Minimal

Have you ever had a realization, a lesson learned, a question answered? Those sticky ones that seem to follow you once they’re here with you? Like once you see, you can’t unsee; once you’ve heard, you can’t unhear. I’ve had two of these moments, as such. One of them, I want to illuminate: minimalism.

When we first got married, Dixie and I found ourselves packed tight into our first small apartment. The bedroom was lined with two dressers and three book cases crammed with things, making navigating the queen sized bed a chore in and of itself. Closets were stuffed with clothes dating back to when I was seven years old, as if I hoped to one day fit in them one day again. Hanging bars were completely full of jackets, pants, old choir tuxedos, and dresses. Kitchen cabinets and drawers overflowed with multiple sets of dishes and utensils. The dining table was often stacked with mail, keys, bags, paper “to file away”. The living room housed a large six person sectional, allowing for an ottoman and a TV stand, which itself was covered in consoles, remotes, and DVD cases. We also kept a book case out for more books that didn’t fit in the bedroom and a rack showing off an eclectic CD collection I had acquired over my many high school tastes and phases of music. Stacked in the corner, my multiple cases full of drum equipment towered next to an upright piano Dixie and picked up for free one day. This was the life we found when we combined our belongings under the same roof. And I didn’t even mention the boxes upon boxes of miscellaneous tools, childhood toys, and hobby materials that were packed away in our garage. We had a single car garage to our advantage and we had packed it with enough things, all accounted for, made a stack and pile bigger than a large suburban. We had stuff. Or maybe the stuff had us?

Then, I got a job that allows me some freedom to listen to podcasts and music at my desk. I put a short Facebook status up asking any and all friends for podcast recommendations for me to check out, and some saint linked me to theminimalists.com. These two guys, who started their podcast and blog out of Missoula, Montana, started to help us change our lives. The idea appealed to me immediately and I took my enthusiasm home and pitched the idea to Dixie with about as much grace and tact as a charging rhinoceros. I might have even been foaming at the mouth, telling Dixie about how I want to go through our stuff and potentially purge 75% of our collective possessions. Unsurprisingly, this idea was not received well. (Understatement of the year). So I took another angle.

As I have mentioned, at the time, we had stacks of plates, bowls, tupperware, forks, spoons, pans, mugs, cups, water bottles, travel mugs, utensils, and any other kitchen tool you can probably think of. As you may know as well, this many dishes tend to stack in the sink pretty quickly. I noticed at one point that of my available free time in the evenings, I could spend anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours every night just doing that day’s dishes, and I was sick of it. I proposed that we whittle down these piles down to a simple set of two of everything. We wouldn’t need to get rid of the rest yet, but as a trial, just pack the excess away and see how we fared for a week or two. And according to plan, at the end of a week, I was spending maybe only 10 minutes putting away food after a meal and doing all the dishes. This was the first taste of freedom from minimalism that we both truly enjoyed.

After that the decisions came easier. We systematically went through each room, treating it almost as a game, sorting our piles of dust collecting, unused items into donate, sell, recycle, and trash piles. Many trips to Goodwill, some sales on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, a few garage sales, and a trip to the dump later, we had pared our lives down by about 60%, and everything that remained truly meant something to us.

The story could of course be longer, more embellished, with plenty of details, but that wouldn’t be very minimal of me would it? As long as the story is allowed to rest here, I do have some thoughts on minimalism that may help you “see and not unsee” the value it could add to your life as well.


  • Minimalism is not about austerity, it’s about intentionality. I still have a book case full of books that I love to read, lend, and reread. We have a collection of records to spin on our record player in our living room. At this point, we do have more than 2 plates. We never wanted to be the kind of people who live out of a backpack in a 100 sq ft apartment. The intent for our home is for the things we own to serve a purpose, bring utility, add value, and tell a story. It’s about meaningful materials, purposeful possession.
  • Your stuff pays rent. If you only ever collect more items that you can’t part with, then you may fill your house to the brim, before you cave and buy a bigger house to put all your stuff in. In a way, the stuff you own forces you to pay more rent or get a bigger mortgage to keep it all.
  • Less stuff, less cleaning. As the dishes were for me, it may be the laundry for you. If you’re sick of spending so much of your waking life cleaning the stuff you own, it may be time for you to permanently wipe it out of your home.
  • A place for everything. Does that junk drawer in the kitchen actually seem to haunt you sometimes? Like the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter, things wanting to get lost find their way to that drawer? Or maybe it’s a whole room dedicated to miscellany and misfits? Hobbits call this the “Mathom room.” When you sort through the unnecessary clutter, these things tend to find a home. And if they don’t, then they really don’t belong anywhere do they?
  • New starts. The hardest area for us to work through were our overflowing clothes closets. Many articles carried a certain degree of sentimentality that were difficult to part with. Maybe they represented a happier era in my childhood, or me before the weight gain. I discovered though, after getting my wardrobe down to a measly 33 pieces, that I am actually more satisfied knowing that every single article that I could wear gives me confidence.
  • Passion. Maybe a corny word in the era of self help “gurus”, but honestly, minimalism frees much time and energy to do things you’re passionate about. Like me, finally starting a blog.
  • Relationships. More than just gained time, minimalism sheds the excess things that often take up mental and emotional energy for the relationships that matter most. My marriage is maximally more rich for living as a material minimalist. This is what really matters.

