Episode 135: Interview with Joshua Becker, Founder of Becoming Minimalist

Today we have an interview with Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist.  We talk about minimalism with families, decluttering, and Joshua’s secret weapon when it comes to simplifying his financial life.

Where to find Joshua Becker:  Becoming Minimalist

Show transcript:

Hey there, I’m Dawn Starks, author of Simplify Your Financial Life, and your host for the SimpleMoney Podcast, where we make personal finance simple. Welcome. This is episode 135. Today I’m interviewing Joshua Becker, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-selling author of The Minimalist Home and several other books. He is the founder and editor of Becoming Minimalist, a website dedicated to intentional living.

I’ve been a fan of Joshua’s work for several years, and I was super excited to have the opportunity to interview him. I hope you enjoy it.

DS: Hello, Joshua and welcome to the SimpleMoney Podcast.

JB: Well, thanks for having me.

DS: Thank you. I think that a lot of the listeners probably already know your story, and you’re probably sick of telling your story, about how you first found out about, or approached or

became interested in minimalism, but would you do me the favor of sharing that story again?

JB: Yeah, you know what, it’s funny. I did a podcast yesterday and the person introduced me the same way and said, you’re probably sick of sharing the story. And I said the same thing I’ll say now:

I am not sick of sharing the story. It’s been 12 years, but I love it. I think people find life in it. And so I will continue to share it as long as people resonate with it. So, thanks for the opportunity to do it. Ah, my life changed 12 years ago,

I was living in Vermont. At the time my son was five and my daughter was two. My wife and I woke up on Memorial Day weekend to do our spring cleaning, spring had finally sprung in Vermont. I offered to clean out the garage because I thought my five year old son would enjoy the project, which was a pretty foolish thing to think, because he lasted about 20 seconds,

and then he was in the backyard playing with his toys. And I was alone in the garage. Hours later, I’m still working in the same garage, pulling stuff out and reorganizing it. My neighbor happens to be outside, her name is June, she’s been doing all of her yard work all morning long. At one point we happened to walk past each other,

and, she of course had been working all day, I’ve been working all day, and she said sarcastically to me, “Well, that’s the joys of home ownership, huh?” And I said, “Well, you know what they say, the more stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you.” And she responded with this life-changing sentence.

She says, “You know, that’s why my daughter is a minimalist. She keeps telling me I don’t need to own all this stuff.” And I remember looking at my driveway, there’s this pile of dirty, dusty things that I’d spent all day taking care of and cleaning. And, out of the core of my eye, I see my five-year-old son swinging alone on the swing set in the backyard where he’d been all morning. And suddenly I had this realization that my things weren’t making me happy,

which I think we would all say, and we would all at least say out loud. But this further realization, that actually everything I owned was taking me away from the very thing that did bring me happiness in life. And not just happiness, but joy and meaning and fulfillment and significance. And so that was the start of the journey for me.

I think it really is the very foundation of minimalism. Or, anyone who would purposefully intend to own less stuff, it comes down to this realization that our things, the more things we have, the more they keep us from more important things in life.

DS: Yeah. I completely agree. And tell me,

your kids were young when you made this decision or had this realization. And so I suspect it probably was a fairly easy transition for them, because little kids are little kids, and they tend to adapt pretty easily. But how did it go talking to your wife about this epiphany, and how did your kids take it as you started transitioning to getting rid of some of your things?

JB: So my kids were five and two, and yeah, like you said, I think the earlier you start living this life, in their lives, the better. I’m pretty sure if I had, if we had lived our lives gathering and collecting as much stuff as we could, and then they’re 16 and 17 and we’re like,

“Hey, we’re getting rid of everything!” Like it would’ve been a lot more difficult because they’re much more independent. At least, hopefully they’re much more independent. Like, you want them making their own decisions about life. So, certainly there’s a family culture that you can, you always try to create. But, still all that to be said,

I’ll say this about the kids though, one thing that happened, I think accidentally, but was very important, was that I didn’t start by making my kids get rid of anything. My wife and I did a very good job of getting rid of our own stuff first, our own living room and bedroom and closets and kitchen and garage,

and like doing all of our own things before we ever asked our kids to get rid of any of their stuff. And I think that that’s important for people to know, and to be thinking through. As far as my wife goes, fortunately I think she would probably have been on-board anyway, but she had been cleaning the inside of the house the entire morning that I had been working out in the garage.

And I think she was scrubbing, like, the second or third toilet of the day with my two-year-old daughter pulling her pant leg the entire time. And so when I came in with this idea of, “Hey, I think we should own less stuff”, she was on-board with it. And in more than in principle, like in practice as well,

like she was ready. I think she was beginning to feel the weight of all the stuff that we had accumulated just because she had been caring for it all morning long. Now, we disagreed on how much to get rid of, if I want to get rid of 80%, she was okay getting rid of 50%. And so after a while,

I think there became questions of how are we going to do this and how are we going to make this work for our family? But for the most part, she was on-board with it. Which I think most people are, like I think most relationships are there. Like there’s the really difficult, where the other person doesn’t want you to get rid of anything –

that’s pretty rare, although it’s out there – there’s a larger group where, “Okay, you can get rid of your stuff, just don’t touch any of mine.” And then probably the largest group is “Okay, I think you’re right. Like we could declutter our home and we could minimize our stuff”, but how much, and to what extent is where

that begins to need for compromise.

DS: What do you tell your readers, and folks who follow your work, what do you tell them? Or what are your suggestions for trying to get the spouse or partner on-board, when maybe that person is not, kind of in that middle-ground, where they were kind of into it,

but not maybe as much.

