Posting in Cities
Two years ago, Joshua Becker decided to cast off (some of) his possessions to live a minimalist lifestyle. We spoke about what minimalism means, how technology can help us get there and how this lifestyle could impact the environment.
Two years ago, a conversation with a neighbor motivated Joshua Becker to cast off (some of) his possessions to live a minimalist lifestyle. With his wife and two young children, Becker pared down the family's possessions in suburban Vermont with the goal of improving their lives.
Becker, a pastor of student ministries, chronicles the family's minimalist lifestyle on his blog, Becoming Minimalist. We spoke this week about what minimalism means, how technology can help us get there and how living this lifestyle could impact the environment.
What does it mean to live a minimalist life?
Most people live their life trying to acquire more and more things. Living a minimalist lifestyle is completely the opposite. It's about trying to live with less and less things. It's about trying to get back to the bare minimum of possessions. In doing that, it frees up your life to pursue the things you most value.
You and your family live in suburban Vermont. How does city minimalism differ from suburban minimalism?
I think it's a little bit easier in a city to live a minimalist life. I picture living in apartments, having public transportation, not having as much space in your living environment. Living in the suburbs adds a different flavor. Maybe the bus line doesn't go by your house. You have a basement where it's easy to store stuff. I look at some of my minimalist friends who are young and they're living in the city and they're living with less than 100 things. I wish I could get down to that many. But I need to take care of my lawn. I have to have certain things for my job.
You mentioned your friends living with fewer than 100 things. That's amazing.
Dave Bruno started a blog called the 100 Thing Challenge and took it upon himself to own less than 100 things. TIME did a story on him. He's finishing a book. A number of people have jumped on board to try to pare down to 100 things. Some try to go less than 75 and less than 50. Most of them live in a city or they're single, college students. They don't have kids running around who need toys.
What role does technology play in minimalism?
It is a definite balancing act. There are times when technology makes minimalism very easy. For example, with the Kindle you don't have to own physical books. [With scanners] we can scan our papers and documents. [With] digital cameras, you're able to store your photos digitally. You don't need to get a newspaper delivered to your home. You can read it online. But it's easy to go too far. The collection of technology to collect technology becomes cumbersome. Technology needs support and time and energy to invest in it. There's a balancing act of using it to make your life simpler, but also not complicating your life.
Talk about how minimalism can affect our impact on the environment.
When we consume less, we're able to preserve the world in a better natural state. Also, embracing a minimalist lifestyle leads you to desire less. In that motivation, you find greater good for the environment. So often, the environmental movement is motivated by guilt. [But] if we can truly inspire people to find contentment in the life they have, that becomes a much more powerful motivating tool to taking care of the planet.
What about personal health effects? Has becoming minimalist affected your health?
Yes, in direct and indirect ways. One of the best benefits of embracing a minimalist lifestyle is there's less stress. You don't have debt hanging over your head. There's less hurry to make more money to buy the next thing coming out. Less stress leads to a more healthy lifestyle.
We started about two years ago in May living a minimalist lifestyle. My birthday comes in December. I was trying to decide what I'd ask for for my birthday if I don't want more possessions. I noticed a local gym and I thought, How about I start exercising? I've been going faithfully all two years. I've run a marathon. An indirect health benefit is finding more time to be outside and to relax and exercise.
For you, what are the most difficult aspects of living a minimalist life?
- The easy one for me to mention is having kids. It requires more effort and energy and thought. They're growing, so they need more clothes, age-appropriate playthings, things for school and sports. It keeps you on your toes. And it keeps you on top of purging: giving away things they no longer need or clothes they don't fit into.
- From the family aspect, there are always different expectations of what minimalism means. My wife and I certainly differ on things like how much clothing we should own, how we decorate the house. Those things are always a balancing act, but they lead to conversations and opportunities to get to know each other.
- There are a lot of emotions attached to your possessions. There are motivations to collecting what you have. When you begin removing them, you start pulling back some of the layers. [You're asking], Why did I buy this? It's a very emotional process to get rid of things you've been holding onto for years.
Speaking of the emotional reaction to getting rid of possessions, the guest post on minimizing your book collection really hit home for me.
I get a lot of questions from people about books. It seems to be a real sticking point. I've never had that sentimental attachment to books. Robyn Devine from Minimalist Knitter wrote a post that I could never write. It came from the attachments she had and how she got over that.
If books weren't a sticking point for you, what was?
[There are] two things I have to take the next step on minimally speaking. We bought our house five years ago and embraced this minimalist lifestyle two years ago. I want to live in a smaller home and haven't been able to take that step yet. I don't think it's a sentimental attachment. It's just a logistical issue of selling and buying and moving. We still have two cars. As part of that suburban mindset, my wife takes the kids to school and runs them around all day. I work on the other side of town. How do we logistically go down to one car? Those aren't sentimental attachments, but they're steps I want to take.
