In his new book, The Minimalist Home, Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist dives headfirst in to the daunting task of educating Americans about how much stuff we own, and how to free ourselves from it. As a big fan of Becker’s work, I was super excited by the opportunity to get an advanced copy and be one of the first to review it!
Before getting to the review itself, please allow me to make a confession: I really struggled to get through this book.
Though not, perhaps, for the reasons you might think.
As a professional organizer, my house is pretty tidy. I really enjoy creating new organizing systems for our home which take our changing lifestyle into account (with a growing toddler, we are a constantly evolving our organizing systems – from childproofing to encouraging autonomy by making things more accessible to him).
I like organizing. After all, it’s my career! And I have always thought of myself as a minimalist.
However, by page 30 of the Minimalist Home, something shifted in me. I realized that we have not been living the “simple” life I had imagined. While organized, my home still had too much stuff in it. Stuff to take care of, clean, put away, organize and generally spend time focusing on rather than my family.
I had no idea.
So when I say I struggled to get through this book, I mean I literally struggled to finish it, because I have been so focused on unearthing myself from what I now realize was a lot of stuff that I didn’t really care about. As a professional organizer, that is a pretty big confession to make.
Right about now, you may be thinking that I must not be a very good organizer if I didn’t recognize my own clutter. But that’s not true – I’m not only a good organizer, I’m a great one. Organizers are human too, and we also have dreams, projects and wishes for our stuff. No one is immune to that. Reading this book made me realize that being minimalist is more than becoming educated about how to organize and declutter – it’s a lifestyle and a choice. One that I wasn’t 100% making.
Though Becker doesn’t use this language precisely, the big “Ah-Ha” moment for me was realizing that we have three layers of stuff in our home, what I’ll refer to as the A, B and C layers.
The A layer is the stuff we love and use every day. The B layer is the seasonal, “just in case” and “in process” stuff, like items I planned on mending, fixing, painting, etc. The C layer consists of stuff that comes unbidden into the home, and which we can (and do) purge regularly without hesitation. Gifts, freebie toys and hand-me-downs, etc.
Then a realization hit: while I was consistently good at removing the C layer, the B layer had been building up to a point far beyond what we actually needed.
This book helped me to embrace letting go of the B layer. When was I going to paint that chair or fix that toy boat? Did we really need an extra sleeping bag for an emergency? Joshua Becker’s book allowed me to see the positives of letting go of the B layer, but also the negatives of keeping that layer. It was holding me back.
The Minimalist Home
Becker writes with a style that I imagine is similar to his home – clean and neat and free of pretense. He starts off explaining how as a society we got here: to a land where we are continually driven by the need to have more and better stuff (he has an eye-opening blog article with some pretty tragic factoids revealing how much we consume, 21 Surprising Statistics That Reveal How Much Stuff We Actually Own). He is empathetic to this experience of plethoric ownership, having been through it himself.
He also explains what minimalism is – and it what it is not. I particularly appreciated his observation of a common misnomer related to minimalism: the belief that the word refers a modernist style, white and empty and lacking in charm or comfort.
This couldn’t be further from the truth! As he clarifies in the book, “minimalism isn’t about removing the things you love. It’s about removing the things that distract you from the things you love.”
The first part of this 223 page book is what I would call The Cheerleading Section. It is aptly designed to energize you to take action; so much action that you might not actually finish the book.
I hate to compare Becker’s new book to the now mega-famous KonMari Method (you can read our book review of the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up on our blog), but I have to for a second. While Becker’s style, tone, and methodology is unmistakably his own, the first section has a similar, galvanizing effect on the reader. In an almost ritualistic way, it prepares your body and mind for what you need to do to create change.
Guys. This is such an important part (perhaps the only really important part) of the process, so don’t skip this section.
Becker goes on to break down the Becker Method for each room in the home, including the living room, bedrooms, bathrooms, office, storage and garage areas. The book is chock full of practical advice about decluttering, but also organizing. He is not telling you to throw everything away. The message is consistent and caring, and he helps you through each step along the way.
The Power of Naming
One thing I appreciated about this book is that it gives names to psychological reasons for holding on to things. For example, Becker talks about the “convenience fallacy,” in which we leave items sitting out because we believe they are more convenient to access, but in reality they are creating more visual clutter.
Another he calls “the endowment affect,” or “our tendency to consider an object more important than it really is simply because we own it.”
Giving names to these feelings is valuable because it helps to create a buffer between the belief and the reality, allowing us to make decisions that are less emotional and more rational. As organizers, this is a big part of what we provide for our clients.
The book is also peppered with “minimizing checklists” and real examples of lessons learned along the way, which are valuable in keeping the action going. Becker is passionately dedicated to helping you live a better life, and that is not only rooted in “getting rid of stuff.” It’s about being more purposeful about what you do have. Taking the time to create rooms that represent something beyond their contents, but which focus instead on what the room is meant to give us: sleep, shared meals, relaxation.
Maintenance is Key to Organization
Finally, the book includes an important piece which many organizing experts leave out: maintenance. We talk a lot about this in 5S Office Organization, with the final “S” representing the word “sustain.” The true work behind being organized is staying organized, so that you will never again be a slave to your stuff. In this section, Becker addresses topics like editing your buying habits and changing your attitude about gift-giving. He gives a helpful review of the areas to focus on in order to keep up the work.
This section is SO SO important as well. If you are a gung-ho, get ‘er done type like me, and can’t resist the urge to start purging stuff before you finish the book, do yourself a favor and read the first and last section, then come back to the middle if you get stuck. Becker’s tone is not judgmental or pedantic. Though I don’t personally know him, I can tell you he won’t be offended. In fact, he’d probably be delighted.
So thanks, Joshua, for helping even a professional organizer reach true minimalism. Now, my home contains A objects only. And it feels great.
Oh, and if anyone wants to have my copy of The Minimalist Home, it’s yours – I’m ready to let it go!
Note: The Minimalist Home will be available to order in hardcover on December 18th, 2018.