In this episode we’re continuing our recurring “Productive Reading” series, this time talking about my key takeaways from The Minimalist Home, by Joshua Becker.
Living the minimalist lifestyle in your home
This week we are continuing our Productive Reading recurring series. In Episode 133, we talked about lessons from Gary Keller’s The ONE Thing. In Episode 147, we talked about lessons learned from The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. In Episode 166, we discussed 3 books written by Brené Brown, in Episode 182, Soulful Simplicity, by Courtney Carver, Episode 211, The Free-Time Formula by Jeff Sanders, Episode 230, Atomic Habits, by James Clear, Episode 250, Free to Focus, by Michael Hyatt, and Episode 271, Attention Management, by Maura Nevel Thomas. This time we’re talking about another book with a little bit different focus, as I’m sharing some of my most important takeaways from The Minimalist Home, by Joshua Becker. (Unless otherwise noted, each quote below comes from the book.)
Who is Joshua Becker?
From the back cover copy:
“Joshua Becker is the founder and editor of Becoming Minimalist, a website that inspires over one million readers each month to find more life by owning less. He is also the cofounder of the popular online magazine Simplify and the best-selling author of several books, including The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own. Joshua is a contributing writer to Forbes and has made media appearances in the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and the CBS Evening News. Joshua and his young family live in Peoria, Arizona. He and his wife, Kim, are the founders of the Hope Effect, a nonprofit organization that helps orphans around the world.”
Why did I read this book?
I’ve been on a journey over the past couple of years to make more space in my life by reducing the amount of stuff I own, so when I saw this book the title appealed to me. We as a society, especially in the U.S., have become so consumer-oriented, so obsessed with stuff, at a tremendous cost in dollars, time, and peace. A few statistics quoted in the book give food for thought:
- “Americans spend $1.2 trillion annually on nonessential goods.”
- “The United States has more than fifty thousand storage facilities–more than the number of Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Subway restaurants combined.”
- “The home organization industry–benefitting from our desperation to try to manage all our stuff–earned retail sales of $16 billion in 2016 and is growing at 4 percent per year.”
- “Over the course of an average lifetime, because of all the clutter we live in, we will spend 3,680 hours, or 153 days, searching for misplaced items. Phones, keys, sunglasses, and paperwork top the list.”
Joshua’s suggestions for minimalizing your home
The first part of the book goes through Joshua’s approach and the reasons for it, along with some encouragement that you can accomplish this. The main part of the book goes through the rooms one by one, offering helpful tips, encouraging “testimonials” from people who’ve been through this process, and a step-by-step process for minimizing that specific room:
- His approach starts with the living/family room, inviting you to think about what you want out of the public/gathering spaces in your home.
- Next moves to bedrooms and guest rooms, again thinking about your purpose for those rooms, with specific suggestions for kids’ bedrooms.
- Then to clothes closets and mudroom
- Then bathrooms and laundry room
- Then to the kitchen and dining room, which he calls the heart of the home. That chapter has some thought-provoking ideas about hospitality.
- Then the home office, including a helpful chart outlining what kinds of paper should be kept and for how long.
- Then storage and hobby areas and the toy room
- Finally, the garage and yard.
Each room’s chapter ends with a simple checklist to help you in evaluating when you’ve optimized that room.
He wraps up the book with a section about maintaining minimalism, including helpful suggested daily, weekly, monthly maintenance lists, and a section on possible next steps, including a discussion of downsizing your home.
Key takeaways and quotes
1. If we are dissatisfied with our homes, redecorating might not be the answer.
“What if the problem isn’t that we don’t own enough stuff or aren’t managing our stuff well enough? What if the problem is that we’re living in the homes that advertisers and retailers want us to have instead of the homes that deep down we really want and need?”
“[By] getting rid of the excess stuff in every room, you can transform your home so that you feel not only free from the stress of so much clutter around you but also free to live a life focused on what you want to do with your limited years on this planet.” [pg. 4]
“Give yourself the house you’ve always wished you had. You’ve already got it! It’s hidden underneath all your stuff.” [pg. 11]
2. Minimalism isn’t about living in a sterile home with bare white walls, little furniture, and only one plate, bowl, and spoon for each person.
“Minimalism isn’t about removing things you love. It’s about removing the things that distract you from the things you love.” [pg. 7]
“Creating a minimalist home doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your favorite design style–or even your ‘no-design style’ or ‘frugal living style’–to accomplish it. . . . What’s widely known as minimalism in architecture and interior decoration today is fine as a design style, if you happen to like it, but that’s not at all what I’m talking about here. I’m promoting an approach to owning less that you can take regardless of the style of your home. It’s not about making an artistic statement or glorifying emptiness. Instead, it’s about transforming your home so you can transform your life.” [pg. 9]
“. . . minimizing is actually optimizing–reducing the number of your possessions until you get to the best possible level for you and your family. It’s individual, freeing, and life promoting. It’s a makeover that you can do on your own, in your current house, just by getting rid of stuff.”
3. The benefits of a minimalist home [pgs. 12-13]:
It’s a better place to come home to.
“Without all the clutter, you’ll find that your home is more relaxing and less stressful. With fewer things competing for your attention, you’ll appreciate more and make better use of what you have. You’ll be able to focus more on the people and activities in the home that bring you joy.”
It’s a better place to go out from.
