The Power Of Minimalism And How You Can Apply It

How can you actually apply the idea of minimalism in the real world? Is it practical to throw out all your stuff? Of course not.

This post was originally written in 2010. I think it contains some good information on the idea of minimalism. While not exactly related to what I usually write about, I decided to keep it. 🙂 Enjoy!

Have you ever felt really confused? Not sure what to do next? Overwhelmed? Things taking too long?

Of course you have. Me, too. We all have.

Today, I want to talk a little bit about my view on this, and how it ties into minimalism, and what it has to do with a well known internet marketer, John Reese. I’m about to get rather philosophical on you, but I hope you’ll see how this stuff affects everything, including how effective we are as bloggers.

Your Mind As Energy

OK, I’m about to get a bit deep on you. Bear with me. 🙂

I personally believe that we are all a composite of spirit, mind and body. Our body is not us, but just a physical manifestation. A vehicle so people can, you know, recognize us and stuff. 🙂 Convenient in many ways. Our mind is a computational tool, consisting mostly of pictures and concepts. And then there is us – actual spiritual energy. We are, in actuality, separate from mind and body. This is my view.

Now, energy can be free flowing, it can be held in suspense, and it can be dispersed. Free flowing energy would be like a free flowing river. It is on the move. If that energy were held in suspense, it would be disturbed but stationary. For example, if you point two hoses at each other in opposite directions, the point where the water streams meet would be a stationary energy. Now, when energy is dispersing, it is shooting off in other directions. For example, you throw a rock into a pond and the water around it disperses quickly.

Being that we are energy, we manifest these three characteristics of energy. When flowing, things are moving for us. When held in suspense, we feel the need to slow down or we feel stuck and we tend to try to make others around us do the same. When dispersed, we “just need to get out of here” or your mind is going a billion directions at once.

Our energy is affected by outside energy if we let it. If you’re in a room with a lot of dispersed people, you tend to begin feeling dispersed. The world around us consists of a lot of energy of various forms. Even matter (or “stuff”) is simply energy held in suspense.

But, let’s think about that. Matter is energy held in suspense. Not free flowing. And we’re constantly surrounding ourselves with it. And the more and more of it you have around, you can feel rather dispersed or rigid, right? So, it seems to me that there might be a correlation between how much stuff we have around and how free flowing we can be.

Now, I’m certainly not advocating getting rid of all your stuff. I’m not saying to disown the world and go sit on a mountain somewhere, because I think that is exactly the wrong way to go. Life isn’t about sitting still. It is about flowing.

But, it starts to make you think about your own space and what you have in it. And are these things affecting your mind and energy? Are you able to flow when you have so much rigid and dispersed energy around you?

I know I just got all “weird” on you, but I believe that this is the foundation of why people endorse minimalism. And while I think some people go a little too far with it, I think there is definite ligitimacy to the idea.

John Reese Gets Rid Of His Stuff – All Of It

I am on John’s mailing list. I’m also a customer of his. So, I’ve known this was coming. But, yesterday, he sent out an email essentially saying he had sold all of his stuff and he intended to practice minimalism in earnest. His goal was pretty much exactly what I spelled out above, but in different words. By getting rid of all that stuff and just traveling, he’d be more “free flowing” and be able to come up with some killer ideas for his business.

You can read John’s email over on John Chow’s blog, where it was published as a guest post.

Everything John owns now fits into a backpack. He isn’t getting rid of his money or his investments – just his stuff.

This is such a far cry from the John of just a couple years ago. When I first met John Reese, it was at Izeafest in Orlando, FL. He drove to the bar in a Lamborghini. Parked it right out in front (surely a mix of protecting the car as well as the show-off factor). The dude was into stuff – I could tell.

John is a big believer in reducing distraction. He deleted his Twitter and Facebook accounts, for instance, because they were distracting and gave next to nothing useful to his life.

Coming Back To Reality On Minimalism

Not everybody can (nor would want to) do what John Reese did. For one, John isn’t married and has no children. Once you have kids, you can’t really do something like that (at least not as drastically).

