We all want to cut down in our lives, but cutting down means different things to different people. For Joshua Becker, it meant removing everything but the essentials, something he documents on his blog Becoming Minimalist. We spoke with him about minimalism, the challenges of applying it and the benefits of getting rid of the stuff you don't need.
What do you mean, precisely, by becoming minimalist?
At first, we defined minimalism in its simplest terms - the removal of nonessential possessions. We had grown tired of all the effort and energy being spent taking care of our things. And we realized there were more important things we could be pursuing with our lives.
But we soon discovered minimalism looks different for every person. Each of us are unique people with unique callings and purposes and world views. Similarly, "necessary" possessions will be defined differently from person to person. Ultimately, minimalism forces us to identify our values and articulate the most important things in our lives. You can't decide what possessions to remove until you decide what you want to accomplish with your life.
Our definition changed. We began to define minimalism as the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.
It started with possessions but was soon applied to other things: schedules, commitments, finances, even our habits.
What are some problems with owning too much stuff that we might not notice?
Everything we own takes up physical space in our home and takes up mental space in our mind. Often, the problem is we don't realize how much of our attention and focus is being held captive by them.
Everything we own adds a little piece of stress and anxiety into our lives. Each increased possession adds increased worry. Every possession adds burden to our lives: one more thing to clean and organize and store and repair and replace - one more loss of freedom. Possessions steal our time, our money and our energy - the very things we wish we had more of.
Even worse, mindless consumption steals our happiness. The joy found in physical possessions is very short-lived. They bring joy at first, but the pleasure quickly begins to fade. And soon, not only are our things not bringing happiness into our lives, they are distracting us from the very things that do!
How do you sort what's essential from what's not?
There are countless things in our homes that we know are not essential. They can be thought of clearly: clothes that don't fit, games we don't play, dishes we don't use, movies we never watch. These are the easy things. And I always encourage people to start there. Begin by removing the things you know you don't need.
But then, to sort out what is truly essential from what is not, try some experiments around your home. For example, try Project 333, an experiment of wearing only 33 articles of clothing for 3 months. You may be surprised how much you enjoy a sparse closet filled with only clothes you love. Live with just one television for 60 days. Put half your kitchen tools and gadgets into a box for the next 45 days. See how it goes. You've got nothing to lose.
Were there challenges you didn't expect from choosing to become minimalist?
I found the journey towards minimalism to be much more inward that I imagined. As we began clearing our house of unneeded stuff, the first minivan load to Goodwill felt great. So did the second. And even the third. But by the time we took our fourth minivan load of things to Goodwill, we started asking ourselves some really difficult questions. Questions like:
- Why did we buy all this stuff in the first place?
- Was I trying to fill a void in my life with purchases?
- Was I trying to impress other people with my things?
- Did I struggle with jealousy and envy more than I thought?
The process of minimizing our possessions brought about more soul-searching than I ever expected. It was hard, but healthy.
Does technology make minimalism easier or harder?
Technology makes minimalism much easier. In fact, technology has contributed significantly to the recent growth of minimalist living and interest. Think of all the physical things our technology can replace: books, movies, music, maps, credit cards, budgeting tools. Our computers represent outstanding potential.
Not only does technology provide the opportunity for minimalism, it also provides motivation for it. Our workplaces and our lives are becoming more mobile than ever before. People aren't settling down to live 30-40 years in the same town anymore. Owning less provides freedom to move about and explore.
There is certainly a danger in chasing the newest technology just for the sake of chasing it. But for the most part, it has made minimalism easier for most.
How have people reacted to the minimal lifestyle you lead? Have perceptions changed since you made the decision?
Honestly, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who have told me I am wrong about this. Of course, that doesn't mean every person leaves our conversation and decides to downsize their home. But we've reached a tipping point in our society. We own too much stuff. And most of us know it.