A few years ago, my wife, Michelle, and I asked some friends to help us move. We packed our bags, rented a 40-foot truck, and assumed we’d be done in a few hours.
It lasted all day.
It was exhausting and embarrassing—we had so much stuff. As I watched my friends sweat and struggle to haul out my possessions, I realized that my stuff had come to possess me. Right then and there, I promised myself I would never put my friends through anything like that again, and since then, my wife and I have simplified drastically.
Here are a few things we’ve found helpful for simplifying a lot of different aspects our lives:
1. Practice the One-for-One Rule
How many things do you own? My rule is that if I’m not able to answer that question with an exact number, then I have too many possessions.
We started by donating most of our wedding presents. A few years later, my wife and I took the 100 Things Challenge, paring down our number of possessions to a total of 88 combined items for a 5-month-long trip. It was one of the most freeing seasons of our lives.
These days, I practice the one-for-one rule: for every new item acquired, one item much be donated or recycled. It’s a great way to keep us from hoarding.
2. Use Only the Housing Space You Need
There’s an ancient Chinese quote about having too much space: “The man with 1,000 rooms still sleeps in 1 bed.”
Michelle and I realized that we had more room than we needed, so we moved into a shiny 1975 Airstream trailer. At 248-square-feet, it’s more than enough space—we still have empty shelves. It’s so easy to clean, and we can still entertain guests.
While you don’t have to move into a house on wheels, it might be worth exploring if you really need that extra room, double garage or oversized living room.
3. Tone Down the Technology
People think we’re strange, but we don’t own cell phones. We buy used cars and used laptops. We don’t own a TV or a microwave or a dozen countertop appliances. These are conscious choices that leave us with plenty of free time to spend on life-giving relationships and activities.
4. Break Your Addictions
Life is far more simple (and freeing) when you cut porn, coffee, smoking, drinking, betting on sports, buying lottery tickets, Facebook or whatever else has become a point of addiction, unhealthy dependency or conviction in your life.
For me, giving up meat was one of the best decisions I personally ever made.
Cutting stress and workaholism will make you feel lighter too.
Make a list of all the things that you’re addicted to, then find someone who can hold you accountable as you transition to better habits.
5. Learn to Say No
This is a tough one. My natural temptation is to say yes to every speaking request and social engagement. Thankfully, my wife helps me guard our schedule. We need to say no to some things so we can say yes to others: time with God, time with friends, reading and learning and getting real rest each night.
6. Invest in a Small Circle of Friends
Rather than regularly attending tons of parties and engaging in small talk with lots of people, we’ve made of list of relationships that we want to invest in, and have focused our time and attention on them.
Conversation goes deeper. Encouragement and laughter run freely. Each hangout ends with a time of prayer. Rather than creating fast friendships for convenience, we’re building strong relationships for a lifetime.
7. Get Out of Debt
When my wife was a kid, she always complained to her parents that she never received any “window mail” bills. These days, she’s happy to not receive them. Our goal is to have as few monthly bills as possible, leaving us lean and flexible to move and serve as God calls us.
Get rid of debt, cut up the credit cards, cancel the subscriptions, batch your bills and you’ll enjoy more money in your accounts and far less paper in the mail box.
8. Simplify Your Work Routine
When you include getting ready, commuting and winding down, work dominates the majority of our waking hours. And yet over 1 million people lose their jobs each year in America. Minimalists see these trends and find ways to simplify their work routines. They work more hours on fewer days. They work from home a few days each week. Instead of a pay raise, they negotiate in hours cut or extra vacation time. They slowly transition from their day job to their dream job.
9. Cut Out Time-Wasters
A few years ago, a guy named Ben Arment stopped watching football and used the time to write a book and launch a conference. Limit your TV time, install distraction blockers on your computer and invest the time in something with lasting impact.
10. Find a Faith Community
Christian community is one of the first things people tend to drop when life gets complicated, but it ends up being a major mistake. We need solid foundations, constant community and spiritual encouragement in hards times—and we need to offer that to others in their hour of need. It takes a church to build a fully-devoted follower of Jesus.
My wife runs a charity that fights human trafficking, and I’m a globe-trotting author. For Michelle and I, minimalism helps us have a margin of time and money to work on projects that we feel called to do. “Living simple” isn’t what we glorify and celebrate—minimalism is a tool and a means to an end. We can’t afford to live the traditional, idealistic “American Dream” and still pursuing God’s calling on our life. We can’t have both, nor would we want both.
We have to choose each day whom we will serve.