My Minimalism Manifesto

Claudia and I spent the entire Thanksgiving on an airplane, going from San Francisco to New York. We avoided the entire holiday.

(I don't even know how to carve one of these things up)

Cooking, cleaning, getting together with relatives, all the small talk, all the hateful talk, all the gossipy talk, all the expenses. I hate that shit. Claudia slept almost the entire way. We got home by 11pm.

For most of the prior two weeks I had been on the road. I didn't miss home at all (although I missed my kids even if they seemed to easily survive two weeks without me).

I didn’t miss a single thing in my home. I didn’t miss my Dr. McCoy doll sitting next to my computer. I didn’t miss any of my books because not only were all books in my Kindle but I was trapped in the middle of the 900 page monster of Murakami’s IQ84**. Once I was 200 pages in I realized it was 900 pages and I felt like I had to finish it.

So for two weeks I went without 99% of my books and 99% of my clothes and without anything else I've collected over the last few years. And I actually spent time with friends. What a pleasure it was!

Here's what I want in the next three years:

A)      I want to throw away everything I own.

B)      There’s very little need for me to go on the Internet. I can schedule ½ hour a day to answer emails and facebook messages and respond to comments on my blog.

C)      I need to be in the New York area right now to see my kids. But once they are older, it means less and less NY time for me and I hate fighting the weather during the middle of winter or the middle of summer. ***

D)     All I really need is an ipad**** with a keyboard. Some  changes of clothes. Claudia, and cash flow to support a minimal lifestyle.

(see below for my spec of the 'ipad 4' )****

But what about money? Well, if I don’t support my kid’s college educations. And  if I don’t own a home, that drives down the costs of living considerably.

And in the new post-2008 financial crisis world, no job provides corporate safety.

(the other extreme. - too much!)

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Don’t sweat it if you are stuck in the corporate job right now. But begin to plan ahead. I know from much personal experience that it takes 1-3 years to transition from total scratch to making a living from home in any career you want.

So if you want to make that transition, take a step back. Begin with the daily practice (at a breakfast the other day, one person said to me, “ok, ok, I’m going to FINALLY check out this Daily Practice you keep writing about.”), begin writing down ideas, start sketching out realistic next steps, and tell yourself, “3 years of pursuing this every day and I will be making a living at it.”

Theres really no excuses in that. There’s no “But I can’t...” or “But I have to wait for...”. There’s none. I’ve seen it over and over. Not just with myself but with many others. Just don't be stupid. Don't dive into an empty pool. Fill the pool up with enough water so you can swim. It takes time  but plan now.

In mid-2008 I got separated from my ex-wife. I moved into a fairly cheap hotel. I had very few clothes. I had no books. I had no furniture (although the hotel had some things that I can vaguely call antiques). I had few friends (it was 2008. Everyone was just trying to survive rather than cultivate friendships). I was in the process of losing every job, both permanent and temporary, that I had. And almost every investment I had was going down.

But I’d wake up in the morning, the sunlight pouring in, a new empty day in front of me, and even though I knew those days wouldn’t last forever and I’d have to hustle to find opportunity again, I began to be happy.  After years of sadness. And I still am.


* Follow me on Twitter.

** Murakami's IQ84 clocked in at 925 pages. It was a bit long for me. The novel at times was a pageturner but I had a hard time finding the kind of voice I like to find when reading. I like to read voices that help me with my own writing and although Murakami is incredibly gifted this book didn't do it for me.

*** Anyone who says they love the "4 seasons" is telling me bullshit. Much better (for me) to live in an environment with only one season: 60 degrees, mildly gray, no wind, little rain: and that's it.

