Premise of the Book
What started with Joshua Becker clearing out his garage became a life-changing journey in minimalism, for more reasons than one. Becker documented his journey at his blog, Becoming Minimalist, which became one of the most successful minimalism blogs on the internet.
The More of Less is a consolidation of the key principles that Becker learnt along the way. The book introduces the basic principles of minimalism, its origins, and the practical steps the reader can take to change their own life for the better through minimalism.
Book Summary: The Key Lessons
#1: Remove distractions from the things that matter. Minimalism is about promoting the things we value and removing the things that distract us from them. Its benefits include more time and energy, more money, less stress, less comparison, greater clarity and contentment.
#2: Understand the how and why of consumerism. We must understand our hidden motivations to consume by examining our definition of success, our generational influences and our deeper views of security, acceptance and contentment.
#3: Start small and work through the practical steps. Use your overall goals to guide your approach to minimalism. Start small on areas of frequent use, targeting quick wins, and then go room by room, eliminating duplicates as you go.
#4: Experiment and maintain. If you’re unsure about particular items or even minimalism as a whole, try an experiment. Go without some items for a month and see if you’ve missed them. Get rid of them if they go unmissed.
#5: Live intentionally and dream big. Removing distractions from the things that matter is pointless if we don’t then go after our dreams. Live generously and intentionally, and take advantage of the dividends of time, money and freedom that minimalism yields.
Book Notes: The Key Lessons in Detail
The below book notes outline the key lessons I took away from reading The More of Less in more detail. These notes by no means provide complete coverage of all the practical advice throughout the book. They are instead intended to consolidate the key ideas and serve as an introduction to decide whether the full book is worth further attention.
Lesson #1: Remove distractions from the things that matter
The developed world now owns more material possessions than ever before, and these possessions are not making us happy. Worse, they often distract us from the things that do.
Minimalism can help us to see this more clearly:
“Once we let go of the things that don’t matter, we are free to pursue all the things that really do matter. […] Subtracting unneeded stuff multiplies opportunities to pursue things you care about.”
Becker defines minimalism as “the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from them.”
The benefits of minimalism include:
- More time and energy: Less time devoted to maintaining, researching, cleaning, etc. and more time to meaningful things.
- More money: Buying fewer things means more money in our pockets.
- Greater generosity: A lower-cost lifestyle frees up resources to support causes we care about.
- Less stress: As Becker puts it, “Mess + Excess = Stress”.
- Less comparison: Minimalism reduces our tendency to “keep up with the Joneses”.
Once we get past the misconceptions and embrace the benefits of minimalism, the most important step is to simply start.
There is no standard minimalism formula. Becker suggests our minimalism should be a “heuristic process”, learning as we go and using our overarching purpose to guide our decisions. As clutter is reduced, we’ll get a better idea of our vision for our future.
Lesson #2: Understand the how and why of consumerism
For over a century, advertising has sought to link consumerism with happiness. The truth is very different.
One of the most important steps on the minimalism journey is to understand the tendencies that have fed into this misconception.
“The key to overcoming our consumeristic tendencies is to deliberately peer into our blind spot and see what we have been ignoring.”
Becker suggests we can spot the effects of consumerism by looking at three areas:
- Generational influences: Think about different attitudes to consumerism by generation.
- Definitions of success: Think about how you view success alongside consumerism.
- Tools of manipulation: Be aware of the tricks retailers play, such as decoy pricing and loyalty schemes.
“Admire success. But do not celebrate excess. Learning to know the difference will change your life.”
Minimalism also requires us to look around and examine our motives for the purchasing decisions we make.
“Once you get to the why of your unnecessary purchases – the hidden motivations causing you to buy – then possessions will begin to lose their power over you.”
As we begin to get rid of stuff, we automatically confront some of these hidden motivations. Becker points to three areas in particular.
- Security: Once basic needs are met, we should look to relationships as our source of security. Psychology studies show that those overestimating what their possessions do for them tend to underestimate and put less work into relationships.
- Acceptance: We should change our view of what is acceptable and normal. Don’t spend money on things to get people to like you.
- Contentment: Let contentment come to you by appreciating what you have and giving away what you don’t need.
Lesson #3: Start small and work through the practical steps
Becker suggests we should ease ourselves into minimalism in a few simple steps:
- Write down your goals. Consider why it is you want to minimise. To be effective, we must be convinced minimalism is worth the effort before we start.
- Target quick wins. Target areas of frequent use.
- Go room by room. Focus on specific areas at a time, e.g. cupboards, rooms, shelves. Create three piles: keep, relocate, remove.
- Eliminate duplicates.
- Share your story.
As more and more clutter is eliminated, we will begin to confront trickier items. Becker identifies a few potential problem areas (books, technology, sentimental items and the home) and puts forward numerous tips.
For example, we can confront our books by realising they don’t define us and setting boundaries for our collection. Similarly, we can challenge our technology ownership by asking ourselves what problem it solves and counting the opportunity cost of future purchases.
Lesson #4: Experiment and maintain
Experimentation in minimalism is simple: if you aren’t sure about getting rid of something, experiment without it and then decide if it’s worthwhile.
Becker calls the idea of relocating items for small experiments “levelling”. Levelling is an important first step towards eventual elimination. And in practice, placing items away in boxes and returning to them later rarely returns sentiments of having missed those items.
Becker recommends a month for such experiments, and these can be easily applied to clothes, toys and other items across the home.
We must also form habits that stop clutter coming back.
“Nature abhors a vacuum. Something always rushes to fill it. Human nature, it seems, is the same.”
Breaking bad habits most often requires another behaviour to take its place. Becker points to several important areas worth focus.
- Incorporate tidying into everyday practices. For example, make the bed each morning, wash dishes right away, keep surfaces clean.
- Break the cycle of unnecessary shopping. Impose a shopping ban as an experiment.
- Watch less television. Make a list of programmes you can do without and stop.
- Establish ground rules for gifts. Request quality over quantity and make wishes clearly known. Request donations to charity instead.
- Cultivate gratitude. Observe, reflect and record your gratitude in a short journal.
Lesson #5: Live intentionally and dream big
The quickest shortcut to a life of impact is to give to others. Living with less can permit more generosity with both our time and resources.
“There’s a richness in turning our excess into someone else’s supply. And the sooner we give to others, the sooner we discover the great potential each of our lives can hold.”
When it comes to the small stuff, Becker believes it’s just not worth selling. Instead, he suggests giving things away to charities to serve an immediate need. Our charity can even go further as a result of the financial “dividend” minimalism brings.
Minimalism can also help us live more intentionally going forward.
“… we examine our options and make choices wit larger purposes and longer-term goals in mind. If an activity, a decision, or a habit is not bringing us closer to our purpose and passion, then we should remove it. Because most of the time it is only distracting us from what really matters.”
There are three important areas where we can benefit significantly from this approach:
- Busyness: We should cultivate some space in our routines for reflection, embrace the idea of saying no, and make time for rest.
- Health and Appearance: Our bodies are the instruments by which we achieve our purpose and must be treated as such.
- Relationships: We should remove toxic and harmful relationships but recognise that sometimes even one-sided relationships give us a positive opportunity to give.
Ultimately, we shouldn’t lose sight of the purpose of minimalism. We should use the fruits of minimalism to pursue our dreams and do things that benefit others.
As Becker puts it in the closing words of the book:
“If all we do is minimise our lifestyle without taking advantage of the dividends of time, money and freedom that minimalism yields, then it would be like contributing regularly to a retirement investment account during your career and yet never spending the money on your retirement.”