JB: There are, first of all this is the hardest of all the questions. Like there are no easy sentences. There isn’t “You just say this, and then it’s all set and they’re on-board and they want to get rid of as much stuff as you do”. I actually think the most important thing to keep in mind during this, is that your relationship should be marked by love, and patience, and faithfulness, and humility.

And, like this should be the lead attitude in anything going forward in, especially in a married relationship. If it’s boyfriend/girlfriend, then I think there’s some valid questions of, “Is this someone I want to be married to long-term?” But if you’re in a married relationship, then I think you’ve made a commitment to one another.

But that, but man, so much of that came from an email I got very early on, and the person said, it was a lady, and she said, “Hey, I’m into minimalism, but I can’t get my husband on board. Should I divorce him?” And like, as best I know, I think she was serious, and I wrote back and I’m like,

“No! Like you’re, like this process should be freeing you up to bring you together as a husband and wife. And if this is tearing you apart, then there’s some things that we need to think through about, you know, ‘Why are we doing this?’ And what’s the purpose of it.” So, I literally learned from that email that I always talk about love, faithfulness,

patience, humility. By humility, I mean that you’re not perfect in the relationship either, and there’s probably something that your spouse wants to change about you, that you’re not budging on. So, how are you going to balance that. But in terms of practicality, I think that you always start by doing your own things.

Like, you can get rid of a lot of stuff in your home by just focusing on your own stuff, your own clothes. And if you do the cooking, or if you do the fixing of the things, or your hobbies, or your side of the bathroom, whatever it might be, like as you get rid of your own things, you set that example for your spouse to see and recognize

how freeing it is and why you’re doing it. Not to mention, it’s always easier to see everyone else’s clutter than it is to see your own. And so you have to start with your own anyway. Another very practical thing that I encourage people to do is have conversations in a way that would resonate with your spouse.

So what drew you to simplicity, or what draws you to the world of minimalism, might be different than what would draw them. If you’re the one who is the main house-keeper, then just owning less stuff means it’s less cleaning and you could picture that, but maybe your spouse handles all the money. Well, make the connection of how this would free up the money.

Or maybe your spouse loves to travel, and you can make the connection, “Hey, if we own less stuff and bought less, we could do more traveling.” So, help them see the connection in a way that would resonate with them, which might be different than what would resonate with you. And then, know that it doesn’t happen overnight.

Sometimes it takes a long time. I had a woman one time, in Dallas, telling me that she had been living this life for five years, and her husband just now is getting onboard with it. And so, I talk about leading by example and I think sometimes we think, “Okay, I’ll do that for three weeks and they’ll get the picture.”

And sometimes it takes a lot longer than that.

DS: Definitely, definitely. I think that…

JB: How has – I know you’re the one that’s supposed to be interviewing – but how, if I could ask, how’s it been for you and your husband? Like, were you both on-board or was there someone that went first?

DS: Nope, we were not both on-board.

So back, it was 1994 I think, that I read Elaine St James’s book Simplify Your Life, and that was what the kickoff was for me. And that was right – I guess it was ’96 – and that was right at the time I was getting into my financial planning practice. And so I just,

I had a lot of changes and things going on. And so it was very attractive to me to have less. And, I think Greg, he likes his toys, you know, he likes different hobbies, and so it’s a very difficult thing. So when you talked about the woman, the person you mentioned about taking five years,

we’re 20 years into this (laughs), and we’re not there, we’re not there yet. But definitely, you know, things have improved and, I think over time, you know, he appreciates our house being not cluttered. And so I think that that has really helped. And so he has his areas that are just closed to the public, and it’s all good.

JB: Yeah, yup. I can see that.

DS: So, with regard to your kids, I know you mentioned that they were very young when you first went on this journey, but how do you think that has impacted them as they’ve been growing up? Because they probably have friends who don’t live a minimalist life, and maybe who are into lots of stuff.

And so has that caused conflict with your kids growing up?

JB: Um, it has not. And, my children are not, what’s the phrase, strong-willed? Is that, how to raise a strong willed child? Is that the, is that like the very famous book? And,

I learned it one time in, it must’ve been like kindergarten, my son was in kindergarten, we were at like a kindergartener’s thing, and I was having a conversation with a parent and I made some statement about the kids doing what we had asked them to do or something. And the parent was like,

“You know, you need to be careful, when you talk about parenting, because your children are not strong-willed.” And like, I’m like, I think it was the first time I’d heard the word or the phrase and, for what it, you know… I mean, you know what I’m what I’m saying. Ah they,

they’ve just never been super… super disobedient? We haven’t had a lot of arguments and controversies. So, I say everything going forward, with that understanding of what my kid’s personality types are. That being said, I mean, I think there’s a lot that we’ve done well. If not necessarily intentionally,

but unintentionally just some things have aligned with just what my parenting style is. And my parenting style is that I’m very much a fan of over-explaining to kids. Like, I think that we should be able to explain every decision that we make with our kids. And “Because mom said so”,

or “Because dad said so”, or “That’s just the way it is”, has never been a valid response for me. I think that anything we do, any decision we make, anything we don’t buy, or we do buy, I should be able to explain why we do what we do. And so I’ve done that. And I

think over the past 12 years, they just know that, what’s important to us, and where our money goes and where our time goes and why we don’t buy things that other kids have. And aren’t moving to a bigger house and don’t have this, and don’t have that. So I think that that’s very helpful. When it

comes to younger kids, I’ve always taught and preached boundaries. I think physical boundaries are always so helpful for kids. You can have as many toys as you want, as long as they get in this closet. You can collect whatever things you want, as long as they fit in this drawer. Your artwork has to fit in this bin,

whatever it might be and allow them to function and live and make decisions inside those boundaries. But still just recognizing that life is: there’s time boundaries, and there’s money boundaries, and there’s space boundaries, and all of life, I think, is the learning to put what’s most important into the limited resources that we have. So I think that’s been helpful. As they’ve gotten older,