Image: Joshua Becker
Aug 11, 2010
Many people following the common thought they work in a wheel made by the system in wich need to work,to produce to consume. It sells their time for a waged work, many times neglecting our affections and passions, don't realizing that the real wealth is a full life of passions in wich you manage your time,stay with our family, to do that that you have always dreamed, just changing our way to see the things get out by this wheel http://www.minimalistgeneration.com
Thank you for the article. I am finding that living a more minimalist lifestyle benefits my attitude, my wallet (saving lots of money) and it helps the environment.
I'm curious to hear how businesspeople practice living minimally in their work lives. An entrepreneur's perspective would be quite interesting.
To @stilt21 and anyone else who thinks this is a load of BS... A desire to de-clutter your life is no more baloney than is a desire to reach a healthy weight. Just as we have forces within our American culture that can lead to eating disorders, we have forces that can cause us to become obsessed with material possessions to an unhealthy degree. At one and the same time, we have TV shows like "The Biggest Loser" and county fair "competitive eating" contests. We have people who will buy a house so large they can't afford to furnish it, while seeing other people selling or giving away possessions so they can focus on what they believe will truly give their lives meaning. The bottom line, for me, is that material goods, of whatever type, eventually wind up in a landfill. It's the IM-material goods that last, that don't have to be insured, cleaned, or maintained, it's those things that retain their value and importance. And it's not a matter of feeling "superior" to your neighbor either. It's a choice, and isn't that what this country is supposed to be about? If someone has trouble with my choice in this matter, maybe it's time for _them_ to examine their own choices and not be so defensive about them.
I agree with the sentiment that Westerners are engrossed in a culture of rampant consumption. It's one thing to make the argument that people should have free choice to get what they want with their money, but really, to what extent are peoples desires influenced by the mass media and global culture surrounding them. Everywhere you turn someone is using something to 'enhance their life' that costs money. Minimalism is the wrong approach. The more tools I collect, the more efficiently I can take care of myself and help others. My possessions are investments - I expect to attain value from them greater than what they cost me. Living 'minimally' is basically saying, "no, nothing you have to offer can help me." What we need to do is approach the way we handle money as sincerely as we should choose what we value as a society. Every purchase has implications, for the consumer and the producer. If we consider money as a way to elect what we value, perhaps the monetary effort put into producing extravagant trivia like sports, reality TV, perfumes, fashion, and other gimmicks could be redirected to humanitarian efforts, and scientific reserach.
I was first introduced to minimalism through Tim Ferris (author of the 4 hour work week). I can honestly say that it has greatly improved the quality of my life (also I think everyone should pick up that book) Charles the Hearing Loss and Damage guy
Living as a minimalist sounds like a dream to someone who has lived with hoarders. Having just gone through a move of unimaginable proportions because of that, the one item we agreed would move in large quantity was our vast book collection. Collecting, reading and saving books goes beyond the text that can be scanned into a file and read from an electronic tablet. Holding an aged book that was written over a hundred years ago, printed and bound in fine leather or simple cloth, illustrated with sketches protected beneath tissue covers, and which has been passed through unknown numbers of hands in 100+ years, has a feel and smell that digitized versons will never be able to have. Although there are days I could easily give up my extra computers, phones, other antiques and even shoes..,there's a few hundred books I still have to read that will never be available online.
I find your article about minimalist living inspiring and ground-breaking. I wish for all the world to wake up and read about this. This is a powerful topic that really resonates with many people. I was certainly touched. Thanks so much for posting this. I look forward to learning more. ~~Allow me to share with you a newly released book for those seeking to downsize and find happiness in the simple life: "Little Gifts of Sustainable Contentment," By C.J. Good. Check it out, (look inside for free - now), read it, then please pass it on to others you care about...:) http://www.sustainablecontentment.com
Listen to you nay-sayers!! I thought this was actually a practical and realistic, down to earth, regular-guy type of project! You act like he suggested getting rid of all possessions and becoming a monk or something. I didn't see any 'holier than thou' attitude in it. Books? Well, I think many people collect books for two reasons. One is the collection that includes our favorites that we read over and over and pick off the shelf to show a friend a line or two, or in my case, a picture or a beautifully designed graphic - they are connected to our development and knowledge - the other is to demonstrate our worldliness and to have resources at our fingertips at all times. The latter, is silly, the former, sentimental, but I admittedly subscribe to both, having my own diverse collection at the ready. Clearly the other commenters are not thinking of the fact of the lifestyle of US'ns as being too possessive - we have more stuff per capita than any other country. Having things, the latest things, is part of what is making our economy look desperately overwrought, what makes unemployment a longer term issue today - because we can't feed the habit of 'stuff' indefinitely. This article shows that a typical suburban family can be conscientious and cut back on their possessions and that it can lead to a better quality of life. What is wrong with that??