**** I need the ipad 4. Not even the ipad 3, which I imagine will just be an enhanced ipad 2, i.e. thinner, faster, longer battery life, more pixels, better cameras. Here's what the ipad 4 will (my guess) include: multi-tasking, an option for a bigger screen (almost like a portable ipad), easier to plug in accessories (a thin keyboard i can fold away), easier access to 4G networks, etc. Not asking for much. I just want to get rid of my laptop but in worse case still have the basic functionality of the ipad 2 if that's all I need. (And here's my spec for the 'Eye-Pad')




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    I’ve already got rid of most of the stuff I had, and it feels unbelievably great. Ever since summer, I’ve thrown away all my books (who needs them when I have an iPad), DVD’s (iPad and/or computer) and just yesterday I threw away all my Christmas decorations. This was the last year I decorated my apartment ever. 

    During the past few months, I’ve deleted a lot of things from my computer hard drive as well. I don’t need most of this stuff. I had 11,500 songs (I now have 3500 on iTunes Match a.k.a. iCloud). I had some 30,000 photos (I now have 7000). I’ve deleted 800GB worth of videos (I only kept a few great ones in FULL HD). I’m looking for ways to move my photos to the Cloud as well, since all my songs, documents and e-mails are already there. If don’t need a computer anymore (why the %#£€ did I spend a few grand on a new super machine on August??!) – all I need is an iPad too. I can even trade on that. 

    I’m currently working on throwing away my clothes too. I’m looking for my own ”Steve Jobs outfit”, so I shouldn’t have to buy all these different types of clothes (sweaters, shirts, T-shirts, suits, blazers, jackets, coats, dress shoes, casual shoes, running shoes, tennis shoes, golf shoes). That’s b.s.. I don’t need them. All I need is a regular black shirt (which is the most common item all over the globe), some pants and some shoes. That’s it. I could only have two pairs at most (if ones are being washed) and that’s it. If something breaks, I can just go out and buy a new pair. 

    If I’m done with all that, I really wouldn’t own anything (except for a car, which I’m also planning to sell). At this point, I’m renting an apartment (although I hate that it’s furnished. I don’t need a TV, a sofa or dining table. I like sitting on a floor and eating there). And I don’t need all those kitchen appliances – I only need a bowl and a spoon. That’s all I use as a vegetarian. 

    Once I’m finished, I’m selling my car, taking my backpack and spend the next month in Phuket, Thailand. And then see where I can go next. Why should I live in a certain city or country? 

    • Thats great US. I like the term “the Steve Jobs outfit”. For me its brown pants, a white t shirt and black sweater. The pants are $8 in India and I got a bunch of them the last time I was there. The tshirts in india are like $1. The rest of the stuff in my closet is going to the Vietnam Vets.

      • I love the “Steve Jobs Outfit!!” I might have to blog on that one… I’m slowly selling my stuff on ebay, I can’t afford to throw it away. I’ll donate the stuff that’s too hard to ship using a flat rate box. 
        So James, what’s your ideal place of residency if not NY?

        • I’m with you guys on this one, one of my New Years resolutions is to get rid of most of my belongings. It is something to see other people embracing similar lifestyles. :)

          • MM

            Great article. I’m 42 years old, live in a 3000 sq. ft house on a golf course and was getting ready to finish the 1600 sq. ft full walk-out basement and instead, I’m selling the house and the 40k worth of furniture and moving into a tiny little ranch house that I’m going to rent. I’m just taking a few clothes, my computer and cats. If I didn’t have my cats, I’d move into an extended stay hotel and own nothing.

            Nice to see others making similar changes.

          • USBBH

            Hey MM, 

            It’s great to learn about your decision. Good luck! :-)

            Btw, I kind of like the idea of staying in an extended hotel and owning nothing. That way you can easily move from one country/city to another. One month in Bahama, another in the States, then off to Indonesia, etc. Can you imagine all the things you would experience, all the people you would meet, and all the things you would learn? 

            That’s something I’m aiming for myself. In fact, I’d love nothing more than to never have to work again in my life. I’d like to quit this trading business (maybe keep a few investments for cash-flow purposes), and just move around. Kind of learn to socialize (I’m a lot like James when it comes to social life) and practice meditation. 