I’ve always found it comforting to know that there is always going to be somebody that has more stuff. Like, even if I was buying my kids anything and everything that they wanted, there would still be someone who had more things than them. And, I remember someone asked me at a speaking thing one time, they’re like, “Yeah,

but if I only get my kids five things for Christmas, when they go back in January, there’s going to be some kid who got more. And how do I answer that?” And I said, “There’s always going to be someone who got more, even if you got 20 presents for your kids, there’s going to be someone who got more, or the kid who went to Disneyland over Christmas!”

And so, you’d never overcome that by buying anyway. And I think that’s been helpful to remember, in raising them. And certainly there’s questions of, “Hey, how come I can’t have this?” And “So-and-so was buying that”, and “So-and-so has a phone and I don’t”, and “They get to play this many hours of video games and I don’t”,

and

“Their family goes here and there, and we don’t”. And I think that that’s going to be a part of life regardless of how you raise them. And so helping them understand why you do what you do, and that they can find joy and contentment in what they have rather than constantly needing more is the valuable lesson that they’re learning anyway.

DS: Completely agree. And I’ve had a similar experience with our daughter. She is not strong-willed, she’s getting a little stronger-willed now that she’s hitting adolescence, but she’s just very obedient and cooperative. And she’s always been in a situation where she will accept an explanation for something and doesn’t, you know, fight back and argue. And I mean, sometimes she asks questions about it,

but… And I think that really, I think from her perspective, and maybe your kids feel the same way, she sees how much time we’ve been able to spend together because of the choices that we’ve made in our lifestyle. And I think that is what is more obvious to her when she compares to other kids that she knows.

JB: Yup. Yup. Yeah, and that’s exactly right,

like, “No, we’re not buying a lot of Christmas things, but we’re doing this instead over spring break” or even, “Hey, we (if it’s charity or generosity) hey, you know, we’re not going to have as many gifts, but we’re helping this family over here have a Christmas”, and this is what we’re doing,

over there, helping them see where your money’s going instead.

DS: Yep. Exactly. Charitable is also a really, I think that’s a great angle that helps kids see the benefit of the choices that minimalism can bring about. So well, so circling back a little bit to the beginning of your journey, into minimalism, with the story about decluttering

your garage and your house, did you think about writing a book like The Minimalist Home back then, or is that something that, just because you’ve gotten really good at decluttering, that this has come about? What inspired you?

JB: No, no, I had no visions of writing a book about it, ever. I was,

it was a Saturday morning, and I would say up until then, I always liked the idea of having a blog. Not one that was like reaching a lot of people, but I had started. I was a pastor for 15 years, and so I tried starting a blog where I just wrote about being a youth pastor, and tried writing a blog where I wrote about things that I was learning in my life.

And each of them lasted about three or four days, and I never went back (laughs), never went back to writing on them again. But – actually there’s a longer story – but, so it started on a Saturday, but by Monday I had, on Monday I started the becomingminimalists.wordpress.com. It was just a free blog at the time. And, I just thought to myself,

“Hey, this might be something I could write about and just, what am I doing? And what am I getting rid of? And it would be a place where I could kind of store my story and my diary.” And, so that’s what started the blog. And I found that I was constantly finding things that I could write about,

like little things just popped up continually over the week. And I’m like, “Hey, I’d never thought of this before!” or “I just noticed this advertisement a brand new way that I hadn’t seen before”, and “We just decluttered our kitchen, so here’s the photos.” And, like I just, that’s what I started doing.

And people started finding it, and commenting and resonating with the story, and I got better at it. And over the course of years, I think, I don’t know how to say it other than I discovered that I do this pretty well. That the way I talk about minimalism, that the way I talk about owning less,

for some reason, seems to resonate with a lot of people. And the way I approach it seems to be very helpful for a lot of people and, started to work on it even more. And then that’s when the blog grew, and then eventually the book projects came out, and I think my question has always been,

“What could I do next that would help people own less and live more?” And at first it was just blogging. And after seven or eight years of blog posts, they get pretty hard to go through and read and find any connection points and have them make sense in any way. And so at some point a book makes sense to let me organize these in a way that is helpful and add some new things and thoughts, and new approaches and strategies.

And so that’s how the books came about. Although I would say ever since I was a kid, I had a dream of writing a book. I always wanted to write a book. But I love pastoring and I didn’t, a lot of people can’t wait to quit their day job to blog full-time,

but I loved pastoring, wasn’t even trying to get out of it. But eventually I had to make a decision.

DS: Yeah. I guess you can’t maintain a minimalist mindset if you’ve got two full jobs, right?

JB: Yeah. It was just becoming too much, it literally was, I wasn’t, I was thinking too much about the blog and

helping people own less, and I think that the pastoring work was beginning to suffer because a lot of my creative energy was going over there. And, so there came a pretty clear time where I’m like “Ah! This can’t just be a hobby anymore”, or “It’s becoming more than just a hobby. And I probably need to, probably need to use it to pay my mortgage rather than taking money from the church while all my free time is going over here”.

