What you get with less

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Nothing motivates a material detox quite like moving to a new apartment does. Before moving, I was motivated to reduce the amount of material objects I owned (which meant less for me to pack) and to approach life through the lens of less. You never realize how much stuff you have until you’re forced to pack your life into a million different boxes. With the help of Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, my space emerged from the process delightfully spare (sort of), and it felt pretty damn good.

Now, when I talk about paring things down, I’m not talking about extreme, buzzy and trendy minimalism, the kind where you get rid of practically everything you own. Extreme minimalism is simply a different form of cultural capital when it comes to owning things, even if it is less. Radical minimalism can take up just as much time and space in your mind, causing stress just as much as clutter might.

As ubiquitous as the concept of minimalism is and how to practice it, it’s easy to forget why we do it and what you actually get with less. When I moved, I didn’t go crazy and get rid of everything I owned, I got rid of the things that were causing me more stress than they were doing good. So, when I talk about material detox, I’m talking about the kind of minimalism that feels right for you and the kind that leaves you feeling whole—not uncomfortably naked (figuratively and literally). After a successful purge of unnecessary material objects, I realized there were a lot of unforeseen benefits to minimizing the things I owned.


What you get with less:


The less things I own, the more time I seem to have to myself. I quickly realized I was spending much less time agonizing over what to wear and less time packing for trips because I know my closet’s items more intimately and because my wardrobe consists only of items I look or feel good in.

Another example: I spend less time sorting through kitchen utensils to find the right one while cooking (why did I think I needed three of the same type of spatula?), and less time cleaning and organizing—it’s amazing how easy it is to keep organized when you have less items to clean and organize. With fewer things to pick up and put away, fewer things to collect dust, and fewer things to move in order to vacuum, my cleaning routine sped up a significant amount. That means more time and energy spent in the places I want, like out surfing or hiking.

Peace of mind

Marie Kondo’s book suggests filling your life with things that trigger happiness, which implies we have an emotional connection with the things we decide to keep. This decision isn’t simply about what we choose to have around us; it’s deeper. It’s about the things we want as part of our life. It’s about who and what we are loyal to.

By ridding my apartment of the unnecessaries, I was enabled to be more mindful and aware of the things that were taking up space in my life both physically and mentally. According to psychologist Sherrie Carter, clutter can “bombard our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile) and cause our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren't necessary or important.” With less clutter, my environment no longer feels chaotic, and I now look forward to coming home and relaxing. All that clutter really affected me and it’s only now that I can refocus on the things I find most important.


With renewed focus on the things I own, I began to spend much less. I started to only spend on the things I needed, or the things that brought me real joy. It wasn’t easy at first, but thinking a second longer around the impact of the purchase I was about to make helped me step out of the consumer cycle and fight the thrill of a purchase. Not only am I saving money on things I don’t really need, I’m also wasting less. The less you have, the less you ultimately waste. And now I’m going to continue selling and recycling the things I don’t need.

All this minimalism seems to be doing wonders for my well being. Unfortunately, while my material world is looking more orderly, my virtual world is not. My phone and laptop remained a cluttered hodgepodge of applications. Do I really need three different to-do list apps? Clearly I still have a problem—a virtual hoarding problem. Looks like it’s time to apply the same sort of practice to my virtual world.

5 ways to prevent unwanted gifts

In the member forum, Andy asked:

How do you deal with loved ones who, as an expression of their love, want to buy you stuff?” How do you get them to “cut it out without hurting them”?

Ever had a flier pressed into your hand as you walk down the street? Whether it’s a coupon for a buy-one-get-one-free toaster or a pamphlet forecasting the end of the world, it’s as though the person is saying: “Here, please throw this away for me.”

Andy raised a similar but far more interesting question. It’s different from the question of what to do with stuff you already own that you don’t need (the subject of a future post). And it’s more difficult one to manage, because it’s not just you who needs to take action; you’re trying to change someone else’s habits.

And habits can be tremendously hard to change. Plus, who could file a grievance against someone who just wants to take care of others? It’s a tough case to make.

But for the sake of argument, let’s go a little over the line with our analogies: If, as they say, one is not an alcoholic when they’re drinking with others, then one is not a shopaholic when they’re shopping for others. Take away the “others,” and all that’s left is a bad habit.

If that bad habit is giving you grief, as it does for Andy, try managing it in these five stages:

1. (Polite) Denial: “Sometimes it’s as easy as, ‘Please don’t buy me anything,’ and that’s the end of it,” Chris responded to Andy’s question in the OWM member forum. It worked on his dad, who used to bring him home t-shirts from events he attended. It could work on your loved one, too. But…

2. Bargaining: Asking politely doesn’t work on everyone, and that’s when it’s time to start negotiating. Try the sandwich approach—delivering the “meat” of your argument between two positive slices.

