“Things that matter are usually challenging.” – Joshua Becker
I had read Joshua Becker’s book, “The Minimalist Home” and was curious to find out whether “Things that Matter” delved deeper into the minimalist perspective. I found that while the book stayed true to the author’s minimalist philosophy, it expanded beyond the idea of minimizing physical clutter to include the exploration of mental clutter in the form of different types of distractions.
“We are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it..Life is long if you know how to use it” – Seneca (quoted in the book)
The author defines minimalism as “the intentional promotion of the things we most value by removing anything that distracts us from them“. I like that he views minimalism as a way of living significantly through focusing on things that deeply matter to you — a way of moving through life with a sense of purpose and with true confidence in yourself.
Here are some nuggets of wisdom that stood out to me from the book:
1. Know your Enemy
From the authors’ perspective, distractions are the enemy and can imperceptibly become a lifestyle that can contribute to a loss of control over the life we’re living.
He describes the destructive path distractions can take extremely well – the idea of how something can start out being fun and entertaining and end up consuming huge chunks of your valuable life.
Instead of wasting years on what doesn’t actually have value in your life, he recommends course-correcting through a vigilant mindset where you are aware of and intentional about your time and purposefully work to accomplish goals that are significant to you rather than allowing valuable time in your life slip away.
2. Overcome the Distraction of Fear
“Fear this: wasting your life.” – Joshua Becker
Not doing the thing you want to can make you miserable, and yet, doing the thing you want to do can be uncomfortable and scary. The author recommends choosing the path of taking wise, well thought out risks over regret.
He suggests moving through the fear of failure through stopping procrastination, taking clear charge of your future and setting and keeping high expectations for yourself. He recommends having a strong voice and confidently removing obstacles that undermine you on a daily basis.
In his words “allowing fear to keep you from it (your purpose) would be an unspeakable shame“.
He wants the reader to name their fears, overcome them and cut them down to size — and in doing that, build the courage to continue doing the same over time. He points out that even if no one notices whether you reach your full potential or not, you will notice, and what you think about yourself matters.
While this seems obvious at first glance, and something that we should all be innately aware of, I think most of us often need the reminder to make decisions with a mindset of intentionality and purpose while choosing to move through all the anxieties that can come with doing what may be uncomfortable.
3. Overcome the Distractions (Wounds) of Past Mistakes
“Move past the past. Create a turning point for yourself..” – Joshua Becker
This section was another one that so many of us can relate to — the author gives examples of people with wounds from the past that are affecting how they relate to others in the present and in turn, the future.
He recommends that we figure out how our own pasts are paralyzing us. Then, we can choose to focus in and do the work to determine what coping skills we need in order to heal, forgive, and embrace a healthier way of being.
In my opinion, this is easier said than done. I do agree that becoming aware and taking the first steps to listen to and overcome wounds from the past can make all the difference in how we move forward. It can also help us to clarify what our true goals are — especially if we’ve taken that time to remove ourselves from the tangled web of emotions that pull at us from past events.
“You overcome the guilt and shame (of having wasted time) by finding pride in the person you’re becoming and the changes you’re making today.” – Joshua Becker
4. Clear the Distraction of Self-Centered Happiness
“Serving changes us. Begin to serve a little. And then to serve some more. And then to make service a habit in your life.” – Joshua Becker
The author recommends having purpose and a mission that is greater than your own happiness — something that helps others in a way that is meaningful to them and to you. He calls it shrinking the “me monster”. He discusses how self-serving actions feel good when being carried out but don’t support positive effects longer term while selfless actions can have the converse effect.
His emphasis on the fact that even small giving actions (such as doing chores to help out) add value in the world, and are within the reach of each one of us, resonated with me.
5. Live with a Mindset of Financial Generosity ( or overcome the distraction of money)
“Is there ever a time when enough is enough? In the end you’ll be prouder of the money you gave to others than the money you kept for yourself. Start giving a little more (don’t allow materialism to hold you captive).” – Joshua Becker
The author reminds us that money can be a large source of stress if we keep desiring more and more. He believes that a minimalist mindset frees up money, time and energy to pursue your true passions.
I like his specific call out on the reason so many of us want more money — we believe that it will add to our happiness and and feelings of security. Only, we may not actually feel happy and secure once we’ve reached that particular number we’ve been thinking of.
He recommends “living a life, not funding a life” and making room for family, fun and all the things that make life joyous while thinking of money as a means to that end. He reminds us to not allow money to circumvent and even alter our values and that we should be generous within our own capacities even when we’re most stressed out about money.
I do think this is good advice. If we make that intentional effort to think about others and how we can contribute even if we’re feeling stressed out about our own problems, we can actively step out of our own narrow bubbles and be more balanced about how we move through our own challenges.
“Our legacies include the examples we live, the moral compasses we set, the characters we develop, and the names we build for ourselves and our families. You want to be remembered for being loving, giving and present.” – Joshua Becker
6. Switch from “Does it spark joy?” to “Does it promote purpose?”
For those of us who have read about or heard of Marie Kondo’s decluttering methodology, the question “does it spark joy?” will sound very familiar.
The author reminds us that there are many things in our lives that sparked joy when we first bought them and now contribute to overwhelm. Instead, he recommends asking yourself “does having these things fulfill your purpose?”.
He asks, as an example — “Would having a functional, streamlined closet be more likely to send you off on a day of accomplishments?”
I like his holistic perspective and his suggestion that we determine whether areas in our homes are helping us get from point A to point B, so we can achieve our true purpose and our high priority goals in life.
7. Overcome the Need for External Validation (and a tendency toward comparison and jealousy)
The author cautions the reader to avoid the trap and distraction of petty envy and superficial jealousy that comes from continually looking outward to determine whether you’re “good enough”.
He recommends basing your self-worth and happiness on living life with the goal of fulfilling your own highest potential without worrying about whether you’re praised for it or not.
He emphasizes this with a quote from a college classmate — “No one else’s glory can take away from yours. And vice versa.” He reminds readers to honor others’ milestones while being inspired to reach for their own goals.
I think this is an important reminder — there will always be someone out there who appears to be doing better than we are and we could very easily succumb to petty envy.
Instead, if we let them have their glory and understand that we are each uniquely valuable and important in the universe exactly as we are, we can work on achieving our own goals and be internally strong, peaceful and serene as we go about our lives.
8. Choose Contribution Over Consumption, Separate from the Herd
There are endless numbers of ways we can squander our time and attention.
The author recommends separating from the herd and not doing things because everyone else is. This including constantly buying more, reaching for more money, trying to get noticed more, and continually looking to be entertained by some form of distraction.
What I like about the author’s perspective is that he takes the reader one step beyond a distraction detox and encourages us to switch from spending time as passive observers to using our time to actively contribute to the world.
“Clearing away distractions is not the ultimate point in all this. The ultimate point is to live a life of meaning and purpose. Get going on the things that matter to you.” – Joshua Becker
Overall, the book is an excellent reminder to live a life of intentionality and purpose — and to be content with what we have in every moment.
It is filled with examples of people who have done just that with ideas for realistically addressing some of the distractions that can come up. It can be a dry read at times, however, if you want some encouraging motivation for getting back to center and remembering what’s important to you, reading this may help.
Have you read any of Joshua Becker’s books or any other books on minimalism that you enjoyed and would recommend?