DS: Aw. Well, you made the comment that you have a way of writing, and I would completely agree with that. I think your writing is excellent. And I think it does really speak to people and it’s not, you’re not speaking from the perspective of someone who’s out of touch, you know, you really are in touch with where people are with their

concerns about clutter and about the overwhelm of life. And I think you speak to that in your writings. And so I know I’ve appreciated your writings for many years.

JB: Thank you. Thank you.

DS: So your most recent book is The Minimalist Home, and when I read your book, I was really struck by the difference between your book and the other popular

decluttering book in recent years, The Magic of… I’ve already forgotten what it’s called now! (laughs) The Marie Kondo book, the KonMari method, which is the dump it all out on your bed and, you know, do it by categories, which is certainly interesting and unique. But, I resonated with your method because that’s the way I’ve always approached minimizing and decluttering

our house, is just to go room by room, and taking small projects, because the idea of having everything out in the middle of your living room, is just… I don’t know. That would be very uninspiring to me. So.

DS: Yeah. Yeah, Marie’s book’s called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and,

yeah, a wonderful bestseller and a very helpful approach for a lot of people. And, I’ve said from the very beginning that I am a fan of anybody, and any method, that helps people own less. And so if Marie Kondo’s method is what is helpful to you, then by all means, I think you should do it and

you should go for it. Her process is categorybased, rather than room-based. And she’s even very, like she’s very deliberate, that room-by-room is not the best way to declutter your stuff and you need to do it category-by-category. And so, you take all your clothes and you put them all in one place,

and then you declutter your clothes. And you take all your books and you put them in one place, and you go through all your books all at the same time. And, if I find people struggling with my room-by-room approach, like I’ll send them to Marie and I’ll say, “Well, try it this way and

see if that works for you.” I love room-by-room, because number one, that’s the way I did it. But number two, I think that it’s a way to build momentum and find progress along the way. And so I will tell people, start in the easiest room that you spend time in. If it’s a living room, or your family room,

sometimes a bedroom can be easier than a living room, but just do… Or a car, like car’s usually the easiest place for someone to start. And then work it through beginning to end, you can probably do it in an hour, hour and a half, unless you’re starting with a lot of things. And then you sit down in your living room and it just feels calmer and more peaceful,

you feel accomplished. It’s like the first time I finished my living room, I sat down on the couch – like, I’m not this way at all – but I just thought to myself, “It’s like energy is able to flow through the room. It’s like the air is able to not get stuck in here, but move through the doorways!” And I’m like,

“This is really nice. Where else can I have this feeling?” And so we went and did the next easiest room, which was the bedroom for us. And like, just keep working easiest to hardest through your home. Man, so many people are like, “You’re right. I gotta declutter my garage.” And then you spent like an hour and a half in your garage and you see no progress and you throw your hands up in frustration.

So, I’m glad you liked my method. I have found it to be the most effective, for the most number of people. But, there is certainly more than one way to do it. And anything that works for you is the way to do it.

DS: Oh, absolutely. And I think that for a lot of people who have a lot of clutter,

I think it’s very overwhelming to think about tackling it all. And so I always encourage people to start with little projects too, like your purse or your wallet, or your car. And your book laying it out and suggesting to start in the easier rooms, that’s exactly what people should do, because it does help build momentum. And it gives you a sense of

accomplishment and you can actually see the benefits. And so that will motivate you to continue. So, yeah, I liked Marie Kondo’s book a lot actually, it’s just that wasn’t the decluttering method for me, but I do think that, I think it’s super interesting, and the series on TV was crazy. (laughs)

JB: Yup, yeah.

DS: All right. And in your book

the other thing that I really liked is, you talked about decluttering at points of life seasons. And I really, that was a very new idea for me. Not that I didn’t think about having life seasons, but the idea of, wow, those are actually really pivotal moments in our decluttering journey. And so will you speak to that a little bit?

JB: Yeah. Uh, yeah. Thanks for pulling that out. I do think it is very, very important too, and I probably started with… when I would first talk about minimalism and owning less, and try to explain to people that this looks very different from one person to another. I mean, a family of eight is going to own… a family of eight

living on a farm is going to own very different things than a young couple living in an apartment in the middle of the city. Or the family of four where the husband’s a dentist is going to own different than the family of four where the wife’s a school teacher. Like it’s just always going to look different from person to person. And a lot of that was always lifeseason-based

in my home, in my mind as I was explaining this. But from there you make a very natural connection that even in one person’s life, the possessions that they’re going to own is going to look different from season to season. When my wife and I were newlyweds, we had to own different things than when our kids were toddlers. And now that our kids are teenagers,

and when our kids are out of the home, we’re going to own different things during different seasons of life. When I was a pastor, I needed to own different things than I do now that I’m a writer. And so, I think that’s been a very helpful process to me and a helpful process to other people. And

it seems to me that the problem becomes, when we carry items from a previous season of life, always forward into the current season of life. And so when we keep everything always going forward is where we end up in our forties and fifties and even older, and just have boxes and boxes of stuff, and closets and closets full of things.

I think that’s, I think that’s helpful too, to remember that I don’t need everything from every previous season of life in order to remember it. And, man, one other thing I would mention that is difficult, but the hard part comes when someone really enjoyed a previous season of life, but they’re no longer in that season of life.

And so I can see it a lot with women who loved mothering, and they just loved having young children and young kids at home, and they tend to hold onto a lot of possessions, a lot of the things from that previous season of life, even though they don’t need them anymore. Or even the harder one is someone who was married for 40 years and they loved being married to their spouse and their spouse has passed away.

