”
Maybe the question should be, “How can I first change my family or my friendship group?” Because, in these cases, the tipping point is more attainable and entirely possible.
Think of it this way, based on the principle of the tipping point, no matter what positive influence you are hoping to have, you don’t need to convince everyone, you begin by convincing one other person.
If your desire is to get your family to eat healthier, you don’t need to convince every member of your family to make the change. You just need to convince one family member. If you have a family of four, and two of them are asking for more vegetables and less processed food around the dinner table, your family is going to begin serving healthier meals.
If you want to see your friends engage in a healthier lifestyle, you don’t need to convince all of them to start going to the gym with you. Instead, just convince one person. When you two begin spending time at the gym in the evenings, there is a good chance one other will choose to join you. And when they do, the others might choose to come along as well. A tipping point has been reached.
If your desire is minimalist (or even clutterfree) living, but you cannot get your partner to align with your desire. Rather than forcing him/her to come along, gently encourage other family members to embrace the lifestyle. Sell your son or daughter on the benefits. Because when two people in the family desire a clutterfree environment, there is a good chance the environment will begin to change.
If you want to inspire people to change, you don’t need a microphone. You only need a conversation. (tweet that)
Allow your example and your story to change the habits of one person. In so doing, your small action within a crowd can influence the actions of other individuals within the crowd. Their action can influence others. And a tipping point within your circle of influence can be reached.
And maybe then, as more and more circles of people embrace minimalist living, a tipping point in our society can be attained.
Rose marie says
Exceptionally fascinating point Laura Beth! I ponder that too about the separation rate. That our general public’s mindset of always upsizing and redesigning everything may move over to our attitude on connections also.
Neha Sharma says
You would love Shoeless Joe’s late video on his youtube channel where he transforms a birthday with his cousins into a cleaning up gathering. Invigorating!
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I don’t talk about minimalism to people, I just live by example as best I can.
Once you start talking about being a “minimalist” people tend to think you drank some strange cult Kool-Aid.
I never say “I am a minimalist,” I just say I like simplicity and empty spaces and the old “less is more.” And sometimes if I am with someone with whom I am close I’ll say “You don’t need that crap.” LOL.
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“Greate”How to Use the Principle “Similarly as an infection can spread quickly through a populace, so also can behavioral change, especially inside of a gathering. For example, a little activity by one individual inside of a group can impact the activities of different people inside of the group, et cetera, until the conduct gets to be across the board. Subsequently, little, beginning changes can possibly make huge contrasts generally.
“Greate” “How to Use the Principle of the Tipping Point”As indicated by Gladwell, the rate required to alter the course of a group is generally much littler than the greater part of us expect and the idea of tipping focuses can be utilized to clarify why change regularly happens rapidly and surprisingly.
Marie Pierce says
In the wake of scaling down by 85%, we have turned out to be genuine supporters of moderation. For the current week I will be doing a workshop on Marie Kondo’s book and helping more individuals carefully shed assets!
Great “Incredible article.,really touching one.alike generally happening and touched circumstance in my life itself.thank for the tips what u were talked about here.Luvs to be here..
I’m having difficulty persuading my hubby to let go of his “excess” pair of shoes and practically almost everything he owns (tools, clothes).
But I have influenced our eldest son easily. ?
And just recently my hubby finally agreed to let go of a few of his stuff. I’d say it’s a good start!
I first learned about minimalism just late last year when I read one of your articles. But I have always hated clutter! I feel blessed because minimalism has actually led me to fuller life! I’m eating healthy. I’ve adapted a healthier lifestyle. I’ve cut my TV addiction. I’ve strengthened my relationship with my few friends and shun relationships that aren’t helping me nor cultivating my life. I’m seeing greatness in the ordinary! Man has this minimalism thing done a lot to my life in such short time!
Thanks Joshua! Keep on inspiring people!
Stacey Castor says
After downsizing by 85%, we have become true advocates of minimalism. This week I will be doing a workshop on Marie Kondo’s book and helping more people mindfully shed belongings!
I love this! And it’s a principle I live by. Change begins with Me. Then I influence one more. And then we can each influence one more. And slowly, on and on, things begin to grow.
I’m starting with the man in the mirror! :)
whoaaa I instantly feel so much more powerful hahaha
Holly Dominguez says
Joshua, I love that you shared this concept with us! I am a firm believer in “Lead By Example”. You do that beautifully, which is why I get my regular dose of inspiration from you.