Madam: I enjoyed reading your thoughtful article. Coming from India, I can not but help observe the common wisdom in our country that from the moment you learn to say 'enough' more often than you say 'I want', your happiness starts and further that this is the secret of eternal happiness. Having said that, it is also right to keep in mind that the process, if taken to extremes, result in serious loss of demand for goods and services which will in turn strike at the very roots of the economy by turning large sections of society unemployed, ending up in social turmoil. The trick is to find the golden balance between our own need of simplifying our life and the need for avoiding a collapse of society as we know it.
I think Stilt is deep down aware that this is the right lifestyle for himself, but he can not answer the call due to his addiction to the worlds best and newest things. Like any addict, they get offended when they are told something that makes sense regarding their addiction. They will react defensively like Stilt did. I think he is mad at himself for not being able to live a simpler lifestyle... I really tried, but couldn't come up with a different explanation for his angry comment.
He very much captures the spirit of Henry David Thoreau, another New Englander who urged minimalism as a form of personal emancipation.
Stilt, Your reaction seems a little overboard methinks. His is only one voice presenting a case for approaching life from a perspective of "need" rather than "want." And this amid a torrent of commercialism that keeps hammering home the message that you're shy of fully human if you don't have x, y and z. I also offer the observation that this gentleman is in ministry. As a youth pastor he is attempting to teach and lead by example. The fact that he blogs about it may be something that he undertook as a means to maintain connection with those he serves. That's evangelization in its most basic form and if the message happens to spread beyond his immediate and specific audience -- there can be no harm. Those who hear it and listen, will respond. Those who don't, will complain.
He makes some good points, and I am glad that it's working for him. Most of the people I know who are suffering financially are doing so over "things" and the debt they've incurred acquiring and maintaining them. I'd be interested to see how this plays out for him in the long run. And I'd be interested in his wife's opinion on all of this, which was not really mentioned.
I follow a minimalist life, in my home, office, environment, and most importantly in my mind. I have cleared the mental clutter including the physical one, You are more productive with a clear and focused, centered mind. Minimilism is a catalyst for this process; I feel healthier, better, stronger, lighter, calmer, and more intune with everything around me. This is an excellent article, and congratulations to Joshua for taking the right steps in his and his families life. Respectfully yours, Amado Gonzalez http://gsl.eng.fiu.edu/Amado/
This is part of the journey I've been on tho I'm more interested in simplifying and find that minimizing happens as a fallout of that. Doing more with less naturally gets rolled into this process as well. I think the reflection and opportunity for creativity and expression that can be called for is key to successfully integrating this as an improvement in one's life rather than as a sacrifice or playing a holier/hipper/better than thou game.
Stilt, It is minimalism not nothing-ism. I have in the past lived a life free of the excesses and found that feeling you might get when you BackPack. All you "need" is with you and you are self sufficient. It becomes necessary to improvise from time to time using the things yu carry, the things around you and the inventive spirit that lives in the Human species - too seldom given free reign. When my wife and I hop in the RV our world narrows down to those things that support us and when a system fails the pioneer spirit is loosed to everyone's gratitude.
This is what I have learned about material objects also known as possessions: 1. It is not the getting that is so hard, it's the maintenance and repair that become a difficult, expensive, and time consuming affair. 2. The more "stuff", the more rooms, the more time spent cleaning and repairing as noted above. This is my sole reason for believing in quality and not quantity and the number one reason for a minimalist life. Unless you can afford a gardener, maid service, technician and mechanic...keep it small. Time is the most valuable asset I possess and anything that drains my time account is history.
Agreed. Books are not fair game for me, and neither are tools - as a homeowner who can't afford to pay workmen all the time, I find a diverse collection of good tools to be indispensable.
the whole article is one of those big loads of BS that people put out in an effort to show how good they are compared to the rest of us knownothings. bah humbug the writer isn't any better, he just goes without and glorifiess himself as to how he has sacrificint for the greater good. it really is ' a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing'
I'm sorry, when it comes to books, that's where I have to draw the line. You can never have too many books!
We want a different world but what we are doing because what happens? Before purchasing a product we should be asking questions, looking that behind that product there hasn't been no labor exploitation or environmental. Buy local products avoid aggravating the pollution of goods travelling from one side to the other of the planet. Buy fair trade goods will help manufacturers to ensure their right and improve their economic conditions. We could also self-produce many of the things we need, recovering a manual ability that is being lost. In a world with limited resources, buy less things but quality or also don't buy at all. http://www.minimalistgeneration.com
Yeah- I used to have tools when I owned a house, but losing jobs, (my wife and I), we are living in a 600 sq ft. apartment. We think about buying a small house one day, and that's the conundrum. Buying more tools... what do I need, what can I just borrow. In my city, there is a local tool share... but I wonder if the tools are as good quality as I would like.
Eh- I can see your point, but personally being forced to be "minimalist" due to the economy, lost work, house, and move to another state- and I see it as just a new experience that really gets you to think. It's not better than, or worse than, it's just something that serves to challenge what you feel is important, necessary, etc. "Signifying nothing", an "idiot"... that's pretty strong words. Where are these feelings you're having coming from?