Book Review: The More of Less

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A few years ago, I discovered Joshua Becker’s blog, Becoming Minimalist. At the time, my husband and I were anticipating a move, and preparing to downsize to a smaller house. Becker’s posts have inspired me again and again as I’ve walked the path from de-cluttering to downsizing to embracing minimalism. Now, truth be told, anyone who walked into my home would not describe it as “minimal,” but that’s ok. If I’ve learned anything from Joshua Becker, it’s that minimalism looks a little different for everyone. His latest book, The More of Less, describes his minimalist experience.

It all started with his garage. He was spending an entire Saturday cleaning out his garage, while his son repeatedly asked him to play in the backyard. He realized that all the stuff he owned was keeping him from spending time with the people he loved most. He says, “Our excessive possessions are not making us happy. Even worse, they are taking us away from the things that do.” The More of Less emphasizes how minimalism can give us more: more time, more money, more freedom, more contentment, more generosity.

So, what exactly is minimalism? Becker defines it this way: “Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from them.” He assures us that minimalism doesn’t mean giving up everything we own. Rather, it’s about removing distractions in our lives so we can focus on what’s most important. Becker also cautions us that “organizing” isn’t the same as “minimizing.” We can re-organize our possessions over and over again without removing any excess. It’s one thing to de-clutter, but it’s quite another to de-own. Excess possessions must be removed to begin reaping the benefits of minimalism.

Becker recounts how he and his wife tailored their minimalism to fit their lives. For example, he rarely played golf, so he got rid of his golf clubs. On the other hand, their family enjoys inviting guests to dinner, so they kept their large dining room set. “The goal of minimalism, let’s remember, is not just to own less stuff,” writes Becker. “Let minimalism clarify your goals and values, and let your goals and values shape your personal expression of minimalism.”

Becker also cautions his readers about the prevalence of consumerism. In my favorite part of the book, Becker poses the question, “What does your generation say about your particular style of consumerism?” He explores the different attitudes toward possessions held by the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. Members of the Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945) can remember the rationing of goods during World War II. They tend to be frugal and keep items that could be of use in the future. The Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) “became the first generation raised in large numbers in the suburbs,” according to Becker. “This generation benefited from an era of prosperity. Families became dual income for the first time in American history.” Becker says Generation X (born 1965-1980) has been “caught between American consumerism at its most unbridled and the dawning realities of what having too much really means.” Millennials (born 1981-2000) are more likely to practice minimalism than their ancestors, for several reasons. They tend to make use of the latest technology, live a mobile lifestyle, and be environmentally conscious. I find these observations very helpful for grandparents, parents, and young people who are trying to understand each others’ lifestyles.

The More of Less includes several stories of people who have embraced a minimalist lifestyle. My favorite is the story of a couple who earned good money, but couldn’t seem to find the funds to go on vacation. As they were discussing their financial woes, the doorbell rang. A package from Amazon was delivered. They decided to look at their Amazon order history, and what they found was shocking. Over four years, they had spent more than $10,000 buying items from Amazon, most of them for less than $40 each. What an epiphany!

I’ve read books on minimalism by other authors, but I relate to Becker because his worldview seems a lot like mine. He’s an American, married, with two kids. He has worked in Christian ministry, and includes a few Bible stories in the book. (These stories can serve as helpful illustrations even for readers who aren’t Christians.) He emphasizes how minimalism can lead us to be more generous with our time and money. He encourages his readers to find contentment in relationships rather than things. He challenges us to focus on serving others rather than collecting material possessions.

Becker includes several chapters of practical advice for beginning and sustaining the task of minimizing our possessions. He asks us to set goals. He invites us to write our own definition of clutter, then commit to ridding our homes of it. He suggests starting with small areas that will be easily conquered, giving us a sense of victory and the motivation to move forward. In addition, he addresses many common hurdles people face as they minimize. He also lists several habits that will help us maintain our progress for the long term. Finally, he gives sound advice on getting spouses and kids on board with minimalism.

Throughout the book, Becker maintains a theme of contentment, gratitude, and generosity. He uses the last few chapters to demonstrate how the benefits of minimalism can overflow into all areas of our lives, and even into others’ lives. He urges us to “find investments that tie our hearts to things that bring real joy, eternal purpose, and lasting fulfillment. I’m talking about our family, our friends, our spirituality, and the causes we believe in. Here is where we should be devoting more of our time, energy, and financial resources.” Becker practices what he preaches, too. He and his wife have started a non-profit organization called The Hope Effect, which provides orphan care in two-parent, family-style homes (rather than institutional orphanages).

I highly recommend The More of Less for anyone who needs practical help with minimizing material possessions, or who wants to learn what this minimalist trend is all about. Joshua Becker is a pioneer in this growing movement, and I believe his message is changing lives…one garage at a time!

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