• Thank them: “I love you. I appreciate you care enough about me to buy me this.”

• Be blunt: “When I sell or donate this, it’s not personal.”

• Make a better offer: “The best gift is spending time with you. Next time, let’s take the money you would have spent on [insert gift here] and sit down over a fancy cup of coffee.”

3. How About Some Light Anger: Negotiation doesn’t always work. “My mom has always been the gift-giver, and she’s very motivated to try to ‘outsmart’ my minimalism to buy me something I didn’t even know I wanted,” Chris writes. “My conversation with her is ongoing, but I’ve had to employ tough love at times.” Just don’t be too tough. In fact, it’s safer to skip this stage.

4. Depression: If the above fails, you might be tempted to resign yourself to doing nothing. It’s no use staying in this stage long, though. Sure, you couldn’t change their behavior, but there’s still one thing you can change…  

5. Acceptance: You can change your own mindset, by accepting the fact that it just might bring someone as much joy to hunt for things and pay for them as it does to actually give them to you. If that’s the case, then you might try giving up on trying to change them and “live and let live.” In which they give you stuff and you give it away—giving as little effort and feeling as little anxiety as possible. Hopefully that doesn’t mean throwing it away. Sell it. Give it to a friend. Drop it off at Goodwill. And feel good about it.

Whether anything you try will work, as Chris wrote, “it depends on the loved one.” It also depends on you.

Happening Oct 15: AMA with Tynan at Only What Matters

One week from today—noon Pacific Time on Monday Oct. 15—the blogger, author, and coach Tynan will join the Only What Matters community for an Ask Me Anything.

Tynan has written extensively about all kinds of topics of interest to us. He’s traveled full time with only a small backpack. He’s written about “the two main things worth building in life… an amazing group of friends and enough money to survive for a long time.” He’s put in time thought over many years to design a lifestyle focused on (you guessed it) only what matters.

Members can participate in the Tynan AMA. Non-members can join now—for free, by the way. Just make sure to sign up in advance, so you have time to get familiar with the community.


A Few Relevant Reads from Tynan’s Blog

#vanlife and the practice of living simply

Doing more with less isn't easy. It takes practice. And one way to get a lot of practice? Try living in a van. 

Arctic Campers

Here's a shot of my wife Caitlin on our honeymoon in Norway. We lived out of this van for just 6 days, and I can confirm that it's no picnic. Sure, it's a lot like moving constantly from picnic to picnic. But the difference is your picnic basket contains all your clothes and supplies, and gets 20 miles per gallon. 

"Van life" does have its perks. I'll spare you the full vacation slideshow, but we toured the epic coastline of the Lofoten Islands, explored beautiful Norwegian fishing villages, and made our best attempt at hiking like the Norwegians. And we got to spend entire days in places we never would have made it to otherwise.

It was everything we hoped for and more. And "more" included a few downsides. Like that time that Caitlin decided to air out her socks by hanging them above my pillow. Or that time that I overheated in the middle of the night and spent five minutes struggling to delayer. Or that time that we thought someone was pranking us only to find a herd of goats rubbing up against the side of the van.

All that makes the prospect of living out of a van full time a daunting one. But people do it, and they seem to love it. The New Yorker profiled Emily King and Corey Smith, who run @wheresmyofficenow on Instagram. They fund their life on the road—and days spent kayaking, mountain biking, and driving through national parks—through product placement in their #vanlife posts. 

They've been at it since 2015, which makes them total pros. But even after all these years, I bet they'd be the first to say they have yet to perfect their already very minimalist lifestyle. Take an example. 

In May 2018, Emily and Corey decided to remodel their van, which they named Boscha. An Instagram story revealed one thing they could use less of: clothes. 


Corey: "You've been packing your clothes for four hours—like, I tore apart the whole van."

Emily: "That's true. It's a lot of clothes."

—Instagram @wheresmyofficenow

Again, it's hard. These are professional minimalists, who live out of the tiniest mobile home: a van. If their wardrobe can be allowed to get out of hand, what hope do any of us have? 

The good news is we have something more practical than hope. And it's also more tangible than "a minimalist philosophy." Because minimalism is a practice—and it takes practice. It's not something we have, it's something we will always aspire to have—no matter how good we get at living the dream, in a van, down by the surf. 

