Joshua Becker is a writer, blogger, speaker, husband, father and former pastor whose mission is to inspire and encourage others to experience a simpler and more fulfilling lifestyle. He and his family were introduced to minimalism several years ago after an eye-opening conversation with their neighbor. They became much more intentional about clearing the clutter and were surprised to find that as they learned to live with less stuff, they actually experienced a much more abundant life.
Since then, Joshua's story has become a source of inspiration to millions around the world as one of the leading voices in the modern simplicity movement. His blog, Becoming Minimalist, is read by more than one million visitors every month, and he has contributed to articles in USA Today, Christianity Today, The Wall Street Journal, TIME and other publications. He is a frequent guest on HuffPost Live and has appeared on numerous TV programs including the CBS Evening News.
Homecoming Magazine: Some of us may have misconceptions about what minimalism actually means. Would you define that for us?
Joshua Becker: Sure. The definition I use of minimalism is this: Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it. That is the definition that I use in the book. The book is primarily related to possessions, and how the things that we own aren't just not making us happier, they are actually taking us away from the very things that do bring us happiness, purpose and fulfillment. When you think about all the time and money and energy that goes into cleaning and organizing and maintaining our stuff, it often actually distracts us from the things that we really most value in life.
HC: Why do you think so many of us get in the habit of acquiring more and more?
Joshua: Number one, as a Christian I realize that there's a certain sinful nature ... there's a certain heart condition inside of us, or a kind of innate selfishness and jealousy and greed that plays a part into it. Then, we live in a society that is constantly pushing consumption and consumerism onto us. Statistics say that we see 5,000 advertisements every single day. Every single advertisement tells us that we'll be happier if we buy whatever they're selling, that our life isn't fulfilled enough. I think before too long we just buy into that without even realizing it, which feeds, I think, some of the inward selfish inclinations that we have within us already.
HC: So true.... Well, you said that you used to have a lot more possessions. In The More of Less, you recount a conversation with a neighbor that kind of sparked a "light bulb" moment for you. Was that the main turning point for you?
Joshua: Yeah, it was a pretty drastic life change that took part in that one conversation. I was always a little discontented with the use of my money, in that I never seemed to have enough even though I had had like three or four significant pay increases since we got married. And I was never as generous a person as I wanted to be. I would read what Jesus said about money and what God said about taking care of the poor. I would compare what God said in the Word compared to how I was living my life, and it never seemed to measure up quite right. When that conversation with my neighbor took place, suddenly it made sense of a lot of the stress and the weariness and the financial strain that I had had for so long.
HC: Was your family immediately supportive, or did that cause tension at the time?
Joshua: Yeah, that's a good question. My wife was on board. The story was, I was out cleaning the garage while my wife was cleaning the inside of the house all morning and into the afternoon. When I approached her, right after that conversation with our neighbor, I said, "I think we should own less stuff." She was scrubbing the bathtub and she said, "That sounds pretty good right about now." Then we got rid of maybe 50 or 60 percent of our stuff.
HC: That's a huge amount.
Joshua: Well, yeah, I mean, this was over six to nine months. I wanted to keep going; I wanted to get rid of more stuff. Then that's where [my wife] kind of started to push back. She was like, "You know, I think this is good. I wasn't in for getting rid of everything." That's when we learned compromise.
Actually, the question about "What do I do about my spouse?" is usually the most common question that I get asked. I always say it's always easier to see everyone else's clutter than it is to see our own. It's important that you start with your own stuff and that you get rid of your own things before you expect your spouse to get rid of theirs. Same with kids; it's is not fair to expect them to do something that you haven't gone through yourself.
HC: Yes, that makes sense.
Joshua: My daughter was 2 at the time, and she didn't know much about what was going on. My son was 5. By the time we went through all of our stuff and went through all of our rooms, he knew what we were doing so when we got to his toy room and got to his bedroom, I think he was prepared and ready and actually did a pretty good job of being able to pick out the toys that he didn't use and got rid of those.
HC: OK, so what kind of response did you have when you started writing about minimalism?
Joshua: Well, I've been blown away at the response. I started blogging just like a personal diary. It was just a personal journal of what we were getting rid of and what we were keeping and why, and what lessons I was learning. I think that first month it was maybe just me and my mom that were reading. Now, we have over a million readers every month at becomingminimalist.com. People are very drawn to the message. I think we're in a place in history where we're just drowning in our possessions, and there's actually more joy in owning less than we can ever find in pursuing more. It really does resonate with people's hearts. I think it is a message that they don't hear, so when they hear it they're drawn to it because there's innate truth contained in it.
