Joshua Becker on the Power of Rational Minimalism

February 26th, 2010 § 0 comments

Simplify makes it clear that that minimalism isn’t just for the crazies.

Interview by Everett Bogue | Follow me on Twitter.

One of the most common comments I receive on my work is very simple:

“I wish I could be a minimalist, but I have kids and I don’t live in a city.”

Until Monday of this week, I didn’t have a good answer to that question. My idea of minimalism is extremely specific: I don’t want a house, a car, or things. My idea of being minimalist is having the freedom to get on a plane and go anywhere. But the reality is, not everyone has the same goals as me.

To be honest, sometimes I wonder if I will have the same goals as me. When I get older do I want to keep living out of a bag? Probably not!

Then, along came Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist with his brilliant book, Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles to Help Anyone Declutter Their Home and Life. My mind was promptly blown. I didn’t realize that there were so many different ways to approach being minimalist. It’s true though, minimalism is for everyone.

Joshua and I might be on other side of the minimalist spectrum from me, but our ideas could not be more similar. His e-book makes it extremely clear that anyone can pursue a minimalist life.

How to make minimalism fit your ideal world: Joshua Becker on the power of rational minimalism.

Everett Bogue: Joshua, you’re a huge advocate of ‘rational minimalism’. This is awesome, because I’m definitely the opposite of rational (throwing away all of my stuff, jumping on planes). Can you take a moment and explain to our readers what the difference is between a rational minimalist, and someone like me?

Joshua Becker: Since deciding to become minimalist two years ago, I have talked to a lot of people. During these conversations, I began to see a trend: many people were sure they would never become a “minimalist,” yet they loved the simplistic principles of minimalism. This intrigued me.

So I began to further probe their objections to “minimalism.” As I did, I found that they had a very bleak view of minimalism. They pictured rooms with little furniture or closets with only 7 shirts. They found the principles attractive, but not the practice. They quickly concluded that minimalism (as they defined it in their minds) was not consistent with their lifestyle or values. Ironically, I agreed… I didn’t want their description of minimalism either.

I began to address their concerns in my conversations and on my blog contending that minimalism does not have to look the way that they described. Instead, minimalism needs to fit your values, I would tell them. I began to define minimalism as “the intentional promotion of the things you most value and the removal of anything that distracts you from it.” It became less about removing possessions just to remove possessions… and became more about finding a lifestyle of simplicity that works for you and your family. People began to rally around that definition.

One day, a website linked to my blog with his phrase, “I like this guy’s idea of minimalism. It seems so rational.” And the name stuck: rational minimalism.

Everett, to be honest, I’m not all that sure “rational minimalism” is all that different from what you practice. To me, the term “rational” gives freedom to individuals “to use reason” in determining what possessions they keep and what they remove. You value the mobility and freedom that comes from fitting everything into one backpack… and have found a practice of minimalism that is rational for your lifestyle. It fits you perfectly. For me, I needed to find a practice of minimalism that valued my family, my faith, and my relationships… and it was always going to look different than yours. That doesn’t make one rational and one irrational – it makes both of them rational, even though they look very different.

Everett: So, wait a minute. There are minimalists out there who don’t want to throw out all of their stuff, hop on a plane and live and work from anywhere?!

Joshua: I guess that’s a good way to put it. Everybody has different personalities and different lifestyle preferences. That’s no surprise. Some love nature, others love the city. Some like to travel, others like to stay home. Some like digital photography, others like scrapbooking. Some enjoy the mobility of having no family, others want the stability of a large family.

Because there are so many different personalities and value structures, there is no one-size-fits-all description of minimalism. The actual practice of minimalism will always change from one individual to another based on their values. But the principles will always remain the same: remove the nonessential material clutter from your life so that the things that are most important to you can truly shine!

Everett: What is one way that rational minimalists are using minimalism?

Joshua: It seems the easiest place for people to start is in the removal of unnecessary physical belongings from the home and/or office. Starting with the physical, visible clutter is always the easiest step for people to see. Many of the stories that are shared on our blog begin with the realization that the “stuff” in their life is crowding out the important things in their life. Therefore, most people begin there.

However, what they don’t realize is that the process of beginning minimalist forces you to identify your values. You can’t remove the nonessentials until you begin to identify the essentials. Naturally, this process of identifying what is most important to you starts to spill over into other areas of your life. For example, it starts to change the way you spend your time, set your priorities, and how you spend your money.

Everett: How can our readers put that technique into play?

Joshua: In my e-book, I present 7 guiding principles to help anyone take this step of simplifying their life and experiencing the freedom that comes with it. Each of these principles is a direct result of specific lessons that we have learned. Those 7 principles will more adequately answer your question in detail.

But in the meantime, I would challenge anybody to begin this process by further pursuing the benefits of minimalism. Read what others have written about their experiences with minimalism and see if the results ring true in your own heart. As they discuss the freedom in life that they now enjoy… does that sound consistent? As they share about newfound freedom from stress… does that sound attractive? There are a number of blogs that represent the experiences of people who have chosen a minimalist lifestyle. And in a matter of minutes, you could begin reading them. See if your heart starts to warm to the idea.

Everett: What’s the biggest challenge that you faced on your journey towards being minimalist, how did you overcome it?

Joshua: The biggest challenge in our journey came immediately following the Christmas holiday six months after starting our adventure. We had just finished systematically minimalizing each room in our house and our home was finally clear of clutter… just in time for the Christmas presents to start arriving. It began with our gifts to each other. But then came more gifts from parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Our house became a cluttered mess, almost overnight. I was absolutely ready to throw in the towel saying, “What’s the use? We can’t win. This lifestyle is too difficult – especially with small children.”

Actually, if you were to read through our blog, you’ll notice almost two months of absence following December, 2008. Then in early March, I received a surprise comment via the blog from a reader that simply said, “Come back, Josh.” It turned out to be all the encouragement that I needed. With those three simple words, I was reminded why I chose the lifestyle, why I began blogging in the first place, and why it was not just possible, it was essential.

Let’s face it. Small children produce a lot of “stuff.” They outgrow their toys and their clothes. They color pages that they want to display on the refrigerator. They bring home artwork from school and homework that says “Excellent!” They receive gifts from friends and relatives on almost every holiday. It is truly a never-ending challenge… but the rewards of sticking to a simple, minimalist lifestyle are so worth it… for them and us.

Everett: What do you hope your e-book will help people accomplish?

Joshua: My hope for this e-book is that it will help make the principles of simplicity and minimalism attractive to the masses. I hope that the principles in the book will give people a freedom to find a “rational minimalism” that fits their unique lifestyle. And that it will give them the practical tips that they need to get started.

After reading the e-book, one woman put it this way, “I suppose I thought differently about minimalism in the past. I thought it was something that was unattainable for me as a mom of 3. After all a family of 5 generates a lot of stuff! But the more I thought about it, Minimalist really does describe the lifestyle I am after.”

That is my hope for this e-book – that people and families would begin to embrace a simple, rational, minimalist lifestyle and experience the freedom that comes with it. We have never regretted our decision and have desired to present this lifestyle as attractive to others.

Everett: Thanks so much for this opportunity Joshua, it was great speaking with you!


You can visit Joshua Becker at Becoming Minimalist.

You can preview the first chapter of Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles to Help Anyone Declutter Their Home and Life here.

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