Here's what we do have. Instead of trying to figure it all out on our own, we have a community of people who are all working together to own less, waste less, and do more of what we love. 

That's what Only What Matters is all about. It's the place to share tips and tricks, and lessons learned. To build on what others are doing. To help others avoid the mistakes we made. And to enjoy the experience—the practice—with people who have the same values we do. 

Mindful Wardrobe Challenge Recap

Committing to the year-long minimalist challenge taught me plenty, but not having the flexibility to add an item or two to my core wardrobe was, as you can assume, quite limiting and frustrating at times. The Mindful Wardrobe was created as a more accessible year-long challenge with the following goals:

  • Mindful and intentional purchasing
  • Shift spending to used good (eBay, Craigslist, Grailed)
  • Shift spending to smaller brands with aligned values
  • Better discipline donating/selling items

I created this Google spreadsheet to track everything in my wardrobe, all physical object purchases, and sales/donations. Food, gas, services, business purchases, and digital purchases such as eBooks were excluded from the tally. 

Coming off a year wearing as few items as possible, I filled the gaps in my closet with some pieces I had in storage and a couple Wool&Prince samples.

What I learned:

  • It’s nearly impossible to put together a year of perfect purchases. On the same day, I bought a pair of shorts that were too short and bought a pair of pants that had a deal-breaker design detail. It took me a few wears to realize their respective flaws and by that point, I couldn’t, in good conscience, return them. I chalked these lousy purchases up to impatience and noted to, in the future, bail on shopping trips that turn into "get me out of this store asap".
  • My system of highlighting areas in my wardrobe “looking to buy”, “sell or donate”, and “interested in” was the most impactful tactic to improve visibility of wardrobe needs and improve the process for thoughtful purchasing. Prior to this process, I procrastinated on purchasing decisions without giving them proper thought and would end up making a hasty purchase.
  • Maintaining discipline with a wardrobe challenge can be difficult. Visual reminders like keeping certain drawers empty or a simple “do I need this?” note in the wallet or on the computer monitor can be helpful. Getting friends and the OWM community involved was helpful.
  • Wearing a quality garment until it fails is quite satisfying. At this point, you can objectively measure the garment's "body of work". Also, when you're trying to minimize the stuff in your life, determining when to or when not to buy something can be an arduous task. In the case of a well-worn, failed garment, the should I buy calculation is simple: wore for x years, costs x dollars, was it worth it?
  • Wardrobe creep. It’s real. Even when I don’t buy anything, my wardrobe will grow to a cluttered within a year. Maybe it’s because I own an apparel business or I have a mother who loves shopping at costco and gifting.
  • Prioritize garments that work together. My Pendleton jacket fits on the small side and my Wilson&Willy jacket fits on the large side. For temps under 45 degrees, I’ll layer them. They work so well together that people ask if the Pendleton is a jacket liner. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts with these two items.
  • Develop your uniform. I had two go-to outfits that I wore five out of seven days during the colder months. 1) Burgundy button-down with jeans 2) Heavy crew with khaki chinos.

What’s next:

During the Mindful Wardrobe challenge, I had moderate success with the goal of shifting more purchases to second-hand goods and small brands. Frankly, I could have done a better job here. The convenience and price of large generic brands is a powerful advantage. Going forward, I'll continue recording my purchases, sales, and donations, but I'll be taking a closer look at why I bought each item. I want to do a better job supporting brands that align with my values:

  • Does the brand have great customer service and a quality guarantee?
  • Is the brand growing sustainably? Self-funded or aligned capital? Non-gimmicky marketing tactics?
  • Is it a place where employees are passionate about their work and care about their impact?

What I Learned From My Year-Long Minimalist Wardrobe Challenge

I was looking to follow up the 100 day challenge with another minimalist clothing experiment and wanted to try something that encompassed the full wardrobe. And something that was a bit more realistic for others to attempt.

The year long minimalist challenge started with the selection of 26 core items that I would wear for the entire year. (I had some event specific items such as basketball gear, cycling bib/jersey, snowboard pants, and a wedding suit that I did not count in the core item total.) And unlike the 100 day challenge, washing my clothing was allowed.


If you are looking at this and thinking, either this guy is lying or has a completely different lifestyle than most people, let me explain. I don't have the typical office job. I work from home, but I'm generally not lounging around in sweats and a t-shirt. I have in-person meetings throughout the week that require a professional look, so I normally dress for the entire day depending on my schedule. I like to do at least one active thing each day which normally involves playing basketball, biking, or jogging. Aside from not seeing the same people each day in the office, I imagine my lifestyle isn't too dissimilar from many of you. 