“After you minimize, you’ll be buying less stuff and spending less on repairs and maintenance, leaving you with more cash in your bank account . . . that you can use for other purposes. Even more important, because you’ll be spending less time and energy cleaning, organizing, and taking care of your possessions, you’ll have more time and energy left over for dreaming and planning for the future. With these extra resources, you’ll be better prepared to go out into the world, whether it’s for a day’s work, an evening’s entertainment, or a life-changing adventure.”
4. The Becker Method [pgs. 18-19]:
The Becker Method is a purposeful approach to going through your home methodically. Try to make it a family project, if you live with family members.
“Have goals for your home and your life in mind as you start minimizing.”
- Start minimizing with easier spaces in the home and move on to harder ones.
- Handle each object and ask yourself, “Do I need this?” [note the similarity with the Marie Kondo approach, but the difference here from the Marie Kondo question: Does this spark joy?]
- For each object, decide if you’re going to relocate it within the home, leave it where it is, or remove it. If you’re going to remove it, decide if you’re going to sell it, donate it, trash it, or recycle it.
- Finish each space completely before proceeding to the next. [Again, a different approach from Marie Kondo, who focuses on categories of things and gathering them from every space; while I can see the value of her approach, this one feels better to me–only one space is disrupted at a time]
- Don’t quit until the whole house is done.
- As much as you can, have fun with the process. Notice and articulate the benefits that appear along the way. And celebrate your successes.
- When you’re done, revisit and revise your goals, aiming to make the most of your newly minimized home and newly optimized life.
5. Be purposeful and intentional about it. What results do you want for your home and your life?
“. . . your home has purposes, each room in the home has purposes, and the possessions in those rooms should serve those purposes.”
- How do you want to feel–and want others to feel–in each room of your home?
- What do you want to use your home for?
- What would you like to do with the time you now spend shopping, organizing, cleaning, maintaining?
6. The mindset behind the stuff we keep-and why he suggests asking the question, “Do I need this?”
“In psychological theory, the endowment effect is our tendency to consider an object more important than it really is simply because we own it. This explains why it’s so hard for us to get rid of our stuff. It’s ours! Reflexively, we want to hold on to it. And so we have to deliberately disendow our possessions of the false value we have assigned them. The question Do I need this? helps us cut through the irrationalism of our excess accumulation.”
Note that the question isn’t just about “need” in the bare sense of physical survival.
“What we’re talking about is realizing our fullest potential. It’s about the pursuit of high-level goals. So when we ask, Do I need this? we’re actually asking, Does this help me achieve my purpose or hinder me in that pursuit? . . . Remember that, to be necessary for our personal potential, an object doesn’t always have to be strictly utilitarian, such as a can opener you need because you’re going to have cans to open. Beauty is necessary to the human condition too.”
What’s necessary is a very individual evaluation, and it requires keeping that bigger picture in mind of who you want to be in the world, and what purpose you want your home to serve.
If you’re not sure about whether you need a particular item, he suggests that you “try doing without [it] for a set period of time.” He recommends 29 days; box it up, set it aside, and at the end of that period, “if you find yourself wishing you had the item because it would have come in handy or you otherwise missed it, then maybe you should keep it. On the other hand, if you find yourself getting along without it just fine, then go ahead and get rid of it.”
Some final thoughts
While my approach to minimalizing my home might be different from Becker’s (or yours), I really appreciate the thought that went into this book, and the food for thought it offers. As he reminds us:
“The goal of minimalism is not just to own less stuff. The goal is to unburden our lives so we can accomplish more. . . . We, as a society, waste so much time and energy and money accumulating material possessions that we don’t even realize how much good we could accomplish if we freed up those resources for better things.”
“. . . minimalism is a pathway to an end: a life of newly discovered passion, purpose, and margin in life to pursue the things that matter most.”
This is an inspiring book that challenges you to think deeply about your purposes in life, and how your home and the stuff in it either help or hinder you in fulfilling those purposes.
It’s also a very practical book that takes you through your home room by room, offering ideas and a new perspective on how you actually use the rooms and how getting rid of things you don’t love and use will make your home feel more like a home. I encourage you to read it and see if the approach he describes will help you transform your home, and how that might affect your life.
Another book on the same theme that I’ve recently bought and look forward to reading is Cozy Minimalist Home, by Myquillyn Smith (subtitled “More Style, Less Stuff,” and endorsed by Joshua Becker (author of this episode’s book) and Courtney Carver (guest on TPW169), author of Soulful Simplicity (our Productive Reading book from episode 182).
Another book to mention: Former TPW guest Heather Creekmore (episode 45) has a new book out called The Burden of Better (subtitle “How a Comparison-Free Life Leads to Joy, Peace, and Rest”). A faith-based book, here’s what the back-cover copy says:
“In an era of carefully curated social media images, nonstop selfies, and TV shows devoted to perfection, comparison can consume you. Chasing something better quickly becomes a burden, weighing down your soul and preventing you from experiencing the freedom, contentment, and rest that God generously offers.”
I haven’t yet read it, but the topic speaks to my struggle with comparing myself to others and finding myself wanting, so I’m looking forward to reading this over the holidays, and I thought you might be interested in it too.
What do you think?
Have you considered, or implemented, a minimalist approach in your home? OR what’s a productivity-related book you’ve read recently that you’d recommend?
Resources and Links
- The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker
- Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith
- The Burden of Better by Heather Creekmore
Previous “Productive Reading” books
- The ONE Thing by Gary Keller
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
- Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
- Rising Strong by Brene Brown
- Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
- Soulful Simplicity by Courtney Carver
- The Free-Time Formula by Jeff Sanders
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt
- Attention Management by Maura Nevel Thomas
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