Joshua Becker, author of The More of Less, explains why materialism does not lead to happiness and how greater joy can actually be found through minimizing possessions. He offers practical suggestions for decluttering your life and defeating consumerism through generosity and gratitude.
Mr. Joshua Becker: Out of the corner of my eye I see my 5-year-old son swinging alone in the backyard and suddenly had this realization that everything I owned wasn't not just making me happy, but everything I owned was actually taking me away from the very thing that did bring me happiness and purpose and fulfillment and joy in life.
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John Fuller: That's Joshua Becker and you'll hear more from him on today's "Focus on the Family" about simplifying your life. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, is this true or what? Most of us own too much stuff and feel the burden of clutter. Is that my No. 1 thing?
John: That's one of your big things, your garage in particular.
Jim: It is true, isn't it?
John: And your desk and office, though, are very meticulous and clutter-free.
Jim: That's because I can control those things, but when you live with a family, you can't control those things.
John: Stuff everywhere, it seems.
Jim: But that whole idea that we've got drawers full of stuff, closets full of stuff. If you, like me, feel buried under your stuff, we want to come alongside you today with a really unique perspective of one man's journey to minimize his possessions, and what he and his family have learned along the way.
Jesus talks about this quite a lot, about earthly treasures, throughout Scripture, and we're reminded that our lives are worth far more than what we accumulate in our stuff; but if you were to walk in many of our garages and houses, you wouldn't know that, and I'm looking forward to this intervention, as you called it, John.
John: Well, we do have some great resources—some of them you can even buy and add to your stuff pile (Laughter)—at our website. It's http://focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Our guest, as I said, is Joshua Becker, and he's got a popular blog called "Becoming Minimalist," and he's a former youth pastor. He's the author of the book The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own. And that's the book I referred to that we do have at the website, and it's gonna form the foundation for our conversation today.
Jim: Joshua, welcome to "Focus on the Family."
Joshua: It is a pleasure to be here. Thank you for the opportunity.
Jim: I'm scared to death right now.
Joshua: Wow. Good. (Laughter)
Jim: Okay, now the first thought I have when you think of minimalist, you think of a social order, you know. And many of us in the Christian community may not resonate with that idea that it's a good idea to be a minimalist, because for years I know--I'm in my 50's--I mean it's all about buy, buy, buy; consumer-driven economy. That's what we live in. But it is wise for us to stop and take a deep breath and say, "What is driving my appetite?" Where were you at and when did you have this epiphany that maybe this isn't the road to go down?
Joshua: Eight years ago I was living in Vermont. I woke up on a Saturday to spring clean the house. My wife was gonna do the inside; I offered to do the garage. It had been this long winter, so I pulled everything out into the driveway. I had this vision that my 5-year-old son would help me clean out the garage. (Laughter) That lasted about 15 seconds and he was in the backyard, asking [me to play with him].
Jim: That's 10 seconds better than most of us, so way to go.
Joshua: Of course, he runs into the backyard, asking every 20 or 15 minutes for me to come back and play with him right in the midst of this moment. "Not today, not this moment, let me finish up with the garage." Hours later, one thing leads to another; I'm still working on the garage. [I] strike up a conversation with my neighbor. She was doing all her yard work all morning long and [I was] just complaining a little bit about how much time and effort had gone into taking care of our house and taking care of our things. And she's the first person to ever introduce me to the word. She said, "You know, that's why my daughter is a minimalist. She keeps telling me I don't need to own all this stuff."
Jim: That's your neighbor.
Joshua: That's my neighbor. I looked over at my driveway. There's this pile of dirty, dusty things I'd spent all day cleaning, knowing full well that my possessions weren't making me happy, right? We will all admit, "My possessions aren't making me happy." But out of the corner of my eye I see my 5-year-old son swinging alone in the backyard and suddenly had this realization that everything I owned wasn't not just making me happy, but everything I owned was actually taking me away from the very thing that did bring me happiness and purpose and fulfillment and joy in life.
This idea that our possessions are actually distracting us from the most important things in life was the very realization that brought about this desire to intentionally own less and pursue minimalism, however it was going to look for my unique family.
Jim: Now that's your epiphany. You have about a million people coming to your website every month. It seems like this is a catching trend that some people are saying, "Okay, stuff is not what I'm about," especially in the Christian community, which is great.