And now they’re in a new season of life. And there’s a, there’s a sense of, “I honor that person by holding onto everything” or “I’m not ready to part with their stuff or all of that stuff.” And certainly there’s a grieving process in there, but I try to remind people, like, your spouse wants you

to be living your best life today. Like, your spouse wants you to be making the most of the remaining years of life that you have. And you can’t do that by holding on to everything that they had. Certainly hold onto some things, but I mean, if I were to pass away, I wouldn’t want my wife to keep everything that I’ve ever had.

Like keep a few things, certainly. But, man, like, you make the most of the life that you have living. I think that that’s how we would all respond and should respond in that situation.

DS: Well, I think guilt plays a role there. I think that people feel guilty getting rid of the things that, in your example,

that their deceased spouse owned, it feels icky to think about, “Oh, I’m just going to get rid of these things as if they didn’t matter, as if my spouse didn’t matter”, when that’s not really the case at all. But I think guilt also plays a role in how we spent the money to get these items. So getting away from the life seasons,

but just everyday purchases that we spend money on. And then we feel guilty about how much money we spent on it. So we don’t want to get rid of it. We think we’re just going to hold on to it. So do you see that also?

JB: Oh, yep. A lot. And I… you could probably even explain it better than I do,

but, my degrees in banking and accounting was my favorite high school class. So I think I know what I’m talking about, but like, I try to remind people or explain to people – it’s usually for the first time – this whole idea of a sunk cost, which in business, it just means that you can’t factor in a previous purchase into your future decisions.

And so if you spent $10,000 on a piece of equipment, but now there’s a new piece of equipment and it costs $2,500, and it works faster and it takes less time and it makes a higher quality widget. Then you can’t base the decision of “Do I buy the new one?”, you can’t factor in the fact that you spent $10,000 on the old one.

Either you buy the new one because it’s a good investment, or you don’t. And when it comes to possessions and purchases, it’s the exact same thing, right? Like I can’t go back and change that purchase, unless the tags are still on it. I can’t go undo that money spent. But I have to make,

but I don’t have to carry that cost forward. I don’t have to carry the guilt every time I look at it, I don’t have to keep tidying it up and organizing it and taking care of it forever. If I can live a better life without it today, then that’s a decision that I need to make.

DS: Well, exactly. And

the guilt is going to be there regardless of whether you have to look at the thing every day or not. And so I usually will tell people, look, you already spent that money. And I use the term sunk costs. You spent that money, you can’t un-spend the money, it’s gone. So now if this isn’t serving you, if this item isn’t serving your life anymore,

get rid of it. So you’re not reminded every day at what a bad purchasing decision that you made.

JB: Yeah.

DS: So just, just get rid of it. And you get used to it, and then you feel, I think people feel free by making that decision

JB: And the way you find value in that old purchase is that you learn,

you learn from the mistake and you learn the lesson and you say, “I didn’t need it. Now, I realize that. Going forward, I’m not going to waste my money on things that I don’t need.” And in that way you redeem that cost a little bit, like the bad decision serves you because you’re learning from it.

And you’re becoming a better person because of that money spent, going forward. You can’t get the money back, but you can learn the life lesson to not do it in the future.

DS: Exactly. Yeah, that’s a good way to look at it. So you mentioned, and I knew that you had a background in finance and banking,

and so you probably had views about money in your earlier life. And so I’m interested in how your views may or may not have changed when you became interested in minimalism. Did you have a shift in the way that you thought about money?

JB: Um, yes, yes and no. Um, I think it’s, I don’t know how to,

I don’t know to walk this line, I assume I’m not unique in this. I assume most people don’t set out to waste all their money on stuff that they don’t need. And I don’t even know how many people would say, I just want to buy things to impress other people. Like, maybe there’s a few that would say that,

but it’s like our, it’s like we just get kind of sucked into that thinking without realizing that we’re there. And so, while I don’t know if my view of money changed, although it probably did have in little bit of a longer run, I began to realize how unintentional I had been with my money and how I probably had enough money all along.

I was just spending it on all the wrong things. I did learn to, I learned that I can use my money to find much more longer lasting joy and meaning in life than using it to buy more things and to buy more stuff. And like I, like when I started,

when I stopped buying things and I started giving more money to causes that I believed in and charities that I was passionate about. Like, I started to realize, “Hey, I’m finding more joy in giving away money, than I ever found in buying a pair of pants because they were on clearance at Kohl’s like,

this is much more fulfilling to me to be solving problems in the world.” And so, certainly I think that that was a change in the way I view money. But I, you know, maybe my bigger thoughts around money have come from if I don’t need a lot of money to buy stuff and I don’t need a lot of money to be happy then how,

like, how does work factor into that? And what’s the purpose of work if it’s not to get rich, how do I find fulfillment in that without needing to pursue riches through it? And so, I don’t know, that was a long answer to… there’s a part of me where yes, I think my views have changed.

I’ve learned some things, but maybe a lot of it was just bringing my actual spending into alignment with what I would have said my values were all along, but I wasn’t actually living them out day to day. I don’t know. Help me out, bail me out here.

DS: Yeah. I think the word is… yeah I think the word you’re looking for is mindfulness.

