One of my favorite books on the concept of minimalism is “The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own” by Joshua Becker. Joshua and his family have a fascinating story. On a Saturday in 2008, he and his wife decided that it would be a good day to clean out their garage. Like many Americans, their garage was packed full of stuff.
Their son Salem, who was 5 years old at the time, wasn’t excited about the prospect of helping, so he asked his father to play with him. Joshua promised he would play after he had finished, but after several hours, it was obvious that the job would take all day. An elderly neighbor stopped by to chat, and their conversation about owning too much stuff completely changed the family’s life.
The neighbor explained, “Yeah, that’s why my daughter is a minimalist. She keeps telling me I don’t need to own all this stuff.”
Joshua looked around at all of the possessions he had dragged out of the garage, noticed his son in the back yard still playing by himself, and he had a revelation. “But in that moment, as I surveyed the pile of stuff in my driveway, another realization came to me: Not only are my possessions not bringing happiness into my life; even worse, they are actually distracting me from the things that do!” He ran upstairs to talk to his wife, and the rest, as they say, is history. A minimalist family was born.
What do you think of when you hear the word minimalism? Before reading this book, the word minimalism brought to mind bare white walls, tiny houses, and young tree huggers. I sure had a lot to learn. Minimalism, says Joshua Becker, is “the intentional promotion of the things we value and the removal of anything that distracts us from them.”
Only when we get rid of what is distracting us can we really focus on what is most important. This is a message that is desperately needed in our society, where we are increasingly encouraged to own more and to do more. Our homes are filled with stuff, our calendars are filled with activities, and none of it makes us happy.
Our overconsumption has cost us in so many ways, and not just financially. In my work as a professional organizer, I see the consequences of this every day. Many of us long for a simpler life free from the distraction of our stuff, but we don’t know how to achieve it. We are overwhelmed, and we feel trapped in our current way of life. But deep down, we believe that on the other side of a change, there might be a huge payoff: more time and energy, more money, more freedom, less stress, more generosity, and less distraction. But how do we even go about making such a change?
Becker’s book is filled with examples of people along with himself who have taken practical steps to make a change. Some of the examples are extreme: a woman who gave up almost every possession in order to travel the world, another who got rid of 1,000 items from her home, a man who packed every single thing he owned in boxes and only took out what he needed. But for every story like this, there is another story of someone who made small, incremental changes that reaped huge dividends.
I particularly love Becker’s chapter called “Experiments in Living with Less.” Like a trial period of a medication, a small change for a limited period of time is a great way to try out the minimalist philosophy to see whether the benefits are worth the effort. The basic formula for Joshua’s experiments is to live without particular possessions for a limited amount of time, and then to decide if you can do without them. A few examples from Becker’s own family include cable TV, smartphones, fewer clothes, eating out, using the dishwasher, some artwork, and some furniture.
The key concept is finding enough. As Patrick Rhone states in his book titled “Enough.”
“Enough comes from trying things out. It comes from challenging your preconceptions. It comes from having less, trying more, then reducing to find out what is just right. It comes from letting go of your fear of less. It comes from letting go of the false security of more.”
Many of us have been blessed to have never lived with too little. That perfect balance of not too much and not too little may be difficult to find, but it is completely worth it. How many shoes is enough? How many outfits is enough? How many activities?
One way to experiment with finding this balance is what Joshua calls leveling. In a nutshell, it’s the practice of storing some excess things temporarily while deciding whether they are truly needed. It gives time to make a decision about possessions before taking that final step to remove them permanently. At the end of some predetermined span of time, you can re-evaluate those items. In most cases, they won’t really be missed, and getting rid of them will be an easy decision.
If you decide to try this, I highly recommend marking the containers with a date on which you will re-evaluate the contents. I would almost be willing to bet that you’ll forget about them. I often work with clients who have moved boxes several times without opening them. If it’s been years since you moved and that box hasn’t been opened, it should be pretty easy to let those contents go.
Letting go of clutter not only makes your space look better and function better, it frees you up to focus on what truly matters. Clutter’s effects root deeply into our lives, affecting not just our physical surroundings, but also our minds and our souls. You can find inspiration from the Bible and practical tips for letting go in my book, “Unholy Mess: What the Bible Says about Clutter.”
It is my earnest hope that these thoughts will inspire you to consider whether it’s time for you to make a change. Even a life-changing transformation can start with one small step. Read the book, reflect on its principles, and make a decision to let go of anything that distracts you from your purpose.