            Being a 26-year-old, I’m not that financially insured yet (to survive for the next 40-50 years), but I guess that’s alright. 

            All the best!

    • plus 1 on the Steve Jobs outfit.

      In college it was jeans, a long sleeve button-up shirt and sneakers.  Headed back that way now, along with a sweater cause geezer that I am I get cold now-a-days up here.

    • Haley

      I love this, so inspiring! Hell, I’m doing the same, starting tonight!

  • Over the last decade we’ve gotten rid of everything and traveled for extended periods on three occasions.  After each bout of travel we returned to San Diego – incidentally it is sunny and 72 degrees in San Diego today – and started over from scratch. 

    Scratch is a pretty good place to be.  We’re there right now.  It brings with it that feeling – the one we had when we were children.  Infinite possibilities. 

    People generally believe that age is linked with a gradually declining ability to adapt.  We’re finding that that is only true if we want it to be true.  Just like James’s creativity muscles, the adaptability muscles can atrophy.  They can also be strengthened.  

    Pushing life’s reset button every few years forces us to exercise our adaptability muscles. 

    • Great point. The adaptability muscles are key.

    • so THAT’S what all those VWs are for that I see in my neighborhood beach parking lots… 

  • The good thing is, Claudia is much more of a traveler, and a minimalist, than me. She’ll push me out of the house to travel the world forever with nothing but one small suitcase if she has her way.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been having the same struggles with Steve Jobs. To some extent I feel like it’s something I should have read and I have already read about 20% of it, but it’s quite a long book. In the meantime I’ve read ‘I was blind, but now I see’ by James, ‘Winning at the Sport of Business’ by Mark Cuban, ‘Rework’ by 36 signals and I’m currently reading ‘Delivering Happiness’ by Tony Hsieh.

    I agree on getting the Air over an iPad, it’s still very light and portable, but has a lot more flexibility in terms of what you can do with it. I hear Apple will be announcing an updated version in April, when Intel’s new platform launches, and it will be as powerful as a Mac Book Pro.

  • I’m very attracted to minimalism but what happens to the 14 trillion dollar economy if people start to practice what you preach?

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been gettting away for the holidays the past couple years as the best ruse for avoiding the fuss.  It means minimal holiday decor and less shopping and more enjoying the time with my husband.  I took a Tai Chi class a few years back.  I didn’t get what slowing down meant for the first four or five lessons and then it sunk in.  My instructor, told us the story of going to a vacation home and how calm it was because there was less stuff. She resolved to simplify her regular home to the same extent.  The best holiday letter I read this year was a call to buy American.  How to do that?  Gift certificates to restaurants, local services, etc.  The bonus is not adding to your stuff.  

  • Bruce Daley

    The style of life you advocate I personally find very appealing (even though it does run contrary to   the cultural impulses of a great country). Still I wonder how socially acceptable such a life would turn out to be for me or for most people I know. It would take a lot of courage to live that way. Even though we like to brand ourselves “The land of the brave and the home of the free” in my experience neither is very true.  This post reminded me of a Cormac McCarthy quote “If the rule you followed led you to this, of what use was the rule?”.  Do you think there was a rule you were following that led you to feel this way? 

  • The iPad 4 will have a projector.  Will you need that?

  • An fairly obvious quote from ‘Fight Club’ which I’m certain you’ve read:
    ‘You buy furniture.  You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life.  Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa issue handled.  Then the right set of dishes.  Then the perfect bed.  The drapes.  The rug.  Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you’

    I gave and threw nearly all my stuff in 2008 and traveled the world. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
    Yet another great post James.

  • CS2010

    I’m currently making the transition from mostly consuming to mostly producing.  Your time has to be filled with something even if you’re a minimalist.  Instead of always looking for things to fill your space, you can look for spaces that need what you have to offer that benefits others. 