Here are the things I learned over the year:

    • This is obvious, but spend some time thinking about what you want to wear for a year.
      • A month in to the experiment, I wanted to take back some of my choices. I was stuck with two unattractive items:sweats and rain jacket.
    • Three pairs of socks for a year is limiting, but I had no trouble with three pairs of underwear
    • Jeans will become your go-to pant if they aren’t already
      • Prior to starting the minimalist challenge, my favorite pants were stretch khaki chinos. They look good paired with a t-shirt or a button down and they are light and comfortable. However, as winter rolled around (and the Portland rain, sigh), I found myself reaching for the denim seven times out of ten. Compared to the chinos, the jeans held their shape better, hid dirt better, and generally looked more presentable after multiple wears. If my jeans had stretch, they’d probably be more comfortable, but they would have required washing to tighten them back up after the elastic stretched out.
      • If you can’t wear jeans, look for a heavier weight chinos with mechanical stretch.
    • Some things in the closet just need to be given a chance
      • We all have a shirt or a pair of pants in our closet that we don’t wear for one reason or another. The denim that I referenced above is a perfect example. I was accustomed to a stretch denim but for some reason, I selected my selvage jeans (that I rarely wore) to be one of three pants for the following year. My rational at the time was, I only wear chinos, so I’ll rarely wear these jeans, but they could be nice to have. As noted above, they became my go-to pant. 
    • Mending/Fixing garments is easy
      • Why don’t more people do this? Sewing on a loose button or patching a hole is an easy at home DIY project. And if you can't figure it out, take the garment to a tailor for $15.
    • Wash on cold / hang dry (or even better, hand-wash) makes your clothing last longer
      • Most of the wear and tear on a garment is from cleaning. If you can reduce the heat and friction during cleaning that’s a start. If you can reduce the number of times you have to clean something, that’s even better.
    • Air out your garments before deciding to throw in hamper
      • Easiest thing to do is just toss a worn garment in the hamper after each wear. (Something that is even easier for guys who don’t do their own laundry.) But realistically, most garments can be worn multiple times. Washing garments after each wear is more of a habit instead of a need. Should we wash our bed sheets every day? (not exactly the same as clothing, but you get the point)
    • Sleep naked
      • You can get multiple days out of a pair of underwear a lot easier this way
    • Find shoes that don’t smell 
      • I’m still on the hunt, but I try to wear leather or wool over synthetics shoes
    • People won’t notice that you wear the same thing each week
      • If you rotate between three button-down shirts, people don’t notice or care.
      • And if they do notice, who cares! Chances are that they will ask for tips on cutting back on their wardrobe.
    • Choosing what to wear takes less than 15 seconds.
      • Even with a wide variety of events and activities, your options are just limited. It’s quite refreshing.
    • During the last few months, the novelty of the year-long minimalist wardrobe challenge wore off a bit. I missed the creative freedom of fashion. Going into the year-long challenge, I expected unforeseen functional shortcomings with my selected wardrobe, but the creative displeasure with limited wardrobe options surprised me.

    Well, if you’ve made it this far, I'm guessing you're interested in simplifying your wardrobe. Here are some recommendations:

    • Start with what you currently have in your closet. Don’t go run out there and buy all the “minimalist clothing” you can find.
    • Prioritize three things: versatility, durability, and natural fibers (yes, I'm biased when it comes to natural fibers and wool...but mother nature has the best odor resistance.)
    • Check out our private community. You'll get the support and accountability needed as you start your own minimalist challenge journey. 

    The 6 Reasons People Hate Minimalists

    Minimalists get the asshole/pretentious/rich white guy/condescending label pretty frequently. So, before you start telling everyone that you're a minimalist, you'll want to read this list:

    1. Minimalism is a privilege of the wealthy and something that many families can't fully participate in because it's financially unsafe to declutter.
    2. Minimalism actually encourages more consumption. "This new minimalist lifestyle always seems to end in enabling new modes of consumption, a veritable excess of less. It’s not really minimal at all."

    3. The "best minimalists", if there is such a thing, are probably the guys not talking about minimalism. Minimalists like to quantify how minimalist they are and then brag about it. 100 possessions, 26 pieces of apparel (oops), specific purchasing criteria, etc. (Quick tip: Instead of identifying yourself as a minimalist, an alternative would be to say that you're interested in minimalism or working on decluttering your life, physically and mentally.)