That’s what I like to talk about with this, is that I think so often the spending that we do and the way we handle our day to day financial lives is just mindless. We don’t think about things, we just spend because we’re in the pattern of spending, we have habits of spending. We have, you know, it’s just,

it’s a habit to follow what your friends are doing or what your family is doing, and you just don’t even stop and think about it. And I think inserting that mindfulness is what’s so important, to sort of break that pattern. To insert that little space that makes you say, “Oh, wait a minute. I don’t actually need this pair of pants from Kohl’s,

just because they’re on clearance.” Or whatever the purchase is, or the way you’re going to spend your money, it’s just inserting that little bit of space, that you can say, “Oh yes, wait, I actually don’t need that.” And so you have to interrupt that pattern and develop new habits.

JB: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, and maybe if I were to get like a very personal finance, and not theoretical,

like in a very personal finance way, I think I did begin to challenge a lot of assumptions that I saw in society and that I saw in the world of, “Hey, just because I make more doesn’t mean I have to go buy a bigger house.” Or “Just because I have the money doesn’t mean I need to go buy a luxury car, or

even have a car payment at all.” Like, “I don’t have to do what everyone else is doing.” And beginning to challenge if that really is the best use of my money anyway. I had a good friend one time and I was talking about minimalism and she made a comment to me and she said,

“This must be really hard for women, because women like nice things.” I said, “Well, first of all, I don’t think there’s a direct correlation between minimalism and owning not-nice things.” In some ways, I think minimalism allows you to own nicer things, because you’re owning fewer. But I was really struck with the assumption that she was making that all women want nice things.

Because I don’t think that’s always the case. There are certainly women who want nice things and there are men who want nice things, but there are some women who aren’t drawn to that. And there are some men that aren’t drawn to that. But for her, it was just, “All women are this way, and so I’m that way,

and so I’m going to keep buying stuff because that’s just the way that we are.” And I don’t think she ever took a step back to even think, “But do I have to be that way? Is there another way?” Um, so that’s what I mean by challenging assumptions.

DS: Yeah. And I think that’s interesting, because I think there, that’s a perfect example of how somebody just falls into a pattern or a stereotype, and they just roll with that and they don’t stop to think about,

“Well, wait a minute. Is that actually true? Maybe that’s not true for me. And why should I assume that I would fit into that category?” So, yeah, I see, I see what you’re saying. So I have this theory that, because of the mindfulness factor that minimalism, or pursuing minimalism, or pursuing a simpler life, that

that actually helps people be better with their money. Do you think that’s true?

JB: Oh yep, totally, totally. Um, how have you seen it?

DS: Well, starting with the mindfulness, I think the mindfulness is what does the pattern-interrupting, and causes people to make better spending decisions. And then that mindfulness leads to people being more careful about their long-term

thinking, about how they want to save their money, and for what goals they want to save it for, because maybe they don’t have the same goals that they may have once had, back when they weren’t thinking so much about how they spend their money. Um, so I think that really, it all boils down to mindfulness, and that mindfulness leads to making better decisions and thinking more long-term. And thinking about impact,

thinking about the impact of how you’re spending your money, not just environmentally, you know, and globally, but also on your family and friends, and your own psychological health maybe, or mental health. So, I don’t know, to me, it feels like it kind of spreads out and it starts with that mindfulness.

JB: Yeah, I would, I would agree. For me, minimalism brought intentionality, mindfulness in all sorts of different ways. Like it started with things, and started with possessions, and started with me taking minivan-loads of things to Goodwill. And at some point saying like, “Why, like, why was I buying all this stuff in the first place?”

And so becoming more intentional with my possessions, which led to more intentionality in all sorts of different areas. Certainly in terms of spending. Maybe for me, and probably for others, that you would probably attest to this, is that when you start embracing this intentionality, when you start embracing minimalism, there are… it forces questions of values upon you and “Okay,

how do I decide what I need to own? I can’t really decide that until I know what… Or at least knowing what I want my life to look like, knowing what I want to do with my life, knowing what’s important to me.” Some of those questions get forced upon us through this mindfulness and through this just intentionally owning fewer things.

And then I think once we start to get more centered on what I want my life to be about, then the money starts to come along into that conversation. And “Hey, you know what, I really wish I could do more of that over there. That’s really important to me, I’m beginning to recognize. And so, how’s the money going to get there? And is that the best thing that I could use with my money?

Or is there something else?” And once you just kind of jar some of that unintentionality and shake up some of those assumptions that you’ve had in life, then, and certainly the personal finance and the money begins to come along and align as well.

DS: No I agree, I think you’re completely right. So on a more practical level,

because I think that thinking about mindfulness is really more like the philosophical angle of minimalism, informing your way of being with money and your finances. But I also focus a lot on actual practical tips for how people can simplify their financial lives because, everybody has a financial life. They may not think so, but they do. And it’s filled with paper, and it’s filled with different things to deal with, and bills, and all these things that crop up and, depending on what type of a life you have and who’s in your family and what your situation is,

you have all of these various moving pieces. And so, do you have any favorite tips or techniques that you use to keep your financial life streamlined and simple?

JB: This will be such a terrible answer for you. Um, but I have my wife do it. Um, can I, is that, (laughing) is that, is that okay to say?

Literally I, it would be, it would be interesting, I would probably have a better answer if I did. And I’m just thinking actually, personal and business, my wife handles, my wife handles both of them. And it… I’ll tell you how we got there, because I’m the banking major.

I got the degree and yet my wife handles all of our personal finance. But, this is a terrible thing to say, well, two things; I was terrible at getting bills paid on time. I was always like two or three days late mailing the check in, back when you had to mail a check in.

I was very bad at that. But the second one was that my wife was more of the spender in our family. And there came a point pretty early on in our marriage where, number one, she was on time with paying the bills. And number two, I found it helpful for her to see that we didn’t have much money.