  • so whats’ the difference between ipad 4 and macbook air?

    don’t matter how you hide it, you need a screen and keyboard, unless they figured out another way to pull data out your head.

  • your iPad 4 description is called a mackbook air.

  • Leti Watson

    I know you can get the comic book on Nook color

  • James. I’ll assume that it’s your contrarianism that made you continue with reading the 900 page book, even after feeling trapped.

    Otherwise you would have invoked the “never follow sunk costs” axiom and just chucked the book (or at least its virtual counter-part)

    In a spirit of giving, here’s a link to a Retirement Spreadsheet that I designed that differs from the typical kind found on financial sites. I worked backwards and asked the question “How much do I want to leave my heirs once I’m dead and gone?”

    With that at hand, you can then decide what level of minimalism you can aspire toward

    Oh. And buy my book

  • When I am away from home it is the quiet that I miss.

    Usually when I am away from home I am with family, so quiet is the thing I can’t take with me.

    I stay up until four am some nights just to have some time with my thoughts.

    But then, I don’t have a lot of “things” to miss. I got rid of a good deal of my things a year ago. And most of what’s left is in storage. The truth is the only things I really miss that are in the storage unit are my books and my typewriter.

    But you’re onto something with the iPad. Really, everything I need to do computer wise I can do on the iPad. And it fits in my purse and has a killer batter life.

  • Wow this has to be the best post so far, after I posted “how bad do you want financial freedom” on: 

    People expected some magic formula. I don’t understand one thing, why people expect to make money instantly, it takes time, most business take 3 years until they can say ok were doing well. Not a few days on the internet and giving up. Thanks for clearing up, that it takes at least 1-3 years to make a living from home. 

  • Martin

    Minimalism = killing the clutter, killing the noise, killing the waste = good.

    Minimalism = living in a place with permaboring weather, living without books, living without friends, living without loved ones except for a devoted current partner, living with bad hair and bad clothes = living like a bum / living like Howie Hughes in Las Vegas = bad.

  • Ian Singleton

    After a year of reading posts which I thought were written solely with me in mind, this is head and shoulders your most profound. 
    And “artwork, things on the wall, photo albums, old papers, notes, old letters from the IRS, etc”?
    Scan ’em. All of them. Your degree certificate and your divorce papers. The angel investor’s cheque and the photo of your dad when he was ten. I’m up to Scan number 24743. 
    They fit on a memory stick on a keyring next to my door key. 
    Then go through them like your holiday photos. Which would you bequeath to your children? Maybe the pic of their twelve week scan. Not page seven of the instruction manual for the gas boiler of a house you moved from eleven years ago. 
    Guess what percentage of your life’s paperwork you would actually want to keep?

  • dEE01

    Brilliant! Nice to know that some people in the US are waking up as well… it was about time. the iPad with the keyboard would be an Asus Transformer… the OS sucks, though. But which OS doesn’t?

  • Refreshing to see other people embracing similar ideas and lifestyles. Also, I finally have a slot for your reading starting next week, very early in the morning so no more panic attacks for missing out a word you said. Brilliant post.

  • KB

    Stalled on 1Q84 at around pg 300 for over a month now.  And I waited for this book since Kafka on the Shore like I’ve never waited for a book.  

    I do like the seasons.  I live in a “perfect” climate (though not overcast, it’s sunny mostly).  The tropics lull you to sleep – when I go to Europe or other locales with trees/hills/weather, it makes me feel alive again.  Everyone needs rainy days, snowy days, and sunny days.  365 sunny days in a row is dreadful.

  • Seems a lot of this is going around these days.

    For a couple of decades now I’ve stayed blissfully at home along over Thanksgiving while my wife and daughter travel to Chicago to visit her family.  The first couple of years this decision created quite the uproar.  Now it is a tradition everyone just accepts.