Jim: Is it sustainable? Is it the right thing to do? Give me the scriptural background for why we, as Christians, need to really think about being minimalist when it comes to material possessions.
Joshua: Yeah, well certainly we find Jesus going on and on talking about money and possessions. I lived this life where I used to read what Jesus would say about giving away possessions and think to myself, "Man, He really wants me to be miserable." You know, "Boy, He really wants me to take care of the poor. I get it," but live this really boring life, or it's a test of my faith somehow that I would own fewer things.
But as we began going through our home and getting rid of our possession, I suddenly found out that we, like almost immediately, we had more time. We had more money. We had more energy. We had less stress. We were a better example for our kids. We started to find contentment and gratitude and generosity. Like all these things begin to emerge in our life that most of us want more of anyway, and suddenly I started to see what Jesus wrote entirely different[ly]; that every time Jesus talked about getting rid of your possessions, that He wasn't calling me to give up joy; He wasn't calling me to give up happiness. He was just inviting me to a better way to live, a better way to find this joy and purpose and fulfillment in life.
One of the most fascinating realizations through this process is the parable of the four soils. The first seed, you know, gets picked up by the birds and doesn't grow at all. The second one gets scorched by the sun. The third one grows roots, but doesn't bear any fruit because it's choked out by the weeds. The fourth seed on the soil is the only one that bears fruit. It's one of the rare parables that Jesus actually explains what He meant by it. (Laughter)
Jim: With a little frustration, maybe, it seems like, "Don't you know what I'm saying?"
Joshua: Yeah, see, He gets the third soil, the one that has faith, right? It grows roots, but the fruit is choked out by the weeds, and He says the weeds are riches, pleasures, and worries. And I can remember reading that parable and thinking to myself, "I am so glad I am the fourth soil. I'm so glad I'm the fruitful one."
But I've gotta tell you, I look at the American church,I look at my own life, and I start to ask myself: I wonder if we are actually the third soil. In many ways, our fruitfulness has been choked out by all the things we're buying, all the things we're pursuing, buying into that accumulation of more and more that the world promotes at every turn.
Jim: Well, and I so appreciate the act of introspection, which is what I don't get riled up, I don't get defensive with that. I think there are so many God nuggets that God wants us to see in this life, when someone challenges you, like you are. You're challenging me right now. How do we respond to that? You know, what nugget of truth are you bringing to bear? And you've done a great job in your book, The More of Less. You mention that story and you said that the powerful realization was when you realized, "I don't need to own all this stuff." Speak to the person who hasn't gotten to that point yet.
I actually enjoy all this stuff. It makes my life feel better. I enjoy the stuff. Now I could probably get rid of some of this stuff. I'm with you there, Joshua, but really? How far do I need to go to be honoring the Lord?
Joshua: Yeah, a couple of different thoughts to your second question. Man, so much of the Christian walk is listening and walking by the Spirit, right? And how does this look? How is this different from one person to another? I am a writer, so a minimalist writer, you know, needs to own certain things. My grandparents were farmers. They want to pursue minimalism, right? A minimalist farmer is going to look very different than a minimalist writer.
What is my purpose? What do I feel God is calling me to do? What is God calling me to fulfill with my life? What are the tools? What are the things that I need in order to accomplish that better? And then what are just all the distractions that I've accumulated, whether they are physical or time commitments, you know. What are the distractions that have unintentionally, I think, emerged into our life that are actually keeping us from fulfilling this process.
Jim: We need a definition, because again I think so many people are understanding what you're saying, but what is the definition of a minimalist? What's a healthy definition?John the Baptist we all respect. I don't think many people want to live like that, eating locusts and you know, but I say that with respect. I mean we all are in awe that he was preparing the way, and he has to be the minimalist, right? But is that too far? Do we not honor the Lord if we are not that far over there in giving up everything? Define it for me.
Joshua: So the definition that I use is, minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it. And so that's gonna look different from person to person.
Jim: So there's no formula, other than that.
Joshua: Absolutely, your example is fantastic. We even find Jesus interacting in different ways. We find Him going to the disciples and say, "Hey, leave everything. Leave your nets. Leave your boats. Come and follow Me." But when the man who was demon-possessed comes to Jesus and says, "I'm ready to follow You; where are we going?" He says, "No, no, no, no. Go back home. Live in your house. Be my witness in your city." And so, we do find Jesus calling some people—John the Baptist, Mother Teresa—like He calls some people to give up everything, but He calls others, "No, go be a good banker. Go be a good teacher. Go be a good car mechanic. You do what you need to do in your area."
