Living more with less

“Sometimes it takes a car crash to realize you were driving irresponsibly.” When his mother died and  his marriage ended in the same month, Joshua Fields Millburn had to reexamine how he was living. He had spent his twenties focused on making money and climbing the corporate ladder. He wracked up a lot of debt and was focused on so called success and achievement. In our society, we know that means accumulating more and more stuff, believing that “if we just get one more thing, I’ll be happy”. The average American household has over 300,000 items in it. But stuff never fills the void, it only widens it. Josh woke up to that reality and embraced a minimalist lifestyle, writing an ebook called “The Minimalist Rulebook: 16 Rules for Living with Less.”

Living more deliberately with less is now Josh’s way of life. After the financial crisis of 2008, Josh realized his money and stuff were doing the opposite of what he wanted. They weren’t making him happy. They were  getting in the way of what was truly important.

Wake-up Call

Too often we live with overindulgent consumption and  sometimes a big event is needed to wake us up. For single parents, the changes that lead us to parenting alone often act as a wake-up call or “car crash”. Covid has had the same affect for many too. We find ourselves reevaluating our lives, our priorities and our decisions. When Josh found himself reevaluating, he discovered that it was time to redefine what brought value to his life. Rather than letting his belongings give the impression of adding value, he started to examine everything he owned through a different lens. He started asking himself what he needed to let go of and what was important to keep. In this process, he found out that sometimes we assign equal value to all the things in our life even when they don’t add the same benefits.

Instead, we must be intentional in determining what adds value and what doesn’t. In doing so himself, Josh began to embrace a minimalist lifestyle.  He now only owns things that serve a purpose or bring him joy like art or music.

The Minimalist Rulebook

Josh uses a set of “rules’ to determine what he keeps and what he eliminates from his life. These are found in his e-book, “The Minimalist Rulebook: 16 Rules for Living with Less”, available free on his website ( These rules aren’t meant to be rigid or exhaustive. They are meant to be used like a recipe. You put several of them together to get the result you want.

For example, we sometimes justify holding on to things “just in case”. Josh says these are the three most dangerous rules when it comes to hanging on to things. To overcome the “just in case” mentality, Josh says you should never hang on to anything “just in case” if it is something you can replace for $20 or less without having to go out of your way more than 20 minutes. Another rule is the 90/90 rule. Ask yourself, have I used this in the last 90 days? If not, ask yourself if you will use it in the next 90 days. If not, give yourself permission to let that item go.

The 30-Day Minimalist Game

When it comes to the minimalist lifestyle, Josh says don’t start with nostalgic or sentimental items nostalgic like letters, cards, and kids’ craft items. Deal with these “memory box” type items after you’ve made progress in streamlining other areas first. Don’t start eliminating there. Instead, Josh says a tactic he uses for people to get started is “the 30-day minimalist game.” This helps you start small with things that are easy to let go of so you can build momentum as you minimize. A good place to start might be with clothes you don’t use anymore.

Josh also suggests that when it comes to sentimental items, it helps to keep in mind the idea that if everything is precious, nothing is precious. Sometimes we water down the value of things simply by having too many of them. We don’t need nearly as many clothes, or kitchen gadgets, or accessories as we think we do. Paring down to the essentials, our favorites, and those that are most useful, helps us identify the truly important items. This immediately ups their value because of how much they are used and appreciated. Fewer items makes each one more valuable.

In choosing what to get rid of, it can also help to remember that we will never lose the memories of what an item represents. That experience and memory is not bound up in the thing. It’s something we keep alive in our hearts and minds. One way to streamline sentimental items is to take a picture of those items that we don’t need and that aren’t functional. We can keep a digital record of items we get rid of and yet that we want to remember.

Less is More

Another principle of the minimalist lifestyle is that we don’t need more things to make us happy. Rather, we discover we can be happier with less. Fewer things can allow us to lead a bigger, more abundant life, full of experiences and not with things.

An underlying discontent in society seems prevalent. We often internalize beliefs because of societal influence and advertising. These beliefs are absorbed from the culture around us but don’t necessarily reflect what we truly value individually.  We need to challenge those beliefs and ask instead what we really value personally. When we subconsciously fall into the habits and values of those around us, we must then consciously choose another way. It’s so important to examine our habits and choices and determine what we value. Then, from that place of awareness, we can choose what to keep and what to eliminate in our lives.

Curbing our Appetite

Patrick Rhone, author of “Enough”, says “You think more money will give you more security. The problem is you don’t have control over making more. The thing you do have control over is spending less. You do have control over having less. And by having less you automatically stretch what you do have.”

Some practical ways we can curb our appetite for more and live more deliberately with what we have is by starting in our homes. Our homes and material possessions are a physical manifestation of what is going on inside of us. If our homes are cluttered, we will also have emotional and spiritual clutter. When we deal with the external clutter, we can start to deal with the internal clutter too. As we face the clutter in our lives, we can choose to only bring things into our lives when they augment or enhance them. We can evaluate things we need versus things we want and live more deliberately with less.

The “No Junk” Rule

Another principle in The Minimalist Rulebook is the “no junk” rule. The things we own can go into three piles, the essential pile, the non-essential pile, and the junk pile. The essential pile for all of us looks similar including food, clothing, and shelter. They will vary but the same components are needed for meeting our basic needs. As our lives change, our piles will change too. Things that added value in one season of life, will not add value in every season. Non-essentials aren’t things that meet basic needs but those that enhance our life in some way. These things add function and value or bring joy. Unfortunately, most of the things in our lives fall into the junk pile. It has stopped adding value, it isn’t functional, and it doesn’t bring joy. We need to get rid of the junk pile.

Teaching Our Kids Priorities

As we address the clutter in our lives and decide what is essential, what is non-essential, and what is junk, we can identify what we prioritize. As we evaluate, we model this kind of deliberate living for our kids too. Josh shares that the word priority was never intended to be plural. It only became plural in the 20th century. We can only prioritize a few things and only one can be our top priority. We have become distracted, giving our attention to too many things allowing them access twenty-four hours a day. Part of a minimalist lifestyle is looking carefully at what we value and that includes how we spend our time and our money. Teaching our kids to do the same empowers them to make different choices according to what they value and believe.

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