    My wife is always a bit uneasy leaving me alone.  If I get bored I tend to go thru the house looking for stuff to toss.  She’s never gotten used to coming home and, a few days later, asking “where is that whatisit we used to have?”

    I’ve always be a minimalist but never as thoroughly as my college days:

    Now that my daughter is in college and I’ve hung up my working spurs (again, this time for good!) the house is for sale and I get to get rid of even more stuff.  We’ve got our eye on a beautiful apartment that will fit about 1/2 our stuff while my wife continues to work at her job she loves.

    A few years of that and it’s off to Ecuador, or someplace.

  • Dude, I still don’t understand why you have to insist on ipad 4. 

    What’s wrong with Mac Book Air? Do you just hate the keyboard what much?

    How about ipad 10? If it’s still a pad, and not some kind of digital fish swimming in your living room.

    We need to think about other more natural ways to interact with machine. In the sense AI is fully in tune with our comprehensions and expressions.

  • Nick

    Great post. My only advice is not to bother with chasing climate. I’ve lived in many, ranging from awful (Michigan) to sublime (coastal Orange County, CA). You can always find weather to complain about. Try to find a good community instead.

  • Through 6 years in debt (which I “inherited” at 19) and other family financial burden, I realize how little I need to live on. In short, you know what’s really important & essential in life. Those years in frustration and fear are great lessons on how to be grateful and hopeful always (of coz, also on how to work 16hrs a day in several jobs). These are all good training for me to startup.

    Living a minimal life is an important preparation for anyone planning to quit coporate job. Really suggest anyone (quiting or not) to test their limit on how little money they need to live on. Keep the practice for 1-3 months, and you’ll realize how wealthy you are.

    • P Jaunne

      It’s a great lesson.  Not fun at all, but great lesson indeed.  Dropping hard from being top 1%er to bottom 1%er is a quick and sure way to learn gratitude and minimalism. It’s infinitely scary & frustrating.  But, I learned the real meaning of “counting your blessing” and learn to appreciate how much you had but took for granted and to be surprised how “rich” you are even when you have nothing–if you still have your health.  If it reads like a zen koan, it probably is.


    I read the Steve Jobs book and it was amazing. I strongly suggest you to finish it (it gets better as you make it to the second half). 

    But I feel you. I have literally dozens of books I know I should read. I have close to 100 books on my iDevices – I’ve only read maybe 5 of them. But Steve Jobs book was very interesting, so I finished it quite quickly. It actually gave birth to a new habit. I now try to read every night at least 150-200 iPhone pages of some book (I prefer iPhone over iPad when I’m in my bed). And let’s be honest – 200 pages is peace of cake. Some people spend an hour watching TV at nights – I read. Steve Jobs book was something like 2500 iPhone pages – that’s only some 12 days with the speed of 200 pages per night. Not bad, right?! :-)

  • Anonymous

    You eat some pretty strange meals this way. You’re always wondering things like “when the hell did I buy beets?  And would it be strange to pair them with that frozen chicken cordon bleu from Costco?” Anymore I just eat whatever I pull out first, whatever it is. Just now running low after 2 months.

  • Anthony

    Altucher –

    This is BS and you know it. 1/2 an hour on the net a day, yeah right! :-)

    Have a great new year.

  • George B., Lawrence, Kansas

    I’ll start with something positive, then quibble. The lil’ woman & I moved from 2900 sq ft. house in suburbia to 1600 sq ft. townhouse in a college town and massively decluttered. Freedom, freedom!  Mowing, maintenance, cleaning, expenses, all massively reduced. Currently, we’re on the road, visiting people we care about, with only two suitcases, a laptop & my button accordion.
    The quibble: Thanksgiving is a salvageable holiday, though some of us may have to create synthetic families: non-toxic people with shared interests. We had ten people in SF, only two natives, thus much like the original event.