Speaking of inspiration, when embarking on minimalism and imagining a new lifestyle, I went to Pinterest to visually get an idea of what “minimalism” looked like. When I began my journey in February 2012, there were like 6 Pinterest boards on minimalism. I just did a board search, and was surprised to find 1,000 boards (that’s all Pinterest will show) for each keyword, “Minimalism” and “Minimalist”. Didn’t matter to me whether the boards were on fashion, lifestyle, architecture, graphic design, or whatever. The concept of minimalism has been planted inside people’s heads, but more importantly, it’s the early adopters who are creatively sharing their concepts of minimalism. Is the tide turning? Slowly, but surely!
Great article.,really touching one.alike mostly happening and touched situation in my life itself.thank for the tips what u were discussed here.Luv to be here..
John P. Weiss says
The success of Marie Kondo’s book and websites like yours seem to reflect a yearning for people to find meaning. Acquiring stuff brings fleeting joy, mostly. I don’t know if minimalism will reach a tipping point some day, but it does offer solace for folks weary of the rat race. Thinkers like you, Joshua, and theminimalists.com inspired me to write some articles about the power of simplicity and “less is more.” Thanks for another thoughtful post.
Ian Carlo says
Thanks for sharing Joshua.
I am from the Philippines and has started to adapt minimalism after reading your blog and has documented my learning in theminimalistmoney.com.
What I found out though is every-time I share something about minimalism, I only get a few views while if it is about money, i get more.
This just shows that there is always room for minimalism to grow until we reach that tipping point. I will be with you all the way and hope I could share your knowledge on this side of the world.
Thanks again. You are an inspiration.
Hi Joshua! Thank you for another wonderful sharing.
Hi Ian Carlo! It’s nice to know there’s also someone from the Philippines who’s been inspired in becoming a minimalist. I have been following Joshua’s blog for more than 2 yrs now and have been greatly inspired by his stories and those of his guest contributors.
In those years, I’ve purged a lot and have done lots and lots of decluttering, garage and online sales, and donating. I must say such experiences of detaching and giving away have been quite liberating. In my journey, however, I’ve encountered lots of bumps down the road as I would realize sooner or later that more stuff have just crept in slowly in our home. It’s a never ending process but I must say that I am hopeful and it’s really good to know that I have finally found a kababayan who also appreciates such a choice or lifestyle if I must say so.
Good luck on both your blogs :)
I really like this way of thinking about positive action. There is a power in simply doing what you believe is right, even if it is different than what the crowd is doing. “Speak your truth quietly and clearly”, as Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said. When you think of it that way, your actions don’t feel hopeless – like “what is the point?” – because that lonely action itself, that example, is where the base for the tipping point emerges, and it creates momentum that might help reach it. Thanks for the post, Joshua.
Black Friday sales are expected to increase by 2 1/2 percent from last year. I can’t understand why. I just don’t get it. How can people shop so much?! ;(
Naomi Alexander says
“We used to build civilisations, now we build shopping malls.”
I agree with your idea of a tipping point being much more personal. Interesting that Suzie would bring up some saints. There is a concept in Catholic social teaching called Subsidiarity. The idea is, those closest to a problem are the ones with the most knowledge, and means to fix it. Our lives live outwards in concentric circles with family first, friends, church, city, state, nation etc. In living this way, we focus our attentions on those we have the greatest influence with and love for. Not a bad way to spend our time.
Naomi Alexander says
Very interesting to read this which links in with something I just wrote about consumerism and ‘herd-mentality’. We rarely educate ourselves on which products or experiences make us happy as individuals (not everyone likes foreign holidays or theme parks).
Yes, we should spend less money (and be more minimalist) but wouldn’t it be nice if the ‘consuming’ we had to do actually resulted in ‘making us happy’ ?! http://www.slendermeans.co.uk/general/consumerism/
I love how we can influence others by the way we live. It starts small until it takes imaginable proportions.
I love this blog! By any chance, do you read the comments on old, old blog posts … like say 11/18/08?
Another great blog – thanks Joshua. I agree to start where you are right now – and influence the people closest to you. I love the ideas in some of these comments and the clear impact they’re having. Becoming minimalist is certainly gaining momentum in Melbourne, Australia. Although I sometimes wonder whether it feels that way because I’ve reached a certain lifestage (at 38 years old, are people in my age group more receptive to it?). But then I see blogs from 20-somethings and I get all hopeful again!
Lizzie Hough says
Just a note of humor….listen to Alice’s Restaurant to hear how movements can start easily!