Now does that mean that the auto mechanic and the banker and the accountant should be buying the biggest houses that they possibly can be? I don't think so, because I think that you find, you know, other principles in there about finding generosity and not being overburdened by some of those things.
Jim: Sure, so you have that "Ka-pow" moment. For those that are just tuning in, this is when you realize you have more stuff than you should, and you realize you don't need to own that much stuff. That was the "Ka-pow." What did your life look like a week later, a month later, a year later? How did you go about winnowing out the stuff? And did that go down well with your wife? (Laughter)
Joshua: That is a great question.
Jim: Let's not go there. "Honey, what are you doing? We need a sink."
Joshua: Yeah, that Saturday I was spring-cleaning the garage, my wife was spring-cleaning the inside of the house. So when I ran inside and I said, "You'll never guess what our neighbor said. She said we don't have to own all this stuff," I think she was scrubbing her, like her third toilet by that time, and she was like, "You know what? That like sounds pretty good right about now." (Laughter)
And so, we were both on board. I think the first thing we did is I grabbed a box and I just like walked around our house. What in our house do we not even want to have here anymore, and, you know, began taking some of those things to the Goodwill and some of the local charities.
And then we began progressing room by room through our house. Okay, let's go through the living room. What needs to be here, what doesn't, the bedrooms, the kitchen?
Jim: Was this in a week or in a day or in a month?
Joshua: Yeah. It took us about nine months to get through our home if you count the basement and the garage and some of those things that just had shelves and shelves of stuff. About three years after that, we moved into a smaller home, found that when we could move into a smaller home that we still had more things that we could get rid of. And even after that, we have two kids, 14 and 10, and they're changing and they're growing and they have different hobbies and talents and things that they want to develop, and so it's always, I think, an evaluation of where we're going, what we have, and what we're trying to do.
Jim: So as a maximalist (Laughter), my new definition for me, how do I get started? I mean you talk about going to each room of the house. How deep does the pain need to go until you feel like, okay, I'm achieving it, I feel better, the stuff's not owning me? What's reasonable?
Joshua: Yeah, I mean a number of different steps, a number of different, you know, things to go down that road. Usually I tell people that they should start in the easiest, most lived-in space of their home. Many people tend to run to, oh, how could I ever get rid of my sentimental things? How could I ever get rid of my books? And I'm like, no, you don't start at the hardest stuff. Start somewhere easy. Start in your car. That was the first place I started. I pulled my car out of the garage and I pulled it back in that night and I just noticed I think for the first time there's CDs no one listens to and there's maps and pens and receipts and Happy Meal toys and ketchup packets, and like what is all this stuff doing in this space?
Jim: You cleaned out the glove box? Wow.
Joshua: Yeah, everything but the owner's manual and title, insurance. Grabbed a bag, set it all aside, and I, like the next morning when I sat in my car, I just thought, "Man, this feels so nice to not have the clutter around, to not have the distractions. I feel like I can focus on my life and focus on my day." From there, I would tell people to go to the living room, if that's an easy place. Just take everything out of the living room that you don't need any more. You don't have to get rid of it at the moment; just put it somewhere else and then sit in that space and just notice the calm, the peace, the ability to focus on, you know, whatever means most to you. And then use that momentum to go to more places in the home.
John: Well, you're listening to Joshua Becker on today's "Focus on the Family." He's our guest, helping us understand The More of Less. That's the title of his book. You'll find that and other helpful resources, a CD or download of this program, at http://focusonthefamily.com/radio. And I appreciate what you're saying about starting easy. (Laughter)
Jim: I bet you do; me, too.
John: Okay, so somebody kindly gave me a mountain bike about 15 years ago, and about 14 years ago I quit riding it. And I've looked at it for so long, sitting alongside the house in this little bike shed I had to build for all the bikes we have because we have a bunch of kids, and I thought I can get rid of this. And I took it down and I donated it to a little ministry that gives bikes away to kids, and I felt so good about that. It was so easy to do. I was really motivated, but I stopped there. So what's the encouragement to keep goin'? How do I build on success?
Joshua: Let's not miss the important factor of generosity and how you found fulfillment and how you found joy in giving away that bicycle. I mean don't you want to feel that more? I mean don't you want to feel more and more of that in your life? I'm so convinced that we all want to be generous. Ninety-nine point nine percent of us want to be generous people; we just don't seem to find the capacity for it sometimes. I would continue to use that idea of generosity to propel you into getting rid of other things.
