Minimalism is a concept that has a strong appeal for someone with perfectionist and OCD tendencies like me. The vision of a space so simplified and streamlined that it instantly calms you is an intoxicating mirage that I’ve completely bought into. I’m working on decreasing my own possessions but it’s an ongoing process that I have to rededicate myself to on a monthly, weekly and daily basis.
While deciding to embark on minimizing what I own, I started to read more extensively on the topic and branched out into different variations on the theme of minimalism – looking at it from the financial aspect, from the consumerism aspect and from the philosophical aspect. I also became hungry for as many personal stories as I could find about other people’s own minimalist journeys.
This book list brings together the books I’ve read so far on the topic, ordered from the one that was most helpful to me, to least helpful. If you have any other titles on minimalism you’d like to recommend to me, please let me know in the comments!
The Year Of Less by Cait Flanders
Publication Date: January 16th 2018
Publisher: Hay House Inc.
Length In Hardcover: 189 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.59
In her late twenties, Cait Flanders found herself stuck in the consumerism cycle that grips so many of us: earn more, buy more, want more, rinse, repeat. When she realized that nothing she was doing or buying was making her happy—only keeping her from meeting her goals—she decided to set herself a challenge: she would not shop for an entire year. The Year of Less documents Cait’s life for twelve months during which she bought only consumables.
Though The Year Of Less is a personal memoir, I think it would make a great introduction to thinking about over-consumption and minimalism for anyone wanting to get into the topic. Flanders is considered a bit of a guru in the financial blogging world and she started her journey to minimalism when she decided to tackle her significant consumer debt and record the process on her blog. The Year Of Less started as an idea for Flanders to really take a hard look at her consumption patterns by embarking on a year-long shopping ban. I really liked the structure of Flanders’ memoir, which is divided so that each chapter has to do with one month of her journey and a different topic related to finances or minimalism. Her memoir is very well written, engaging and highly quotable, with depth and meaning that go past the personal anecdotes.
You Can Buy Happiness by Tammy Strobel
Publication Date: September 11th 2012
Publisher: New World Library
Length In Paperback: 224 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.7
Tammy Strobel and her husband are living the voluntary downsizing — or smart-sizing — dream and here she combines research on well-being with numerous real world examples to offer practical inspiration. Her fresh take on our things, our work, and our relationships spell out micro-actions that anyone can take to step off the getting-and-spending treadmill and into a life that’s more conscious and connected, sustainable and sustaining, heartfelt and happy.
I think it’s clear from this list that I feel that when it comes to books on minimalism, more personal is always better. There’s something about a writer being completely candid about their own experience that brings a concept like minimalism to life through the lived struggles of the author. You Can Buy Happiness is the dramatic story of the 360 degree life-change Strobel and her then boyfriend embarked on to get out from under thousands of dollars of debt and completely revamp their consumption habits. I found Strobel to be so relatable and she delves into details like her mindset when it comes to shopping mindlessly, her feelings of frustration and fear, and the actions that it took to change her life, that I think many other readers will relate to as well. This memoir also has good advice for how to navigate minimalism as a couple.
Year Of No Clutter by Eve O. Schaub
Publication Date: March 7th 2017
Length In Paperback: 320 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.47
Eve has a problem with clutter. Too much stuff and too easily acquired, it confronts her in every corner and on every surface in her house. When she pledges to tackle the worst offender, her horror of a “Hell Room,” she anticipates finally being able to throw away all of the unnecessary things she can’t bring herself to part with. Year of No Clutter is a deeply inspiring–and frequently hilarious — examination of why we keep stuff in the first place, and how to let it all go.
This book would be great for those with borderline hoarding tendencies starting to think about decluttering, who want to be able to find someone they’ll really relate to. It’s a bit of a case of the blind leading the blind, because Schaub is no expert at organizing and throughout the book it’s painfully obvious that she’s struggling with every decision to discard some of her hoard. However, Schaub’s self help/memoir is very well written, laugh out loud funny at times, and demonstrates that even as she copes with her own clutter demons, she’s able to laugh at herself. At times, this book reminded me of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. Schaub doesn’t take herself seriously and wants to reassure you that you’re not the only one whose mind clings to possessions irrationally.
Meet The Frugalwoods by Elizabeth Willard Thames
Publication Date: March 8th 2018
Publisher: Harper Business
Length In Hardcover: 256 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.85
The deeply personal story of how award-winning personal finance blogger Elizabeth Willard Thames abandoned a successful career in the city and embraced frugality to create a more meaningful, purpose-driven life, and retire to a homestead in the Vermont woods at age thirty-two with her husband and daughter. In the process, Elizabeth discovered the self-confidence and liberation that stems from disavowing our culture’s promise that we can buy our way to “the good life.”