HC: What are some of the benefits that you've found from owning less?
Joshua: I'll just rattle a bunch off. We have more time available. We have more money. We have less stress. We have less distraction in our lives. I have more focus, more freedom. I'm a better example to my kids than I was before of what's worth pursuing in life. It's certainly better for the environment, the life that I'm living now. I've found more opportunity for generosity. I found contentment and gratitude, and less comparison with other people.
HC: It sounds like there's a lot of spiritual changes as well as....
Joshua: Well, yeah, I've found great spiritual growth through the process. There's an interesting interaction with John the Baptist in Luke chapter 3, where he's preparing Israel for Jesus, for the coming Messiah. He's preaching repentance, the kingdom is coming. A bunch of people go out and meet him in the wilderness. They're like, "OK we get it. the Messiah is coming, something great is coming. What do we do to get ready?" In Luke 3:11-14 he says, "If you have two coats, get rid of one and give it to the man who has none. If you have extra food, give it to the person who has none." He says, "Tax collectors, don't collect any more than you need to." To the soldiers he says, "Be content with your pay."
That's it. I find it fascinating that all of his instructions had to do with physical possessions. Right? It wasn't go pray, it wasn't go study the Old Testament prophesies; it was to get rid of the excess possessions in your life. It didn't make any sense to me until I actually started getting rid of the extra stuff in my life. I found some of it to be very difficult to get rid of. I found that it forced a lot of difficult questions.
HC: It was hard for you to get rid of some of it?
Joshua: Oh yeah. I think that's a spiritual journey. What is it that draws us to hold on to so much stuff, and what is it that we're looking for in those things? What are the tendencies inside of our hearts that seem to keep us so....
HC: Tethered to the stuff.
Joshua: Yeah, tethered, that's a good word.
HC: So, when somebody picks up your book, how will it help or encourage them?
Joshua: The book is very motivational and practical; it presents the positive benefits of owning less. It's not an organizing book, but it offers some very practical ways to get started. And, it addresses some of the difficult topics, the most difficult things that the people run into. I think oftentimes when people talk about owning less, their mind tends to run to the hardest spot or thing that they would have to struggle with. For some people it's, "Oh I could never get rid of books" or "I could never get rid of my sentimental things." For others, it might be a spot in your home where you're like, "Oh gosh, I don't even know how I would get started in the basement."
I would say you don't start in the basement. If you're going to run a marathon, you don't run 26 miles the first day, you run half a mile the first day. Start easy. Start small. Start in a lived-in area in your home. The first thing I did was my car. Then we did our living room, which I think for a lot of people is pretty easy. Not easy, but it's not as difficult as a storage room. Go through your living room and take out everything that doesn't need to be there.
Then, I think what you'll find is the next time you sit in your living room is that it feels very nice not to have all the stuff around. When you notice that, then it gives you momentum to say, "Oh, let's go do this in my bedroom as well. Let's go try it in the closet and the bathroom." I think it just builds up momentum and motivation and eventually you get to the harder places.
HC: Just getting that first area done will bring a lighter and more free feeling....
Joshua: Yeah. One of the things I have people do when I speak on this is I have them close their eyes and picture themselves sitting in their cleanest, tidiest room, and then picture themselves sitting in the most cluttered, most messy room. You can almost feel on your shoulders the weight of all that stuff around you.
I don't know if this is interesting, but this is in the book as well. I find that different generations have different attachments to physical things. You find the generation that grew up during World War II, grew up through the Great Depression, that they very much have a "use it up" mentality ... fix it and use it and don't get rid of it until you have to, because that's how they grew up. They hold on to a lot of things.
The world has changed. Things are far more accessible, and things are far more inexpensive than they were. Things have accumulated in their home, especially if they've been in the same home for 30 or 40 years. A lot of that generation is being forced to downsize, whether it is for health reasons or financial issues or something else. Between that generation and then on down, baby boomers are retiring. They spent their whole life building the suburbs and buying the fancy stuff that they could. Now I think they're starting to wonder if it was all worth it. So there are certainly some generational things that affect our attachment to possessions as well.
HC: Yeah. That's interesting. That could probably even be a whole other book.
Joshua: You're probably right!
HC: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time, and I look forward to diving into this book and starting to declutter in my own life. I'm sure a lot of other people will be inspired as well.
Joshua: Thank you!