Paring Back: The Power of Minimalism to Tidy Up Your Home and Your Finances

Have you decided that 2019 will be your year of decluttering, minimizing, and consuming less? If so, you’re not the only one. As Becoming Minimalist founder Joshua Becker discovered, the topic is on a lot of people’s minds.

Becker’s new book, The Minimalist Home, was released on Dec. 18. Within an hour, Amazon was sold out. By that evening, Walmart, Target, and other smaller online booksellers had run out of copies, too.

A few days after the publication date, Becker wrote to his newsletter subscribers that his publisher had misjudged the popularity of the title — it sold more copies in the first week than his previous book, The More of Less, had in two-plus years.

The timing was a perfect storm of holiday gift-giving and New Year’s goal-setting, but it probably also helps that his process as defined in the book is practical and approachable.

“My specific approach is that you go room-by-room through your home, easiest to hardest, finishing entire spaces along the way and noticing how that positively impacts your life,” Becker says.

But it’s not the only emphasis. Becker’s approach takes decluttering and shows you not only what to keep and what to discard, but ties all of it to a greater purpose. He pushes you to ask, “What is the life I want to be living?” After asking that question, you then figure out what items you need to keep in order to fulfill that purpose.

Minimalism and Your Money

Becker also addresses minimalism from a bigger financial perspective. Making more money, he writes in the book, is not the answer to getting ahead financially, and there are two primary reasons why.

First, while there is some opportunity in our lives to earn more money, Becker says, “I don’t think most people have the time or the space in their life to make that the never-ending strategy, right? I mean, we all have limited time and energy and we can certainly do some things different and rearrange our lives to make more money, but eventually that strategy reaches an end point where we have to spend less.”

The second reason, he says, is that what usually happens when people make more money is they just spend more money. They’re not able to get ahead financially unless they’re also making changes to spend less while earning more.

And owning less, he adds, actually creates a bigger opportunity to live more.

“Owning less frees up money. It frees up time. It frees up energy. It frees up calm. It results in less and less stress and less worry. And so what it does is it frees up our lives to pursue our greatest passions,” Becker says. “Owning as much stuff as possible is nobody’s greatest passion. It’s just what society tells us we’re supposed to do, and so people do it without even realizing they’ve sacrificed their passions along the way. By owning less, we are freed up to live more, to live whatever life it is that we wish we were living instead.”

Examples Becker gives in the book range from travelling around the world, to volunteering time at a nonprofit whose cause is important to you, to spending less time in the office and more time with your kids.

And speaking of kids — Becker says when it comes to minimizing, in his experience, kids are pretty flexible. “People tend to be very scared of ‘my kids are going to fight against this.’ I didn’t find that to be the case, and I don’t think I am unique in that situation.”

He does note that he and his wife did not start the process with their kids’ possessions; they tackled their own stuff first and had conversations along the way explaining why they were doing what they were doing.

“I think having those conversations in ways that kids can understand and [learn] what they are going to get out of it will resonate with them,” he says.

There’s only one potential exception, Becker says, and that’s if you’re dealing with older teenagers. If a 16-year-old has lived her whole life one way, that child can be more set in who she is, and change can be more difficult.

Of course, minimizing can challenge adults too. It’s the emotional side that tends to scare people off, Becker says. “It can be very difficult to get rid of specific items or specific categories of things and people tend to stop when it becomes emotional and difficult.”

But, he says, that’s not the time to stop. “Those difficult questions are questions that we need to be asking ourselves regardless. ‘Why did I buy so much stuff? Why did I waste so much money on these things? Why is this so difficult for me to get rid of?’ In those questions we learn things about ourselves. And maybe we find that our motivations are healthy, but maybe we find our motivations are unhealthy,” Becker says.

“I just think that the greatest fault is when we shy away from those questions,” he adds, “and the greatest benefit is when we sit in them a little while and try to try to uncover more. Learning more about ourselves is always a valuable process.”

If you want to get started in minimizing (and question-asking), Becker suggests three ways to kick off the process:

  • Sit down and finish this sentence: I want to own less so that I can do more of ____. “That moves ‘I want to minimize in the new year’ from ‘I want to minimize’ into ‘I wish I was doing more of this with my life.’ It gets to the deeper motivation,” he says.
  • Minimize something easy, such as your car. This can be “a quick win,” Becker says. “You can usually get rid of everything in 10 or 15 minutes and yet quickly notice how different it makes you feel.” Don’t own a car? Choose a living room or a single space in your home where you feel you can find fast success.
  • Research local charities that align with something you’re passionate about. Maybe there’s a domestic violence survivors’ shelter or an organization that is helping refugees resettle in your city that could use the items you’re getting rid of. It’s a way to open your eyes to some of the needs of your local community. Once you see how much good your excess can be doing in the world right now, Becker says, it will inspire and encourage you even more while going through the minimizing process.

If you’re looking for more suggestions, you can buy the book — which is now available again.

More by Kirsten Akens

Kirsten Akens

Contributor for The Simple Dollar

Kirsten Akens is an award-winning journalist and editor based in Colorado Springs, Colo. In addition to her work for the The Simple Dollar, her bylines can be found in a variety of online and print publications, including O – the Oprah Magazine, People, and Lifehacker.