I had a lady call me. Actually, we were talking online one time and she said, "Look, I've been through a lot of my house; I got rid of a lot of different things. I get to my clothes, and I just can't get rid of 'em. I just love the fashion. I just can't take that step." She said, "Until last week. I was driving downtown and I passed—I don't think I've ever noticed it before—it was the battered women's shelter in our city." And she said, "I considered the women that were inside there that had escaped maybe in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on their back and maybe their children in their arms, and I flashed back to my closet, just full of clothes sitting there. And it occurred to me how much beauty and how much joy I could give to these women by parting with some of this clothing." And she said, "It was all I needed to make that switch."
And so, as you talk about giving that bike away to someone, who else needs your stuff? You know, what else are the local charities that you believe in that could benefit from the things that you have in your home? Use that motivation to go forward. Generosity is the lifeblood and the result of minimalism in a lot of ways.
Jim: Yeah, and Joshua, sometimes when we marry, it was wonderful that you and your wife kinda were in the same place at the same moment, so that was great. Oftentimes opposites attract. You have savers and you have throwers, and that can become a complicated issue if you have a saver spouse and you want to be getting rid of more stuff. (Chuckling) I remember a time when I rented one of those big trash bins and I was cleaning out the garage, throwing stuff away, and then by the evening Jean will have gone out and she pulled stuff out and couldn't believe I was gonna throw that stuff away because it had some value to her. What do you coach the couple when there are those differences, and how do we respect each other's differences?
Joshua: Yeah, how much time do we have? (Laughter) So, if I want to get rid of 80 percent of our stuff, my wife wants to get rid of 50 to 60 percent, so it went pretty well the first couple of times through the house. I'm like, "Let's do it again," and she's like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. I think we're at a good point." So, certainly I had to learn some compromise there. The question of how do I embrace these principles when my spouse wants nothing to do with it is the most common question that I get asked.
Sometimes, interesting[ly] by the same people,I was speaking one time; a wife came up to me and said, "Look, I'm the minimalist in the family, trying to get rid of things, but my husband wants nothing to do with it."
Jim: He's the saver.
Joshua: Literally 10 minutes later the husband comes up to me and says, "Look, I'm the minimalist one in the family. I just can't get my wife on board." And some of that is because it's easier to see everyone else's clutter than it is to see our own.
Joshua: And speaking generally, you know, sometimes the women have more stuff inside the house than in the closet. The guys can't understand why they would want that. Meanwhile, the guys are grabbing more and more things in the garage and the large toys and the hobbies and the outdoor stuff, and the woman's like, "I can't get him to get rid of any of those things."
So, No. 1, realize that, that it's easier to see everyone else's clutter than it is to see your own. Realize that you're gonna have to lead by example in this area; that you can handle your own stuff. It's unfair to force your spouse to get rid of things if you haven't done your own.
Jim: Well, in fact your spouse, your wife, did have some struggle with some heirlooms, right? And you had to talk that one through, or she made the decision. Describe what took place.
Joshua: Yeah, before we embraced this idea, my wife's grandmother had passed away, and when she did, each of the grandkids went through her apartment and grabbed different things. My wife had like two cardboard boxes full of stuff that she'd gotten to remember her grandmother. As we started owning less and less, we eventually got to those boxes in the basement, of all places, things we hadn't looked at for years and we just said, like what's most important in here?
We have boxes of things that we've never looked at. They're certainly not reminding us of your grandmother. And so, she went through and she picked out three things. She picked out a candy dish that was in [her] grandmother's living room that's now in our living room. She picked out a pin that her grandmother would wear on her coat that she now wears on her coat. And she grabbed her grandmother's Bible, that's now in our nightstand.
And in many ways because she kind of embraced this idea of owning fewer of these memory items, we actually brought greater value to them, greater value to the relationship in just terms of kind of moving her legacy on into our life in more real ways than stuff in the basement.
Jim: That's interesting. Hey, you mention in your book the difficulty, or you talk about the difficulty of getting rid of things because of an image we have of who we want to be. What do you mean by that? I think I get it, but describe it.
Joshua: It's one of the most helpful ideas for people, actually, this idea of de-cluttering your fantasy self.
Jim: What does that look like?
