Less Is Not Nothing

Sometimes people think that living more simply and becoming a minimalist means giving everything away and living with nothing. What it really means is living with what is most important to you.

Clearing the clutter makes it easier to focus. Living with less allows you the time and space to thoughtfully spend your time and enjoy what means the most to you. Sometimes that is stuff.

When I wrote about letting go of sentimental items for Joshua Becker’s becomingminimalist.com, he asked me to explore the idea that less doesn’t mean none.

While some minimalists focus on living with less than a certain number of things or being able to carry all of their belongings in a backpack, most of us are just happy to live with less than we had before. That looks different for everyone. Depending on your current family size, and other factors, you may have more or less than the minimalist next door, and that is ok.

Shed stuff for the right reasons. Define why you want to shed your stuff, or you will end up filling those empty shelves with meaningless stuff again. Having less than another does not make you a better minimalist and living with less is not a competition. The purpose of simplifying is to have more time and space for what matters most to you.  That being said, you may challenge yourself with fun ideas like:

100 Things Challenge

minimalist fashion Project 333

One is Enough mini mission

These challenges should inspire you, but not stress you out. Have fun and attempt them with a light heart. You will find that the lesson never reveals itself right away. You may think that by wearing only 33 items for 3 months, the lesson is how to dress with less, but the real truth is discovered by the time and space you open up in doing the exercise.

What stuff you do decide to keep will reflect who you are and what you enjoy. Your stuff does not define you, but does contribute to your story. If you are passionate about baking, you will likely have more in your kitchen than someone who collects art, or runs marathons. When you start to focus on what is most important to you, even if it is stuff, you learn more about yourself.

The less is not nothing concept especially applies if you are a minimalist with a family. Be careful not to push someone else to live just like you, especially when they live with you. Believe me when I say, it’s tempting, but not effective in making real change. While there are many couples and families becoming minimalist together, chances are one person in the family started it and is more passionate about it. Focus on your own stuff, make decisions about family stuff together and let your partner or children find their own way with their personal stuff. Lead by example and don’t have expectations that every closet in the house will look the same.

When you learn to live with enough, you can direct your focus away from acquisition, away from filling space in your house and on your calendar and move towards making a difference.

Remember that there is a big leap between nothing and everything and lots of stops in between. Choose the one that fits you best.


  1. Holly says

    Just recently I realized that I have 50+ pairs of earrings, but I regularly wear only 4 or 5 pair. I used to buy earrings because I was unhappy and the momentary thrill of something new made me feel better. Now that I am happier I find that I don’t need the momentary thrill — or the drawer full of earrings! I’m enjoying finding new homes for the ones I don’t need or use. Getting rid of something, even something as small as earrings, seems to open more space and possibility in my life.

    • Benny says

      I agree Holly, same here. Getting rid of just one thing will clear space. I notice it myself with work. So much paperwork and sometimes everything seems important. Every month I try to clear the paper load.
      What did you do with the earrings? Are they all gone? (beside the 4/5 that you wear)

  2. says

    Great explanation, Courtney! I find some folks really can embrace the idea of simplifying but freak out as soon as they hear the words minimalist/minimalism. It can be so much of a hurdle that I usually use simplicity/simple instead…even though on a practical level, for many of us, we’re speaking of the same thing.

    I especially appreciate your comments about striving for simplicity/minimalism in a family setting–you definitely don’t want to try to force others to follow against their will. As with most things, the example you set will win more followers than any of the words you say.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • says

      Thanks T.C. The actual labeling can get scary, but once you start the actions, and living the principles, the name doesn’t really matter. Thanks for your feedback!

  3. says

    I used to sell silver jewelry I’m selling it on Ebay because I never dress up for work like I did as a psychologist. I’m getting a tent for camping with my money…shhh don’t tell hubs, he only likes hotels!LOL

  4. says

    This post is exactly what I needed to read! I am definitely the minimalist instigator in my household, and it has been difficult for me to accept that my husband has different needs and wants than myself. For example, while I am perfectly content to give up the car as a full time SAHM, my husband, who works far enough away from our home that bike commuting would not be practical, is understandably hesitant. Finding a balance within your family when both partners have different ideals can be a challenge, but this post reminds me to be open to the fact that my husband and I do not have to do everything the same way.

    In Christ,
    Anne Marie

  5. says

    This is a great point. As someone who blogs about how to live more simply through foods and cooking, I see minimalism as a way of living. While I could buy processed foods and do one big shopping once a month at a big box store, I find more satisfaction in buying just the amount of foods needed, and eating simple foods with few ingredients.

  6. says

    i like this post very much. Getting rid of stuff just to reach some goal has never rang true in my heart but I love how you explained it here.”Your stuff does not define you, but does contribute to your story.” That sums it up for me. Choosing what you live with is as important as choosing what you don’t. :)