  • Tom

    The getting rid of stuff is something I have been doing for the past year.  I want a bed, clothes, a computer, a bare boned kitchen and a TV.  That’s about it.  Selling the house….going to rent. 

  • Chuck
  • AFF

    Check out Bogotá! It has your ideal climate. 60 and gray all year long; coffee tastes good and every Sunday they shut down the main streets and open them to bicyclists. 

  • Edie Spencer

    Hey James! Happy New Year to you and yours!

    This past 18 months  I got rid of a lot of attitudes and bullshit thinking. I stopped thinking about  “Well, isn’t an African American female scientist  supposed to do this and be this” and dug into into what I cared about and what I could do. I reinvented myself as a filmmaker, using my scientific processes and knowledge to construct a small documentary and a art show (happening in May in the PDX, baby!).

    I have my filmmaking equipment ( and even that I really don’t need; this stuff can be rented out for less than buying) and my photography equipment (( the same) but honestly, every thing is stripped down, only owning what I truly need and truly desire.

    Would I like more clothes? Not really; I buy a few key items and underwear each year and reuse the rest, and I am always told I look chic. Would I like to spend money to relax my hair or get extensions? What, and give up my Afro? Would I like to spend my on cosmetics? Why, when Olive Oil and Coconut oil can pretty much do every thing needed on the human body ( That is literally what you will find n my bathroom, along with perfume and soap And I have no wrinkles or cracks, except for the one I sit on). 

    Would I like a house? Sure, if it means I get to own it forever; housing prices have plummeted and interest rate are down blah blah blah. But it is not a priority right now- maybe when I adopt my children, but not now.

    So, I would say- get rid of attitudes, then unnecessary crap, and the rest will follow.

    • what a wonderful lightness of being Edie.  Glad I got to be the 1st to hit the “like” tab!

  • Waiwai

     James… what about the cost of health care? Doesn’t that scare you? If don’t work for some corporate giant or for the government, you will end up paying a lot for health care. I remember reading somewhere that health care cost is the #1 cause of bankruptcy for middle class folks… and when I read this, we still had a thriving middle class in this country

  • Lawrence

    A few years ago I found a pair of Adidas shoes that I like. I couldn’t find them here in South Africa and so I bought a pair on ebay. They are the only shoes I have and my $12 slops (sandals). And the Adidas that I like are released in new colours every season so I just buy a new pair every year. They’re the only shoes I want or will own ever again.

    I’m also planning on reducing my clothes to a 2 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of long pants, 2 pairs of shorts, 5 t-shirts and 5 button shirts. I have no interest in brands anymore.

    I agree totally with the iPad. I too am waiting for an iPad that is like a laptop, then I never need buy a book again and I can get rid of the shelves and bookcases too!

    Thanks James

  • Elias

    Great post, James.
    Three years ago I moved to the US with two suitcases. Nothing more. It has been the most liberating experience, although I have to fight with my hoarder-tendency wife.
    I currently live on a third of what I used to make (ok middle class salary for a mid 20s guy) and enjoy my freedom and time so much more than buying stuff.

    This is the way we can resourcefully sustain living on this planet once we hit 8 billion people. Reduce to the essential.

    Keep up the inspiring posts. Thank you.

  • I’m working on my own version of this by “going virtual” (I hope to never again work at a regular office every day!) and relocating to a less expensive city with better weather.  Here’s my blog post on the topic:

    This a new blog and as a novice I welcome any feedback!  

  • Brian Giles

    Very inspiring post. I have been trying to filter items out of my life since 2007. It seems to always be a daunting task (it’s like their is some little attachment demon in my head clinging to stuff. MAYBE ONE DAY I’LL NEED IT). One technique that seems to help me out is the ‘One Year Technique,’ that is if I’m not going to use an item within one years time, then I throw it out. What are some other mental techniques, or questions you ask yourself when deciding weather to throw or keep?
    P.S. Here’s a nice product review for a keyboard case solution for the ipad.  

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