Frugalwoods is one of my favorite budgeting blogs, and it really sits at the intersection between finance and minimalism. In this very personal memoir, the founder of Frugalwoods, Elizabeth Willard James, tells the story of her transformation with her husband into one of the most frugal couples you’ll ever hear about. The lengths they both went to in order to be able to achieve financial independence and realize their ideal lives in rural Vermont are pretty extreme. I think they’ve been eating the same frugal thing for lunch for years, for example. This memoir is a great introduction to their story, though as a reader of her blog, I was hoping Willard James would include more practical advice about frugality into the memoir. Their story is still very inspiring, and it will make you reflect on the compromises you might be willing to make in the short term to get where you want to be in the long term.
The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Publication Date: January 15th 2011
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Length In Hardcover: 224
Goodreads Rating: 3.79
Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results.
You can’t really have a book list about minimalism without including Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The title was not the beginning of the minimalism movement, whose philosophical origins can be tracked back to the beginning of the 20th century. However, Kondo was really the one to popularize minimalism and bring the concept to the masses. I found her book to be definitely helpful and humorous in parts, but there were sections that seemed dated or that included advice that was actually inefficient. For example, Kondo recommends emptying your bag every night when you come home and putting everything away. Considering everything I keep in my bag, this sounds like my idea of a repetitive and unnecessary nightmare. Having said this, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a minimalism classic and a must read on the topic. I now fold the shirts in my dresser the Marie Kondo way and I’m never going back.
The Big Tiny by Dee Williams
Publication Date: April 22nd 2014
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Length In Hardcover: 304 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.79
Dee William’s life changed in an instant, with a near-death experience in the aisle of her local grocery store. Diagnosed with a heart condition at age forty-one, she was all too suddenly reminded that life is short, time is precious, and she wanted to be spending hers with the people and things she truly loved. Deciding to build an eighty-four-square-foot house—on her own, from the ground up—was just the beginning of building a new life.
Like a lot of people with an interest in minimalism, I’m pretty much obsessed with tiny houses. If LA was not the crazy housing market that it is, I would love to be able to custom-design my own tiny house and find a small, perfectly situated plot of land to live on. While this dream may not be realistic for me at the moment, I love to live it out through others’ adventures in tiny house living. I love the HGTV show Tiny House Hunters, and as soon as I heard about Dee Williams memoir about building her own tiny home, I knew I had to read it. I really loved William’s inspiring personal story and the details she provides about the process of constructing her own itsy bitsy home from scratch. She had to forego many comforts in the process (like a shower and using a heater at night in case her tiny house burned down around her), but gained in clarity about the meaning of her life along the way.
Goodbye Things by Fumio Sasaki
Publication Date: April 11th 2017
Publisher: W. W. Norton Company
Length In Hardcover: 288 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.8
Fumio Sasaki is not an enlightened minimalism expert; he’s just a regular guy who was stressed at work, insecure, and constantly comparing himself to others—until one day he decided to change his life by reducing his possessions to the bare minimum. The benefits were instantaneous and absolutely remarkable. Goodbye, Things explores why we measure our worth by the things we own and how the new minimalist movement will not only transform your space but truly enrich your life.
I had mixed feelings about this book by Japanese minimalist Fumio Sasaki. I loved the first half of it, dedicated to Sasaki’s own transition from maximalism to minimalism, including pictures of his apartment before and after this ideological shift (seriously, more minimalism memoirs should include these kinds of pictures because they are deeply satisfying). Getting a Japanese perspective on minimalism was a welcome different take from the mostly U.S.-centric titles I had read up to that point on the topic. However, in the second half of the book, Sasaki embarks on an attempt to give 55 tips on how to get rid of your things and become a minimalist. That’s where he kind of lost me. This section felt trite, unoriginal and too long-winded, and I felt myself skimming through the (obvious) advice after the first 10 or so points.
The More Of Less by Joshua Becker
Publication Date: May 3rd 2016
Length In Hardcover: 240 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.79
Most of us know we own too much stuff. We feel the weight and burden of our clutter, and we tire of cleaning and managing and organizing. While excess consumption leads to bigger houses, faster cars, fancier technology, and cluttered homes, it never brings happiness. Rather, it distracts us from the very life we wish we were living. In The More of Less, Joshua Becker, helps you realize how all the stuff you own is keeping you from pursuing your dreams.