I am married. I have 2 kids. I have a house, a mortgage, 2 cars in the garage, 2 animals, and – yes – my collection of stuff. I own several computers. My computer has 4 monitors attached to it. My office is rather cluttered. When I go out into the rest of the house, I have to step over the kids’ toys.

How is somebody like me supposed to practice minimalism? Or somebody like you?

The benefits are there, but doing it Reese-style just isn’t practical for most of us.

I think the answer is by doing it on a lighter level. In other words, minimizing things, but not going to an extreme. Some ways we can do that:

#1 – Get rid of excess stuff in our workspace.

I don’t know about you, but when I look around my office, there is a lot of unconfronted crap in it. I’ve got a bunch of internet marketing courses sitting around, for instance. They consist of a huge pile of DVDs that I’ll probably never watch again. I have a pile of magazines on my desk hutch. My drawers have stuff I’ll never use. Oh, and don’t get me started on my closet! The closet has become the wasteland of “shit I’ll use someday maybe”.

I think the clutter of our surrounding space is very much a reflection of what’s going on inside our heads. Remember, it is all about the energy and the outside world affects the inside world. If our spaces are cluttered, so are our minds. Clean the space and you allow the mental energy to free flow again.

There’s a REASON you do a “spring cleaning” and feel mentally clearer when you’re done. And, with that in mind, I think taking the time to clean out our space will do SO MUCH for our mental clarity.

Keep in mind that hiding the stuff from view isn’t the same as getting rid of it. Real freedom will come from getting rid of it. Where you draw the line is up to you.

#2 – Complete or Trash All Undone Things

Once again, looking around your office or home, you probably have things sitting around because you need to do something with them.

The pile of magazines you intend to read, the notes you intend to think about, the bills you need to file, the books you need to read. The list goes on and on. And on. Every little thing like this is a piece of mental energy held static.

So, what you need to do is get rid of it. Whatever action you assigned to that thing, either do it or decide you don’t need to do it. You’ll probably find that a lot of those little “someday” tasks don’t need to be done. They’ll add nothing to your life and if you never do it at all, it won’t affect a thing. So, why worry about it? Why hang on to the thing which represents that task? Just trash it.

#3 – Brain Dump

This isn’t so much about tending toward minimalism as much as it is about mental clarity. Because the thoughts we keep in our heads, held there, become a bit like matter. When you try to keep a thought in your head and remember, you’re holding that energy stationary. And remember, we want flow.

So, get it out of your head. If you’ve been hanging onto some ideas or to-do items, get them out of your head. Put them on paper, into Evernote – whatever works for you. And as time goes on, get into the habit of moving these things out of your head and into another form. I’m personally a big fan of Evernote for this kind of thing.

#4 – Re-Evaluate

Sometimes, you just need to sit down and re-evaluate some of your basic assumptions. Most of the rules we abide by in life are not actual rules, but ideas we created for ourselves, follow rather blindly and forgot we’re the ones who came up with it in the first place.

Life and the world around us is EXTREMELY moldable when you realize that it responds to us, and not us to it. Regardless of what some losers teach, about how we are just animals who need to adapt to our environment (bah!), the truth is that we very much build our own cages in life.

So, sometimes, you just need to question some of your basic assumptions. Do you think it was easy for John Reese to sell his house? I mean, the dude now has no home! That goes right against what many of us would see as a basic fact of life – the fact that you need a place to live. But, do you? It is just an assumption that we’ve all agreed with.

So, learn to write your own rules. Do you HAVE to check your email every day? I doubt it, yet most of us religiously do it out of perceived necessity. As bloggers, do you HAVE to be active on Twitter and Facebook? I doubt it, but most assume you need to be. Do you have to pick up the phone when it rings? No. Do you have to blog every day even when you have nothing to say? No. Do you have to read other blogs as much as you do? Probably not.

Re-evaluate your actions and possessions. You’re the boss and you make the rules.

Action Steps

Lots of stuff adds time to our lives. Time to deal with it, maintain it, think about it. It holds energy, and being that we all consist of energy, it begins to hold us.