And she was less inclined to think that we should be doing something, or going somewhere, or buying something when she saw what the bottom line was. So, I gave that over to her. What would I… I should have had a better answer for you on this one Dawn,

although I’m, your whole book is genius about this. You wrote a blog post for Becoming Minimalist about this, and your whole book and your whole podcast is probably full of all sorts of good ways to simplify life, right?

DS: Well, thank you. Thank you for saying so, I was going to interrupt you while you were formulating an answer and tell you that I’m a fan of women in relationships being in charge of the money.

Because in my financial planning practice for so many years, it was the majority of the women, in heterosexual couples, where the man was generally the breadwinner and the woman was the stay-at-home spouse, or at least lower-earning-spouse. And so often, the woman had no idea about personal finance things, just, I mean, maybe she

took care of the bills, but she had no idea about planning your future with your finances, or investing, or saving or anything like that. And so for me, it does my heart good to see now in these newer generations of people where there’s more gender equality in the sense of managing the household finances. So I really, I appreciate that.

And I appreciate the fact that, you know, you weren’t the control-freak, banker-background person who had to handle the money, that you encouraged your wife to take on those responsibilities. Because I think that that is super important for women in general, but I also think it’s important, as you pointed out, for somebody who maybe doesn’t pay as close attention to how they’re spending the money, and then forced to look at it and forced to manage it.

It causes them to be more thoughtful about it and careful.

JB: Yeah. Um, you know, maybe just one tip and this isn’t like a practical, you know, “use this column” or “use a sheet of paper”, but very honestly, don’t think – this is for anyone listening – don’t think that anything that Dawn says, or that financial advisors speak about,

don’t ever say, “Yeah, but I can’t do that.” Like don’t ever get, “I can’t save each month. I can’t build up an emergency fund. I can’t save for retirement. I can’t, you know, live below my means.” Because, just related to the previous conversation, I think as soon as you tell yourself that you can’t do it,

then you give yourself an excuse to not even try. But whatever, like any of the things that Dawn’s putting out or that she’s been talking about in her podcast, like you tell yourself, “Okay, Dawn’s been telling me I need to do this, and that I can do it. Now, how am I going to figure this out in my specific relationship and

in my specific circumstance”. And maybe it’s not saving a thousand dollars overnight, but “Okay, $5 at a time, $10 at a time, $50 at a time. I can get there. And maybe I’m not putting aside $50,000 a year for retirement, but I can start somewhere and I can do something.” And once you start seeing that you can do it,

everything that you’ve been saying, it becomes a little bit easier because we find a pathway to do it. So…

DS: Oh, totally!

JB: How about I say that?

DS: Yeah, no, that’s a good one. And thank you. Thank you for your kind words. I think it’s analogous to your methodology for decluttering, is that, you know,

you start small, you start with the small projects and you build your confidence level that you can actually tackle this, what seems to be an enormous project. And when I come across so many people who just don’t have the skills, they don’t understand the basics of personal finance and they feel, they automatically assume that they are incapable of learning it. And that’s just not true.

And so taking those little baby steps and doing those little small projects and then building your confidence level that, “Oh, hey, actually this is not rocket science. I can do this. I can actually increase my knowledge and be more confident and make better decisions with my money.” So, well good. So, we talked about decluttering, so kind of the minimalism of one’s belongings or

space, and we talked about money. And so now I wanted to finish by talking a little bit about time. Because I’m also super interested in how minimalists and people who are interested in a simpler life, manage their time because we – okay, notwithstanding the fact that right now we’re recording this during the time of COVID, where everyone has been forced to be home and spend less time doing things –

but generally speaking, I think, especially here in the United States, we have this mentality that we have to be go, go, go all the time. And just this constant frenetic activity and feeling like we have to pack everything into our days. So I’m interested in maybe how you have dealt with that because you have a lot of irons in the fire with all of your different writing projects,

and now you have this new app that I’m hoping you’ll tell us about in a little bit. You have a lot of things going on, a lot of projects. So how do you balance that and keep that, you know, really important white space in your life so that you can have some breathing room.

JB: Okay. So, probably two different conversations there. The family, the white space, the rest; and then work. So, let me start with the first thing. And, for me, I think, I mean, just to go back to the same phrasing,

it’s about intentionality and it’s about mindfulness. And I heard some great advice very early on, growing up in the church, that we should have a day of rest every single week. So we should be taking a day for rest. And I heard someone elaborate on that one time. And,

it was really quite brilliant and quite helpful. He said, look, typically you work for five days. And then you have two days off on the weekend, traditionally. He said, use one of the days to care for your personal matters, clean the house, fix the window, whatever it might be, and then use your seventh day for rest.

And so I’ve tried, like going into weekend, like that’s how I think of my weekends, like, “Okay, one of the days let’s do the stuff that needs to get done. And then I have a full day where I don’t have anything, go to church still, but like, it’s just a day of rest.

So being intentional about how I’m even using my days where I’m not working, and then adding to that, my desire to be a faithful husband, and my desire to be an intentional father who’s a part of my kids’ life, and encouraging them and challenging them, and being there for them when they’re doing the different things that they’re doing. And realizing that different activities are helpful to them and contribute to their growth, and some things don’t, and some things do.

And so, just thinking to yourself, “Okay, I want to be a good father and I want to be a good husband. And so how do I structure my evenings and how do I structure my weekends? And even my workday, if helpful, or my summers where they’re not in school?” and just really thinking through how do I… what time do I need to invest over there in order to do that well.