    4. Minimalism is trendy, and trendy movements and their leaders can be annoying. The Minimalists were in town on their Less is Now tour and I was lucky enough to get a seat at their sold out show. Overall, The Minimalist's message of living simply is good for the world, but the deafening self-promotion (check out our NETFLIX documentary, listen to our podcasts, buy our books) dilutes their message. Eventually the Minimalists and other bloggers in the space run out of content and digress into the blackhole of self-help. 

    5. Minimalists are condescending. "There are a million variations – fitting all your belongings into a single box, small-house or van living, radical de-cluttering, extreme purges of technology or social activity, etc – but they all hold the same vague, usually unspoken level of superiority." (Warning: this journalist got pretty creative with her anti-minimalist arguments. Comment section is pretty entertaining though.)
    6. Whether you know it our not, the era and environment shape your perspective on owning things. "Kondo says that we can appreciate the objects we used to love deeply just by saying goodbye to them. But for families that have experienced giving their dearest possessions up unwillingly, “putting things in order” is never going to be as simple as throwing things away. Everything they manage to hold onto matters deeply. Everything is confirmation they survived."

    My 100 Day Challenge Revisited

    Back in 2012, I set out to prove the odor-resistant and wrinkle-resistant properties of wool with the 100 Day Challenge, which entailed me wearing a wool shirt for 100 days in a row with no cleaning. Prior to starting the 100 Day Challenge, I started wearing some vintage wool shirts —even though they weren’t entirely work appropriate—to the office and was amazed with the performance relative to the Brooks Brothers non-iron cotton shirts I had been wearing previously. With the wool shirts in the lineup, I stopped doing two things I hated: dry cleaning and ironing. So why don’t more people wear wool button-downs? Two thing I noticed: not a lot of options and a lack of awareness. That’s where the 100 day challenge came in. The story went viral with coverage from Jay Leno, David Letterman, the Today Show, CNN, Fast Company, and others as I launched Wool&Prince.

     This is what happens when your kickstarter goes viral and then you cut it off

    This is what happens when your kickstarter goes viral and then you cut it off

     The article that set our kickstarter on a viral trajectory

    The article that set our kickstarter on a viral trajectory

     100 days with the same shirt and pictures to prove it

    100 days with the same shirt and pictures to prove it

     Possibly my favorite image from the media frenzy thanks to fuji-tv out of Japan

    Possibly my favorite image from the media frenzy thanks to fuji-tv out of Japan

    Consumers started doing their own versions of the 100 day challenge. A fellow named Andrew Lombardi (pictured below) raised money from his coworkers to buy one of our wool button-downs and in exchange he wore the shirt for a month straight while sending out weekly progress reports to his colleagues (a sample provided below). We've heard similar stories with guys tallying up the number of wears prior to washing and having office competitions to see how many days they can wear the shirts.

    Not as wide3.JPG

    Regardless of whether these guys were consciously simplifying their wardrobe or not, we started to see a lot of value in their minimalist experiments. Aside from having fun, the common themes of a successful experiment were friendly peer pressure, accountability, and support from office colleagues, family, or friends.

    With a consecutive day challenge, you'll find yourself:

    • spending less time and money doing laundry and dry cleaning
    • thinking critically about what you need and don't need in your wardrobe
    • learning how to get more wears out of a garment (ie you'll spill less because the stakes are higher, but when you do spill, you'll immediately take action to prevent damage)
    • having a unique conversation starter (Why do we have so many shirts in our closet? Good question!)

    If you want to talk with other guys who are taking similar challenges, or you just need some support and built in accountability on your minimalist journey, apply to the Only What Matters community.

    What Does Minimalism Mean?

    Minimalism takes different forms depending on what you're looking to achieve, but at the most basic level, minimalism is about reducing excess and living simply. "Excess" isn't limited to physical things, it can be responsibilities, thoughts, items on the todo list, etc.

    The part I love about minimalism is that there isn't one method or end goal. It's unique to each individual. Some people are going to take minimalism to the extreme, like living with only 50 items, others will apply it in broad strokes to specific areas of their life. 

    Minimalism is like staying in shape, it takes time, commitment, and discipline. If you take a break, getting back to pre-break levels isn't easy.

    Running around, telling folks that you're a minimalist isn't advisable. Our recommendation is to just say that you're living simply and being more mindful with possessions and purchases. Saying that you're a minimalist can illicit responses such as "you're still wearing clothes and driving a car though" or "you're rich and thus have the luxury of being a minimalist". We put together 6 Reasons Why People Hate Minimalists to help you see why some people might not be so excited when you tell them you are a minimalist.

    How do you apply minimalism to your life?