Interesting post, Joshua. “Allow your example and your story to change the habits of one person.” This especially resonated with me. The thing I found interesting though about the video was that it took a little while for the others to join in. At first it was just one, then the two. It took a little more time before the third person joined, then the others. This whole thing made me think of two people, one very recent. Pope Francis and Mother Theresa (yes I am Catholic). Both were doing good works of faith long before people started to really notice. I love the quote from St. Francis of Assisi; “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” I guess the point I am trying to make is summed up as persistence. Thanks for the reminder.
Christina @ Embracing Simple says
So much truth in this Joshua! Especially this part –> “If you want to inspire people to change, you don’t need a microphone. You only need a conversation.”
Those one-on-one conversations are so much more effective than getting on a soap box in front of a big crowd.
I was just thinking the other day how lovely it would be if simplifying/minimalism were much more mainstream than they are. I think we are definitely getting closer though! One person at a time, right? :)
Very thought-provoking. And…funny! I read:
>>If your desire is minimalist (or even clutterfree) living, but you cannot get your partner to align with your desire. Rather than forcing him/her to come along, gently encourage other family members to embrace the lifestyle. Sell your son or daughter…
And thought, wow, that’s pretty radical, I don’t think I could sell my son or daughter for money, no matter how much they might irritate me. LOL! Good to know I misread the sentence. ;-)
When I am waiting on a customer…they often say, “How do you make any money!?!? Your entire paycheck must come right back to the store!!!” I tell them that I have more than enough at home and there is no reason to shop more. Judging from the amount of sales and people in my store everyday, I doubt if it hits home. But I hope I get people thinking…really—how much can one person shop? @@
Lizzie Hough says
I used to work in an Overstock/damaged good resale shop and also a clothing consignment store. Always got the same question. Thing was, I could enjoy the products, seeing them, feeling the textures and such and then leave and never have to clean, store, organize or otherwise care for those same products. That is why I enjoyed working in such stores… If something came through that could actually benefit or simplify my life, then I could purchase it, usually at a discount because I worked there. It was perfect and the $$ was good, too.
Dear Joshua, you are not influencing just americans, since English became international language, there are many more people you are influencing. I am from Czech republic and I have been following you for many months and i read all your books (except of the one about kids, because i dont have kids).
I love the way you write and you are a huge inspiration for me. After I started becoming minimalist and I started to talk about it with my friends, they became interested as well. And i see that minimalism is slowly becaming a trend here too.
It is true that many people will never understand what is so amazing about living simple live (like my mum that totally doesnt understand why me and my husband live in a tiny appartement and why we dont have and dont want a car). But i believe that many people will understand it and will follow this way.especialy people in my generation.
Example of tipping point – my son was at a large event this summer, he asked 2 of his friends to stand behind him and watch what would happen. Before long they had others standing behind them in single file. There was nothing to stand in line for! A trolly went by the tent that they had started this in so he said lets get on the trolly, people followed. When the trolly returned them back to the tent, there was still a line of people, single file. He’s 24.
Grace B says
I love the idea of a minimalist lifestyle and I’m moving towards it myself but what happens to the economy if it really does become mainstream? The whole of the developed world relies on economic growth to keep functioning, if we all don’t keep on spending and buying more and more stuff it could lead to a global recession, with all the attendant unemployment and hardship. Less consumerism would doubtless be good for the planet in the long term but the process could be very painful. Does anyone else worry about this?
Bruce N says
I thought the same thing about the economy as I was reading the article. Then again, there are many forces (marketing and media) that will make sure the tipping point to a minimalist society doesn’t happen. If minimalism does grow, companies will find a way to exploit it so that it costs the same to be a minimalist as it does to be a consumerist. If you really think about it, they already are.
TV shows like Tiny House Nation are examples of a consumerist exploitation of minimalism. The tiny house idea is pretty cool. But doing a luxury version of it that costs $300K is a bit ridiculous and ironic.
There are articles everywhere about this argument against minimalism. You can google it or maybe Joshua can give you a link or two. As a minimalist you still consume. You need food, and clothes, and shelter, stuff from the hardware store to fix your shelter, gifts, etc, etc. If everyone still consumes but WITHIN or BELOW their means the world will still go ’round. No one is suggesting to stop buying stuff all together, but to focus only on the necessary.
Naomi Alexander says
Something will replace Capitalism in the very near future and then we won’t have to worry about ‘the economy’ as we are continually told to. There’s no point worrying about ‘the economy’ if there isn’t a planet left to sell stuff (or breathe) on.