Which by the way, doesn’t eliminate self-care through this process, right? Like I need my own rest so that I can do all of those things well. So it’s being very intentional about that time and not getting sucked into just doing things to do things, but knowing again what season of life I’m in, and my kids are teenagers and it’s going to,

my life will look different when they’re out of the house. But for now, this is what I need to do in order to do it well. In relation….

DS: Yeah, it’s that mindfulness, I was going to say, it’s that mindfulness thing again, you know, I think especially families with children, it’s so easy to get sucked into all these activities, and all of these obligations just because everyone else is doing it or because the kids want to.

And so I think keeping that mindfulness in terms of “What’s priority here? It’s priority for us to have this day of rest, or it’s priority for us to have family time” and so on. You know, to make good decisions about things that you take on in the way of obligations and activities.

JB: Yeah. Yeah. And there’s some things that I say no to,

now, that I might be able to say yes to in 10 years, but right now my first priority is here. And so, keeping that in mind. In terms of work, I love my work and I see it as an

important part of what I do and who I am. And so work has never been the thing that I’m trying to get out of. Work has never been just the thing that I do in order to live my life. My work is my life and I love helping people own less.

And so I always try to figure out what is a way that I can help people do that. What are the resources that I have? What do I do well, who are the people that I know that I can work alongside and we can do something that will help people own less. Like that is my,

that’s my passion, and that’s my heart. I see that as my mission, one of my callings in life. And so work has never been something I have to set the alarm to go do. Like, I just like doing it. And so yesterday was a holiday and I knew that my teenage kids were going to sleep-in late, and that my wife would probably sleep-in later than I would,

and I was going to be up and I’m like, I can do some, I can do some work. I can put in some hours, even on this holiday morning because that’s what I love to do. And that’s what I’m passionate about doing. And so it doesn’t feel like work to me. It just feels like a way that I want to spend

my days. Which I know isn’t the case for every person’s job, but for me, that’s how it’s been.

DS: Yeah, no, I understand. You’re preaching to the choir here! I have the trouble of forcing myself to stop working because I enjoy work so much and it’s always been such a part

of who I am and it’s just, helping people is what I do. And it’s hard to take a step back and say, “Okay, listen, you know, there really is too much, there’s too much work!” So, you know, you have to kind of reign that in. And that’s been,

that’s been a struggle for me. So that’s been an ongoing project for me.

JB: Yeah. Yep. And me too, I’ve learned a little bit that the taking out the desire for riches, the desire for wealth, has been somewhat helpful to me in that regard. I don’t need a lot to live the life that I’m living.

I’m not a person who’s just trying to get as much money as they possibly can in life. And so I try to filter my work through that prism, right? Because if it’s always about making another dollar, then there’s always another hour that you could put in to make another dollar. But if it’s,

“I want to be helpful to people, how can I do that in a way that allows me to also be who I need to be over here?” And using that as the filter. Because there comes a point where doing more work isn’t helping more people, it’s starting to take away from my ability to help people in the long run.

Trying to, trying to balance that.

DS: Yeah. And that’s just one of those life lessons that we have to figure out, is where is that point where you’ve crossed over into, “Okay, this is not helpful anymore?” So. Well, Joshua, this has been such a pleasure. I appreciate your generosity with your time and answering all of my questions.

What projects do you have coming up that you would like to talk about? Tell me a little bit about the app that you have. I’m super interested in that.

JB: Ah, yeah, that’s probably the most recent one, and probably the one that I’m focusing most attention on. Clutterfree, clutterfree.com. Clutterfree is the app and it’s,

again, it’s a resource to help people own less. An app is, number one, an app is able to do some things that a book can’t do, that even an online course can’t do. Like it’s very intimate, right? It’s in the palm of your hand,

it can track your progress and you can keep photos. And so, we created the app, it’s the first app to offer a personalized approach to go through your home. And so I found decluttering apps out there and it was like, “Day One: candlesticks, Day Two: towels.” And I’m like “Ah, this isn’t very helpful.”

But this one, literally you put your home into the app and it says, start in this room and then this room next, and that room, and that room and, offer steps through each of them. You can check them off and track your progress. And, so it’s been a whole new world for me. The app is free for 14 days, and then it’s $3.99 a month after that. And the hope was that people would just use it as long as they needed it. If you could get through your home in six weeks, then you’d only need it for a month. If you get through your home in two weeks, then you won’t need it at all.

If it’s going to take a little bit longer then… I don’t know, in my mind, I always figured, “Gosh, if I got it done this month, then I wouldn’t have to pay for another month of the app!” And so I was hoping it would be motivating to people. I knew that some people need it longer than others. And so there’s a discount if you need it for a long time,

but that’s the new one. And I’m still trying to get the word out about it, so thanks for letting me talk about it.

DS: Yeah, no, I think it’s super interesting. And I think your point was a good one, is that if you’re trying to follow somebody else’s method, their method’s never going to be perfect for you.

So your example of, you know, “Day one this, day two this,” that’s not necessarily going to be applicable to everybody. And so having the customization aspect, I think, is going to be helpful to people to be able to set up their own goals of how they want to do that. So, yeah.

Excellent. Well, great. I’m interested to look into that.

JB: Yeah.

DS: So thank you so much for your time today, and how can folks who are interested in reading more about your work, how can they find you online?

JB: becomingminimalist.com. That’s homebase for anything and everything that I do. So I’d send people there.

DS: All right. Awesome. Excellent.

Thank you very much. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day.

JB: Thanks for having me, appreciate what you’re doing here.

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Hope you enjoyed this interview with Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist!  For a review of Joshua’s book, visit this blog post.

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