I think there is a definite truth in the idea of minimalism. How people take it from there and interpret it for themselves is up to them. John Reese did it his way and I look forward to hearing more from him on how its going. For most of us, going that drastic just isn’t in the cards. If I sold all my stuff, my wife would be pretty pissed. 😉

I encourage you to practice the 4 points above and see how it impacts your life and your mental clarity.

For me, I’m going to be reducing stuff in my office. These internet marketing courses are going to be digitized and then thrown away or given away. The magazines are going in the trash can. Anything that sits in my office as an incomplete action is going to be trashed. I might end up with some empty storage space. 🙂

What about you?


  1. I've been feeling the urge to minimize my 'crap' the past several weeks as well. But like you said, it can be pretty hard when you've got kids and a family to concern yourself with. However I've been making a valiant effort..finally cleaned out the cabinet under my bathroom sink, went through the kids clothes and pruned everything too old or too small… and my next step is tackling my office, then my garage! lol

  2. I soared like a balloon that had a bunch of weights cut when I let go of a bunch of stuff it had taken me years to accumulate. I do this regularly to regain perspective as to what is really important. I think I am also sending a message to my kids. Good post.

  3. I am a fan of minimalism. I am just starting out this summer online, and I have used nothing more than three things when I start a business and when I run my blogs and sites.
    I use my iPhone – you can do almost anything on it
    My Laptop – Where I do all the big stuff of putting the site together
    Pad of Paper and a Pen – to do all my designs and ideas, a must!


  4. Wow Dave…didn't know you had that in you…moved back to Fla. in 03' after boys left home. Sold and gave away everything other than what fit in my car and in a friends small corner in the basement ( bike, camping gear and pictures) unbelievable spiritual and mental freedom which birthed some very meaningful goals for my life. Had to move back to home state for family and have just purchased a condo with 2 bedrooms and a garage….. grandchildren now that need bedroom and a place for toys and bikes. Nevertheless I still practice minimalism and help others who struggle with letting go….last thing to work on is minimizing paperwork and notes….thinking of Evernote….thanks Dave you continue to provide straight up helpful info.

  5. Yeah, some people have a hard time getting rid of things. But, if you just force it, I think you'll soon get over it.

    It is almost as if the energy flow I talked about reverse polarity in some, and things flow IN rather than out.

  6. getting rid of stuff is truly liberating! so much of what we own is unnecessary, produces large amounts of waste and pollution, and takes up valuable space.
    i suffer from inbox overload and too much information.

    thanks for this wonderful reminder david. i'm breathing easier now

  7. My colleague came back from a 2 day conference inspired to 'Go Paperless'.

    We use Evernote, SimpleNote and other online tools, bought a quality fold-up scanner, an industrial shredder, some external hard drives and a big box of industrial black bags. Things have improved greatly and we buy fewer boxes of paper, saving $$$.

    My half of the conference table is still cluttered with stuff so this post has inspired me to get going and finish off the job to achieve the minimalist state. Thanks for that, David.

  8. Oddly, I have started this process myself… getting rid of 20 years of stuff is draining at first but slowly it is happening and starts to feel more enlightening and cathartic as light at the end of the tunnel begins to appear.

    I started with a small corner of the office that was full of clutter and everyone went oh wow and start to join in around the rest of the house. Lead from the front is a great maxim!

  9. Well. I'm sort of getting ready to do something similar to John. I;m getting ready to unload myself of most all my physical possessions including my house in the next several months. Then, I'm moving to Chiang Mai, Thailand, I plan to live out of a hotel the first two or three years. traveling through and photographing S.E. Asia. Of course, I will retain my camera and laptop. I plan to luxuriate in the freedom of not being tied down by what I own. I'll, of course, be blogging like mad from Asia.

  10. I'm in step with you on this David. Just happened to have cleaned out my computer, all the documents, all the email folders and now about to get into the garage. Feels good. Thanks for the brain dump idea too. (I enjoyed the farout David talk. Thanks for taking the risk to be deep — with you there too.)