Our economy relies heavily on “planned obsolescence” and it’s very sad and unfortunate. We buy stuff to replace outdated things, and we expect those cast offs to magically disappear. It’s not healthy to have unnecessary expiration dates for consumer goods, but it is great for marketers. The economy is based on supply and demand. Somehow the economy figured out how to stop selling typewriters (and all its necessities) and house intercoms, and neon leg warmers, and continue on. By the way…where did they all go?:-) If we don’t demand it, they won’t have a reason to supply it.
As a side note, we do not mindlessly spend our earnings on consumer goods like we used to. I still feed and clothe and house my family, but we just have a “crapton” of cash freed up to spend on experiences and charity. We still spend money, but the focus has changed.
I will save the economy because the wat it goes now is base on exploitation and not creation. Our system is destryctuve and int benefits a few. In fact fir the majority it is a standstill. Minimalism could lead to exciting progress, miving away frim producing waste tiwa ds oriducing value. It also create a positive investment climate.
Val D says
It’s true! Small changes can bring big change.
My son wanted a birthday party, but I dreaded the gifts. The compromise: we said yes to the party, but the party was his gift from us and we asked his friends not to bring gifts. If someone was uncomfortable with that, they could bring canned goods for the local food pantry or a toy for Toys For Tots.
The following year his friends had parties and asked that no one bring gifts. As parents, we love that our kids care more about spending time with friends and family than gifts! It also helped us move a little counter-cultural as a group. One friend even said it was a relief for her not to have to try to find a gift that he didn’t have and would like.
Now if only we could get aunts, uncles and grandparents on board! ?
This is so true. It was only when I entered a friend’s home whose environment was clean, bright, and airy that I realized I was so attracted to a clutter-free home. And even interacting with people who would say “No, I really need to just be home with my family that night. Maybe next time” was freeing to me as an individual! Personal change speaks volumes.
Sue Ellen Riese says
My husband is a hard sell when it comes to a clutter free lifestyle–because of the amount and the spend of my uncluttering he thought I was going to leave him! Happy wife; happy life!
Sue Ellen Riese says
Interesting article! I like the ambition! I have a few friends on the minimalist journey and I am definitely interested in their pursuits. It seems rather exhilarating and a wonderful way to connect back to earth with the hustle and buzz of life. Lovely article.
I love this! I’m new to minimalism, just started my journey in April. It took a few months to get my husband and family on board, but the more I purged, the better everyone felt in the house. Now my husband even talks to people about minimalism and we are seeing this tipping point in action over the last few months in our friendship group.
I talk to friends, coworkers, soccer moms… It seems like this is a subject that everyone is interested in when I bring it up! Thanks for the great articles on your blog!
Svetlana Holt says
Great post! I totally agree – changing the word is a daunting task but influencing/changing something within our families and/or friend group is a lot more achievable and still can make a huge impact! I talked about a sociological concept on my blog today too – small world (and I just can’t get enough of it). – Svetlana @Life With a Side of Wine
I was given the suggestion that minimalism in the UK was a bit of a backwater subject. That we’re way behind in terms of our US counterparts. It will never catch on I was told. Yet here I am having contributed to another interview on the subject. When I talk to people they no longer look at me blankly and are starting to understand the minimalist concepts.
I agree the tipping point may be some way off yet, but its coming for sure. As Laura Beth suggests, its a cultural change, and they rarely happen overnight, but that shouldn’t stop us writing about the benefits and influencing the few, and the few more each time.
Its more a matter of when, rather than if we reach the tipping point.
I’ve been trying to find more about minimalist people in the UK but but seems that most blogs are based in the US. If you have a link to your interview, it would be great to read it. Thanks.
There are several blogs based in the UK (mine included) and The Minimalists have set up meet ups in about 10 UK cities. The Leeds one is particularly active and a great bunch. I particularly like Chris’ blog and the London minimalists :-)
I’ve just added a list of UK based blogs that I read to my site so they may be your cup of tea :-)
You would love Shoeless Joe’s recent video on his youtube channel where he turns a birthday with his cousins into a decluttering party. Life-affirming!
joshua becker says
Got a link for us?
Dianne Ness says
This one maybe?? Thanks for your articles Joshua–enjoy them so much–makes me think twice about a lot of things :)
Laura Beth says
Very interesting article Joshua. We may never know if minimalism could reach critical mass in society but we can confidently say that, based on the growing number of stories, websites, and interest, there is a possibility it may no longer be considered counter-cultural at some point in the future.
I often wonder if our consumerist cultue isn’t corelated with the divorce rate in this country.
Thanks for your post.
Christina @ Embracing Simple says
Very interesting point Laura Beth! I wonder that too about the divorce rate. That our society’s mentality of constantly upsizing and upgrading everything might be transitioning over to our mentality on relationships as well.