Joshua: Yeah, well, it's different from person to person. There's a guy named Dave Bruno. He actually introduced me to this idea. He wrote a book called The 100 Thing Challenge, and in it he talks about the hardest thing for him to get rid of was his woodworking equipment. He tried to own just 100 things, so getting rid of the woodworking stuff in the garage was the toughest thing for him. And he said, as he sold it and as it was driving away in some guy's pickup truck, he said, "I realized it was difficult because for me it was the death of a dream. Like I always wanted to be a woodworker. The reality was I wasn't a woodworker. I wanted the stuff because I wanted to be that person, but I just never was." And that can be very difficult for people.
I was at a conference in Orlando, speaking, and a guy came up to me and he said, "You know what? I have shelves and shelves of books that I've never read. And the reality is I have them because I want to be a reader or I want to be known as a reader because I think I should, but in reality I'm just not. That's just not how I learn." And so, getting rid of those things, getting rid of your fantasy self idea, allows you to walk better in the people that we actually are and how God created us to be.
Jim: Hey, Joshua. We're wrapping up here. You talked about the importance of generosity, but you also mentioned in your book the importance of gratitude. And I know as a parent of two teen boys, you're constantly, as a mom or a dad, trying to get that lesson across. How is this impacted in your household with your family, the idea of gratitude and being grateful for those things you do have?
Joshua: Yeah, gratitude is so important to this, because you know we can't enjoy the things that we have if we're constantly desiring different things. And I think that for me, forcing myself into owning less or finding the benefit of it and intentionally embracing that idea has caused me to reflect more on the things that I kept, caused me to reflect more on the blessings and the good things that God has given to me.
When you kind of remove that idea that happiness is over there, that my life will be better with more and more and more, suddenly we're able, I think, to just take a step back and realize, hey, in reality, my life is pretty good. God has met all of my needs. God has provided for me over and over again. I'm not having to go without some of these things that God has promised over and over again.
Jim: It creates that spirit of gratitude, which is good. That's a great benefit. Man, this has been terrific, and it has flown by. So the next step is I'll have you come over to the house. We should do a reality TV show.
Jim: "How to Clean Out the Clutter at the Daly's," but what a great start. Your book, The More of Less, this has been really helpful to better understand it. And yeah, I think it would be worth putting one more piece of something in your home, and that is to get this book as a resource. So do that. If this is where you're living and you're seeing the impact of materialism in your family and you want to purchase less, possess less for that simplicity that Joshua is talking about, make a donation of any amount, a minimal donation (Laughing) and we will give you this book as our way of saying "Thank you." Joshua, it's been great to have you here at Focus. Thanks for being with us.
Joshua: Yeah, thank you. I appreciate it.
John: And you can get your copy of The More of Less, which provides a step-by-step guide on eliminating clutter from your life so you can live more fully and a CD or instant download of this conversation and then make a generous donation, as well, all at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Hey, Joshua. As we end, I do have one last question for you, and that is when you look back at 2008, in that moment where you were cleaning out your garage and your neighbor said, "Hey, you don't need to own all that stuff," what is that one big lesson that you take away from the last 10 years?
Joshua: The big lesson is that our lives are simply too valuable to waste chasing and accumulating material possessions.
Jim: That sums it up. Great to have you with us.
Joshua: Thank you.
John: Well, we really have appreciated the conversation today and join us next time. You'll hear from Christian recording artist, Laura Story. She has quite a testimony about her husband, Martin and living life with a disability.
Mrs. Laura Story: You truly learn to find your hope in the person of Jesus. A lot of times we look uh ... for hope in Jesus changing our circumstances and sometimes He does that. But other times He says, "No, I just want you to trust in Me."
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John: Well, that's next time on "Focus on the Family." And on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, looking forward to having you here tomorrow, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.
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Joshua BeckerView Bio
Joshua Becker's writings have inspired countless readers to find more life by owning fewer possessions. Based on his thoughtful and intentional approach to minimalism, he is one of the leading voices in the modern simplicity movement. In addition to being the founder and editor of Becoming Minimalist, a website dedicated to intentional living, Joshua is a Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-selling author of Simplify, The More of Less and Clutterfree With Kids. He has contributed to TIME Magazine, Christianity Today and Forbes Magazine, and has appeared on numerous television programs, including the CBS Evening News. Joshua is also the founder of The Hope Effect, a nonprofit organization changing how the world cares for orphans.