  11. Hey David, I like the idea of a balanced minimalism. That's how I have been going about my situations, and I've found that we seem to slide up and down or back and forth on this scale of….well balance is the word that comes to mind. Incompetence-to-competence and freeflowing-to-stationary. When we identify with one situation and try to cage ourselves in that situation or pattern, we end up simply becoming detached and lost. Allowing our attention to become blocked by clutter is a hard thing to live with these days as technology moves so fast and we become detached faster than ever. Staying on top of ourselves and re-evaluating situations regularly is the only way to stay balanced for me.

    Thanks for provoking some thoughts, you might have just sparked a blog post for me 🙂

    Cheers man,


  12. At some point we realize that stuff just isn't that fulfilling. Wow, Reese is going all out. I think I'm going to wait till I get the Lamborghini before going minimalist.

  13. Hi David, I think John Reese has that kind of energy that drives to extremes. Not just a nice car but a Lambourghini; not just reducing your lifestyle but getting rid of everything. (Well the material stuff – he still has an awful lot of money, uses an awful lot of infrastructure – as all of those of us in the West do, whether we want to or not).

    I have a couple of thoughts that help me with not getting cluttered. “Have nothing in your house that is neither useful nor beautiful” – William Morris. The other is a question: Do I want to do this?

    I think we can all live a good deal more elegantly.

  14. Minimizing or decluttering is a large task for all of us that juggle a family, job outside of the home, and our online business'.
    I took a couse a couple of years ago from the Organsing Queen. It was simple to implement, down to earth, and basically was for people like us who juggle to many things.
    The best thing that worked for me was setting a timer for 30 minutes. It is amazing how much you can really get done in that time. More importantly, it is amazing how you feel.

  15. I've flirted with simplifying/minimalism for years. I like the concept but find the implementation daunting. I find myself attached to stuff either for sentiment or comfort.

    But I do try to keep things that are only useful or meaningful.

    I'd have a hard time going this far. My ideal is to own a small footprint of a house that meets my needs and is where have my “base camp”, but to be location independent in that I live elsewhere for part of each each year. As a challenge I'd stretch that to truly being location independent, but I don't think I could get it down to a single backpack.

    I do like travelling as simply as possible, and am always challenging myself to take fewer things. I find the simplicity of possessions when on the road refreshing.

    Ugh — I feel more decluttering coming on!

  16. David, This post was terrific. Even though I have always loved mimimalist art and even designed my apartment with it and Feng Shui, I feel the four points will make a huge difference to my life and work. It is time to start all four, which I will tonight, thanks to your wisdom.

    I have many neat piles, folders, and loose leaf notebooks that hold a plethora of stuff that needs to go.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for your inspiration and motivation! You moved me more than John Reese's e-mail did!

  17. When I read the email from John Reese it really pushed me to reevaluate even more the stuff I was doing online. I unsubscribed from a number email lists, marked hundreds of items read in my reader and am will unsubscribe from many over the next week or so.

    My husband just started pastoring at a new church and this has definitely caused me to reevaluate a lot of things I formerly spent time on since the church is quite a distance away from the village where we live.

    I have been evaluating what I really want to concentrate on with my blog and the email and post has provided food for thought as I make a decision whether to keep some stuff or not. I have been working on eliminating a lot of unnecessary stuff for months now. And the journey to simplicity continues with motivation from you and John Reese.

    Enjoy your weekend.

  18. Hot post brother.

    I tell you when I read John's email about dropping everything, it did resonate with me.

    I'm single, no kids and quite frankly don't have a lot of stuff either. My car is paid for and literally I could live the nomad style if I chose to. I lived like that so much when I was younger that I can't say I have a huge desire for it though. It's just preference.

    I think John nailed it with the “American Dream” really comes to a point of just being way too much stuff to oversee. Everyone is different but I resonate with not having so much stuff these days.

    I saw a tweet earlier (and of course I retweeted it) and it went like this:

    @claritynow: Fuck personal property; pursue personal happiness.

