How many things do you own? You probably have no idea, unless you’re weird or a minimalist who can actually count them.
300,000. That’s how many things are in the average American home.1 On top of that, 1 in 10 Americans are renting a storage unit.2
We have too much stuff. I think you would agree. We all feel like we have too much stuff. I know I do. Our family has been on the minimalism journey for several years now.
It’s a process.
That’s why we take a self-imposed minimalist challenge to rid our home of 5,000 things each year. Though it doesn’t seem like that much, given the figure above.
If getting rid of 5,000 things piques your interest, you might just be a minimalist in the making. But before we dive into what it means to be a minimalist, let’s talk about what minimalism isn’t.
What Minimalism is Not
Minimalism is not getting rid of everything you own.
It doesn’t mean your house looks like an unlived-in magazine photo.
It’s doesn’t mean living in a tiny home… unless you want to. As a side note, I love the idea of tiny homes, but we have a few too many tiny humans living in our house to make that work at this stage of life.
Finally, it’s not about never buying anything again, including food, and thus, eating out of dumpsters. That’s Freeganism. No judgement from me, but that’s not what this article is about.
When I mention the word “minimalism” to people, I usually get one of a few responses. They either joke about how having five kids isn’t very “minimal.” Or they’ll say “so you just don’t own anything?” And occasionally they are actually interested in doing it themselves.
It typically makes people feel better once they realize that we do own stuff, and our house isn’t as empty as they assumed. In fact, it’s quite cluttered still in our minds. Minimalism is an ongoing process to reduce. It’s not a quick change. That’s why the popular minimalist blogger, Joshua Becker, calls his blog, “Becoming Minimalist.”
What Minimalism Is
You can capture the concept of minimalism in two words:
That’s how I define it. It really has little to do with the actual number of things you own, and everything to do with the reason you own them. It’s being intentional about every single thing you bring into your home.
If you want to take it a step further, minimalism carries over into every area of your life. Being intentional with your things, resources, time, relationships, etc..
It’s about cutting what you don’t need and keeping what you do. Across the spectrum.
I think everyone should consider minimalism as a lifestyle. It’s by no means a new concept. In fact, it dates back at least 2,000 years.
Jesus was a minimalist before it was cool.
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’”-Matthew 8:20
The label “minimalism” isn’t what’s important. Labels themselves are rarely important. Think about your walk with God; the label “Christian” isn’t important. You can refer to yourself as a Christ Follower, Jesus Freak, New Jew or whatever else you can think up — the label doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t recommend “New Jew” though… that can be off-putting.
Whether you call yourself a minimalist or not, owning less will give you a greater chance of focusing on what truly matters. But calling yourself a minimalist, and then living like you’ve always lived, won’t help you much. Unless, of course, you’ve always lived like a minimalist. But if you’re an American, I’m sure you haven’t.
When Jesus was crucified, he had a handful of material possessions, and he could carry everything he owned on him. We all know that Jesus didn’t focus on material possessions. That’s no secret.
So should we follow in Jesus’s footsteps and sell everything we own? Yes! I’m kidding… no that’s not necessary. Unless you feel compelled to do so. In that case, go for it, you New Jew!
Possessions and Judgement
It’s not wrong to own things. It’s not wrong to have material possessions. And no one wants to get into a debate over how much or how little we should own.
The Christian with a $100k house may criticize the Christian with a $200k house. Yet, how does the third-world Christian view both of them, as he’s living in his mud hut? In my experience, the third individual is probably the least critical, though by this debate, he would have the most room for bragging.
There will always be people with more than you and people with less than you. There’s no magic number.
We can’t say “well, once you own a house worth more than $200k, you’re materialistic” or “if you own a shirt worth more than $50, you’re too caught up in your possessions!” What if I own a $49 shirt? Whew, I’m in the clear.
The point is, there’s no hard line or magic number. We’re called to worry about ourselves, not others. And that’s what this article is about: yourself.
If there is such a line that determines when you own too much, it’s when your material possessions affect your relationship with God. The person with a $200k house, who goes into her fancy study and reads her Bible every morning could have a much closer relationship with God than the homeless Christian who judges other Christians for owning so many possessions.
I’ve met rich people who were truly generous and showed a Christ-like love for others. I’ve also met poor people who judged everyone they came in contact with. I’ve met the opposites of each as well.
Our Minimalism Journey
We were in the process of slowly downsizing all of our belongings when we moved to Europe. It turns out, Europeans don’t own as much stuff as Americans. Who knew?