The More Of Less is a basic and accessible introduction to the concept of minimalism and on how to start applying it within your own life. In that sense, it’s a solid book about minimalism, hence the 3 star rating. I didn’t find it to be a great fit for me, however, for two reasons. First of all, there are definitely some Christian undertones to the book. Most of the time, these are kept to a minimum and the author doesn’t come off as too preachy, but especially in the final chapter about re-purposing extra income to give back, the book does occasionally stray into pontificating. Secondly, since the author is a man, you’re definitely getting the male perspective on minimalism. This means that cluttering issues that are much stronger sticking points for women are barely addressed (eg. clothes and cosmetics).
Stuffocation by James Wallman
Publication Date: December 10th 2013
Publisher: Crux Publishing
Length In Hardcover: 320 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.49
Stuffocation is a movement manifesto for “experiential” living, a call to arms to stop accumulating stuff and start accumulating experiences, and a road map for a new way forward with the potential to transform our lives. Trend forecaster James Wallman traces our obsession with stuff back to the original Mad Men, who first created desire through advertising. He introduces us to the innovators who are already living more consciously and with more meaning by choosing experience over stuff.
So James Wallman believes people should stop thinking about minimalism and start thinking about ‘experientalism’ instead. He views minimalism as a restrictive practice through which people are forced to throw nearly all their possessions away willy nilly and have to fit everything they own into a pre-determined number (like 100 objects, or 300 or something along those lines). Wallman clearly wanted to come up with his own ‘ism’ that people could start clamoring about, but in the process, he knowingly grossly misinterpreted minimalism. As Marie Kondo would say, you’re allowed to keep things that are technically not that useful, if they spark joy. And there’s no magic minimalism object number either. It is true that minimalism is supposed to lead to experientialism, by freeing up time spent worrying about possessions and financial issues so that it can be repurposed towards more important pursuits. I was just irked that Wallman tried to make minimalism fit into a rigid box so that he could make experientalism happen.
The Art Of Discarding by Nagisa Tatsumi
Publication Date: 2000
Publisher: Hachette Books
Length In Hardcover: 176 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.3
The Art of Discarding (the book that originally inspired a young Marie Kondo to start cleaning up her closets) offers hands-on advice and easy-to-follow guidelines to help readers learn how to finally let go of stuff that is holding them back–as well as sage advice on acquiring less in the first place. Author Nagisa Tatsumi urges us to reflect on our attitude to possessing things and to have the courage and conviction to get rid of all the stuff we really don’t need.
This was the book that changed Marie Kondo’s life and turned her into a minimalism guru, so you’re probably wondering why I’m giving it just two measly starts (or rabbits). Well, this one was just really hard to relate to and a bit boring for me. The author is very concerned about people’s tendency to accumulate binders and booklets for conferences and courses they attend, which may have been relevant to Japanese people back in 2000, but not so much nowadays. The author really harped on these ‘catalogues’ and barely skimmed over topics like discarding clothing or knicknacks. It was like she had a personal vendetta against pamphlets and junk mail, and there was even a mention of floppy disks. Not sure if I should provide a Wikipedia link to what floppy disks are for those of you who weren’t alive then. Just saying that this book inspired The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and you’re totally fine with just reading the latter.
Make Space by Regina Wong
Publication Date: August 15th 2017
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Length In Hardcover: 160 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.28
We simply have too much stuff in our lives. Minimalism can make all the difference. A minimalist life removes non-essentials and clutter—whether it’s physical clutter in your home or a cluttered mental state that holds you back from your goals— and makes space for only the most important things that truly add value and joy. Make Space offers you the tools to achieve this transformative mindset shift by marrying minimalist philosophy and principles with practical tips, activities, and action points that will unlock truly simple living.
So clearly Make Space is the book in this list that I’d be least likely to recommend. I think Wong’s intentions were admirable – to try to bring more of the philosophical meaning of minimalism into a self help book on the topic. However, something went wrong in execution here. She went too broad and generic, so that the ideological parts of the book end up sounding cheesy and trite without being grounded in anecdotes coming from personal experience. The book fails do deliver on any kind of original twist on a topic that at this point has been pretty widely covered. I found little of practical use within this text aside maybe Wong’s chapter on budgeting, which felt more grounded in real life and actionable. There’s a lot of literature out there on minimalism, so this one would have been a skip for me.
Have you read any of the books on this Minimalism Book List? What did you think of them? Do you agree with my ratings? Let me know in the comments.
If you want to take a look at some of the other book lists I’ve put together you can check out ones on World War II Nonfiction, Scientology, Favorite Nonfiction, True Crime, Memoirs For Nonfiction Newcomers, Hillary Clinton, North Korea and Scientific Nonfiction.
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