    I'm not saying personal property doesn't add to your overall joyful experiences, it can. It just shouldn't make up who you are by having it.

    Instead of buying a lambo I think I'll just rent one for the week. lol

    Good post with great tips. I know I'm living with less these days and it feels good!

  19. Cannot agree more Dave. So absolutely spot on.

    I started, a few years ago, to “minimalise” my Life and, hey, it definitely worked like a charm. I coined a motto for myself, “testing my possessions” with the question of: “if you have not used it in the last year or even 6 months, there's someone out there who can, and will, and maybe needs it very badly.” It was great, I gave away most of my stuff!
    A caveat: it's a learned process; iterative; not instant. So, attitudinally, one must gear oneself up to maintaining a more minimalistic lifestyle. It takes a little while to develop the habit.

    By the way, it's very warming seeing the other, more “real” side of you. Alarming as well that you felt the need to introduce that latter so carefully (and very skilfully, I must add) and thoughtfully. But, take comfort in the fact that it's happening at warp speed around the world to many, many folk, i.e. the levelling-up of one's Spiritual perception. All good. Bonus to you for sharing it so well.
    Warm regards,

  20. Great post, and also, if you consider that there are people out there who would LOVE to use some of your unused stuff…you're helping yourself and others….
    What about a local “internet marketing swap meet” kind of relationship…loan out courses for a bit of time…just an idea…can be applied to really anything you own of course…

  21. A few years ago as a project I decided to declutter my 4,400 square foot house filled from the accumulated “stuff” from 6 kids, 3 dogs, 1 husband and my inability to throw things (clothing, toys, craft supplies) out (“in case I might need it someday”). I wrote about my experience in monthly newspaper column.

    At the end of 18 months I had thrown out and donated over 5,000 pounds (2 tons) of unnecessary stuff. We were free, I rejoiced.

    Now a few years later, I find that without constant vigilance, the stuff tends to creep back. It's absolutely insidious. Too much clothing, too many “I wants”, too many books (never, ever thought I'd say that one) and far too many unwanted gifts of things I never wanted in the first place.

    We are a culture of accumulation and it takes nothing short of the firmest hand and personal awareness to keep it in check.

  22. Great stuff David! I was just looking around my office yesterday thinking – so much of this STUFF is useless and annoying…I'm dumping 80% of it today. Thanks for reminding me I need to.

  23. This is where I found myself a few months ago, at the re-evaluation stage, looking around at my stuff, my closets, my office, my kitchen, garage, basement, my habits, my business, my health, my life. I stopped shopping cold turkey, and only shop for absolute necessities now. Tons of stuff have been given away or sold or discarded. I shut down a physically exhausting and unprofitable small business and sold most of the equipment. Now I am juggling two blogs, and trying to learn from people like you how to make an income sufficient to continue to live in my little (uncluttered) house (mid-five figures would be like winning the lottery for me).

    You will LOVE the feeling you get after you streamline your office. And if you also do it in other areas you frequent in your home (garage? kitchen if you cook a lot?), and your personal effects (your half the closet or medicine cabinet, etc.) and in your approach to unneeded purchases and subscriptions, your wife and kids might get with the program, too. Lead by example, not preaching or nagging. Works wonders!

  24. You've hit upon some very fundamental principles, not “weird” at all but the key to elegance and efficiency. If you want to speed up a communication line, reduce the Matter, Energy, Space and Time involved. Examples: Pony Express vs. Email, DC power transmission vs. AC power transmission, etc., etc.

  25. Very feng shui David…I love it ;D It seems to me lately that many people are moving towards a more minimalist lifestyle. We are so inundated with “stuff” that it has disallowed up just 'to be'.

    It's interesting that I am reading this article at this very moment, because just 2 days ago I created an 'Irritation List'. I basically put everything that was irritating me in my surroundings. These are things that we carry with us even though we choose not to focus on it every day.
    My goal is to start going through the list and dealing with all the 'crap' such as clutter in my home and in my business.
    Thanks for the great post…good luck in your new minimalist endeavor.