What did this mean for us? It meant that we went from a 2,000 sq ft house to a 1,100 sq ft house. This was a problem, because we still had a 2,000 sq ft house worth of stuff.
We liked the idea of being forced to downsize. We were uncomfortable until we did.
On top of that, it’s not easy to get rid of stuff in Italy, where we live now. In the States, there are thrift stores that will come pick up the stuff you no longer want, as well as many other avenues to donate and sell your things.
In Italy, it’s a challenge to get rid of an old television. Not only are there fewer places to donate here, but recycling laws make it almost impossible to throw some things away. So we’ve had to be creative, and downsize even more slowly.
I had always preached that minimalism was easiest when you forced it by moving into a smaller home. However, we still did it slowly to avoid a burnout. Now I can attest that it’s definitely more effective this way—the “forced” way—but I don’t know if I would say it’s easier. Regardless, it works.
Enough about us. Let’s get into how you can start minimizing.
How You Can Start Minimizing
I think minimalism is great. If you don’t like labels, don’t call it that, but the idea of owning less and living more appeals to me. We’ve been on a journey to own less for years, and we buy less now than we ever have.
We really have found that we’re happy as we own less.
So how do you start?
The first step of minimalism is to emotionally detach yourself. This is also the hardest step. Once you do this, not only will it be easier to get rid of things, but you’ll see how unimportant so much stuff is.
We have to realize that our memories aren’t held in the things themselves. What’s the point of keeping that old lamp that your grandmother gave you 15 years ago? Yes, she has passed away and you loved her dearly, but that lamp has nothing to do with your relationship. You’ll remember her without that lamp, trust me. It’s not the object that holds the memory. And you can always take a picture of it, if you can’t completely let go.
Before we dive into a complete home makeover, let me give you a few steps that work well as starting points:
- Get rid of your storage unit. Whether it’s your garage or an actual paid storage unit, you don’t need it. Odds are you haven’t touched that stuff in over a year. Let it go.
- Get rid of your distractions. It could be video games, movies or computer programs. Get rid of the things that take away from the more important things. This could even include your TV.
- Get rid of your excess. The books you don’t read and won’t read again, the clothes you know you’ll never wear. Whatever it is, get rid of what you no longer need. This could even include your car, if you live in a city with decent public transportation.
Those are some big rocks; it gets more difficult with the small pebbles. You know some things that you can blatantly do without, but when it comes to the rest of it, you must go slowly. Enter: Freedom5000.
Set a realistic goal and go for it. We’re already a few months in to this year, so you could always set a goal that ends one year from today. Or try to catch up. Use your initial motivation to drive you, and then stick to a consistent habit of decluttering.
We’re doing 5,000 things this year, but I bet it will be more.
Right now we’re at 1,636, so we’re actually a little ahead of schedule. I’m not sure if we’re going to surpass the 5,000 mark, or if we’re going to start running out of easy things to give away.
What Counts as a Thing?
It’s easy to add up 5,000 things, without really getting rid of much at all. That defeats the purpose, of course. Here are the guidelines we follow to keep ourselves honest:
- Consumables don’t count. If you use a can of green beans, you can’t count that as one thing gone… and don’t even think about counting those individual green beans. Oh, was that just me?
- Small individual items count. If you get rid of 100 CDs, that’s 100 items, but the case and CD don’t count separately. You get the idea.
- Sell, donate, trash – it all counts. It doesn’t matter how you get rid of it, if it’s gone, it counts towards your goal
I keep track of the things we get rid of with Habitica. I have a “Daily” reminder to declutter. Each time we get rid of something or somethings, I open that reminder and update the total count. You can use any task or note app to remember the number.
Or make it fun and in your face by writing the number on a small white board in a place you see every day. That serves as a great reminder.
One final note on Freedom5000: You must also keep track of what you bring in, and the total net amount must equal 5,000. So if you bring in 500 things this year, you have to get rid of 5,500.
How to Stay Motivated
Like with anything else, you’ll have a lot of motivation in the beginning, and it may start to trail off. Seeing your home becoming decluttered over time will serve as a great motivator, but sometimes you need more.
We’ve used these 5 tactics to keep the motivation strong:
- Read Books on Minimalism – I read constantly. About once a month, I will read a book about minimalism, decluttering, or living simply. Each time I am more motivated to continue the journey. If a book a month is too much, make it an article a month.