There’s plenty more to be said, more for me to say in one essay, so as the minimalists say at the close of each of their podcasts:

“love people and use things, because the opposite never works.”

Intentional

One of my favorite moments in Parks and Recreation is the moment Ron Swanson orders the “number eight” at a local diner. The waiter kindly points out that their number eight is a party platter that serves twelve people, to which Swanson nonchalantly replies, “I know what I’m about, son.

Besides being hysterical, that line has replayed many times in my mind, by virtue of that character’s self-assurance and self-determination. You know it when you’ve met a self-possessed, confident man or woman when you meet them. They know where they find value and have taken great pains to shape their lives in a way that maximizes those values and the pleasures derived from them, even amidst the judgment of those who are threatened by their kind of confidence. They are intentional with the lives that they’ve worked hard to craft. I’ve found that a common theme that all who I admire share is that they “know what they are about” and they live in such a way that proves it. This is the way I wish to live. Let it be that my actions prove to you the kind of man I hope to be next year, in five years, in two decades.

Living like you “know what you are about” requires a chilling degree of mindfulness, humility, reflection, and honesty. What is it that you do on a daily basis right now that you would like to stop tomorrow? What habits have you allowed to take the ball and run away with it? What do you do that you know you don’t want to do? It takes mindfulness to become aware of what makes your body feel good and healthy. It takes humility to admit that you may not be living like the best version of you could be living. It takes reflection to find where that habit of mindless eating or Instagram scrolling really got away from you. It takes honesty to see that you may not be making decisions that your future self could be thanking you for.

Fresh starts are freely available commodities.

Living like you “know what you are about” also takes vision, courage, sweat, and grace. How does the best version of yourself live, five years from now? What steps could start you in that direction today? Where could you employ the power of compound interest by setting up habits that you’re proud to follow through on each day? It takes a vision of what your life could look like if things went well. It takes courage to identify what steps would help you get there and to actually walk those steps. It takes sweat, literal and metaphorical, to do the hard work that leads to your vision becoming reality. Finally, it takes grace to know when you’ve failed, to learn from what happened, and to avoid the same mistake tomorrow. Breaking your diet with a slice of pizza today doesn’t mean you must eat three whole pizzas tomorrow. Fresh starts are freely available commodities. Tomorrow, start the new streak at day 1.

Intentional living is crafted through your values. Really at the heart of all this work, your values are revealing how they could be acted out and helping to fine tune the details. I’ve learned through much trial and error where I can reclaim my time and my attention for my primary values of health, relationships, growth, and contribution. I’ve thought through seemingly mundane details of my day in order to squeeze as much meaning and energy out of everything I do. I figure, if I must do something on a daily basis, then I can at least attach meaning to it and learn to enjoy it.

I’ve made a list below of different habits and practices that I’ve intentionally set up to serve my values. I hope these can help prime your mind with ideas that may set you off in a positive direction. I am not perfect at any one of these, but these are the decisions I’ve made for myself. I have certainly not arrived. I am actually quite certain that I never will, but at least I know that I’m aiming in the right direction. I like to think that I could confidently look a waiter in the eye while ordering over ten pounds of lunch meat and let him know that “I know what I’m about.”

  • Wake up at 4:40 AM to workout at the gym before work.
  • Meal prep the same breakfasts and lunches for work.
  • Drink tea instead of coffee.
  • Eat only between the hours of 10 AM and 6 PM.
  • Drink at least four liters of water every day.
  • Tie my left shoe first and then my right.
  • Read a chapter of scripture every morning.
  • Fill a journal page every day.
  • Listen to podcasts and musicians that inspire me to think, to act, and to create.
  • Pack gym clothes the night before I need them.
  • Practice ten minutes of meditation every night.
  • Practice yoga, before bed, three nights a week.
  • Read at least 30 minutes every day.
  • Own only 33 articles of clothing (not including pairs of undergarments and socks).
  • Wear only plain black t-shirts.
  • Live a minimalist lifestyle.
  • Practice Sabbath every Friday.
  • Go on a date with my wife every other weekend.
  • Plug in and turn off my phone by 7 PM.