  26. Excellent! I've been heading toward minimalism for the past couple of years as we prepare to move to another country. We're gradually sorting and weeding out and getting rid of stuff. I'm totally ready to lighten the load.

    What's interesting to me is that my husband and I — although we agree on the need for it — are at very different places in the process. I have a list of items I MUST keep when we move. Besides clothing and such, there are exactly six items on it. Since one of them is my guitar, they won't fit into a backpack, but there you are. I'm an avid reader, but I've been slowly converting over to electronic books instead of physical volumes.

    My husband, on the other hand, can't conceive of life without his tools. And I'm not talking about a hammer and a screwdriver here — he's got a 4' high tool chest with a dozen drawers that are crammed full. Talk about weighting yourself down. . .

  27. I love that you are speaking in terms of energy. Personally that's why a minimalist lifestyle appeals to me. Having lived in a small RV for months at a time, found how little I could do with.

    Do I want to reduce everything to a backpack? No. At some point there's a law of diminishing returns and you find that your minimalism is actually being supported by others' less than minimal lifestyles!

    But I feel most of us have way too much stuff in our minds and spaces. I know I do. Energy needs space. Great post!

  28. 'Lots of stuff adds time to our lives'…SO TRUE! (btw…like the philosophical side of you).
    It's kind of a running joke in my family that I'm the 'dump queen' – always taking crap to the dumps (mind you….if I keep having to go there's obviously a glitch in the system here…stop buying so much crap!).

    I function SO much better with less clutter! I've been following quite a few minimalism blogs- and while some of it is extreme (with a 13 yr. & 9 yr. old it can be challenging and I think I'd lose my mind if I tried to homeschool them) there are tons of great tips and ideas on simplifying your life. I also think it is HUGELY important to teach my kids that 'You're not your stuff'.
    To quote Wayne Dyer:
    “If you are what you do, or what you have- who are you when you don't do that anymore or don't have what you had?”

    My kids actually feel better with less 'stuff' around as well. They pushed me to have a garage sale & both sold a bunch of stuff…they kept running into the house to find more things to sell (yeah…think it was a money motivator…but that's ok too).

    Going to do some re-evaluating….thanks for the four points!

  29. Less is more most of the time. I understand, having 3 kids myself, you can't help but have a lot of “stuff”. I try to minimize it though. I used to keep my email open, then was distracted every 5 min with new messages. Sometimes shutting off the distractions to focus on the task at hand is enough to keep the brain from getting cluttered and suffering from information overload. Also goes for trying to be in every social media outlet available. Sometimes it is better to focus on a few then to spread your self thin over many. Wow I wish my stuff fit in a backpack. I'm jealous. 🙂

  30. David – your perspective and insights are very relevant.

    Minimalism has a touch of being pragmatic to it, and an acknowledgment of the realities. And yet, minimalism isn't new – it's been around for centuries and has been at the core of eastern and western philosophies alike.

    Minimalism is very ofter misinterpreted for a scarcity mentality and giving up everything. It really needn't be that way – as you rightly said, “I think there is a definite truth in the idea of minimalism. How people take it from there and interpret it for themselves is up to them.”

    Nice to see this post – could relate very well with it. I was myself working on a longer series on my blog, Social Media Notebook, touching the minimalist aspect in social media, and in real life.

  31. I agree this is tough with a family, but there are always ways. We have taken to limiting where we spend out time in the house. It helps us to see how much space is really not needed to still have a great life. This way if we have to downsize by choice or unforeseen circumstances it will not be as shocking.

    As a distance adventure motorcyclist, I need to back light. Learning to do this has come in handy when I fly with my wife and our two daughters. Did you know there are different types of flip flops and they are all necessary when traveling? You don't say?!?!?

  32. Let me know how it goes. I think re-evaluation is always a good thing, because it is all too easy to get stuck on a fixed idea and not remember who actually created the idea (us). 🙂

  33. Great outlook David,
    I guess sometimes simplifying things is what will get you the best results. Looks like I'm going back to the drawing board to re-evaluate! I re-evaluated my blog design, and that worked wonders!



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