- Talk About It Often – My wife and I have many conversations about why we’re minimizing, and how we could do it better. Keep the idea fresh, and the process steady.
- Put Up Reminders – Put reminders in places you see often. Remind yourself that you’re minimizing, and especially why you’re minimizing.
- Watch Documentaries on Minimalism – My favorite is the one that The Minimalists did, called Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. Here are some more motivating documentaries.
- Don’t Overload Yourself – Taking it slowly is the biggest piece of success here. If you donate 5,000 things in one weekend, that may work for you. If it overwhelms you, take a step back and slow down. Remember, just 100 things a week will meet the 5,000 goal by the end of one year.
That’s enough reading about it. It’s time for action.
I’ll be publishing a series on how we decluttered every room and place in our home, but until then, you can get started with whichever room you choose.
Check out the resources below for more on minimalism. These are all of my favorite resources that I’ve personally used, and use over and over again.
Further Bible Study
Further Book Reading
- The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker
- Clutterfree With Kids by Joshua Becker
- The More of Less by Joshua Becker
- Minimalist Parenting by Christine Koh
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
- Minimalism by The Minimalists
- Everything That Remains by The Minimalists
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown
- The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life by Leo Babauta
- The Power of Less by Leo Babauta
- Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki
- Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
Further Blog Reading
Last Updated: June 14, 2020
- The Media Threat: How Much Screen Time is Too Much?
- The Complete Guide to Saving for and Sending Your Kids to College
- 47 Things You Weren’t Taught in School (That Our Kids Need to Know)
- How to Travel Light With Kids (A Comprehensive Guide)
- How to Teach Your Kids to Invest
- How to Raise Grateful, Selfless Children
- LA Times Staff. (2014, March 21). For many people, gathering possessions is just the stuff of life. LA Times.
- Mooallem, J. (2009, September 2). The Self-Storage Self. NY Times.
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Savvy History says
This post is very thought-provoking for me. In the past few years, my husband and I went from a 1,100 square foot home to over 2,000 square feet. We are filling it up! I notice it, but recently having our son and with all the stuff he needs, I’m not sure how to stop it! I always wonder if we will save money in the future by keeping an item around.
One thing there isn’t an excuse for is all the stuff that went from my parents’ attic directly into my attic without sorting. These are things from when I was a kid!
P.S. I will never count all the items in my home (lol)!
Kalen Bruce says
My wife and I got married over 13 years ago, and we still find things in our garage that came from my mom or her parents’ house. Try to get rid of any of that stuff you don’t need now! It will haunt you! Lol. We’re the same way, one of our biggest reasons to keep things is that we may need it later and it will cost more to buy it again. It seems like 99% of the time we don’t need it, and when we do need it, it’s worth buying again.
It’s worth having the extra space to buy one or two items that typically aren’t very expensive anyways.
Just don’t get rid of something, figure out you need it later, and let that stop you from getting rid of other things. It seems like this is bound to happen, almost like nature’s joke. Unless you’re finding that you need 90% of the stuff you’re giving away, it’s not worth the clutter of keeping the “possibly/maybe” things.
Your home’s open space and your mental clarity are more valuable than money.
You can always try the approach of putting things in a tub in the garage, and sealing it with tape. If you don’t break the seal a year later, donate the entire tub without opening it.
I’m glad you don’t count the items in your home! Lol. We only count the ones we’re putting out!
We raised 5 kids and just moved from a big house to a two bedroom apartment. My advice to all parents is to never over-indulge your children. As we sorted through our belongings, we took the kids’ yearbooks, scrapbooks, trophies, mementos, etc. to them. The response was, aren’t parents supposed to keep these? My kids don’t want some of their stuff, let alone my mother’s china and silver. When I think about the amount of money that could be in our savings account or the number of needy people we could have helped, it hurts my heart.
Kalen Bruce says
Wow, you really bring up some good points. We’ve noticed the same thing with all of the momentos you mentioned. As a society, I think we place way too much value on stuff. We feel like the memory is tied up in that trophy or the things our parents left for us, but really, the memory exists fully apart from the item. I wish more people had your mindset, and while you may feel like you’ve got this concept late, at least you caught on. So many people go their whole life holding onto material possessions without realizing how much they cling to them. Thank you for sharing!
Doneall Hammond says
Great article. However, the article narrative was not Minimalist. It was far too long and multiple examples for the same point were offered. The article was far too wordy. Nonetheless, great information was provided.
Kalen Bruce says
Lol, thanks for reading anyways!