The Joy of Less: A Systematic Approach to Minimalist Living


Patrick Allan

May 5, 2015

The world is full of material things, but real living happens in the space between all of our stuff. Francine Jay’s The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide will help you declutter your home, spend less money on material stuff you don’t need, and focus on the important things in your life.

This is part of Lifehacker’s new book review series. Not every life hack can be summed up in a blog post, so we’ve decided to review some of our favorite life-changing books for deeper dives into life’s most important topics.

Francine Jay runs the web site Miss Minimalist, which is all about the subject of her second book, The Joy of Less. Her first book, Frugillionaire, focused on ways to live well while saving a fortune. She’s also been featured in a wide variety of other publications as well, including CNN, BBC, NBC Today, The Guardian, and Forbes.

Who This Book Is For

This book is for people who are tired of being owned by their stuff. If you feel like your home is crowded with junk, your time is eaten away by endless searches for lost items, or that you spend way too much money on things you don’t really need, this book is your medicine. It’s also for those who recognize that some material items can provide happiness, and that those are the things that deserve your time and energy. If you’re interested in making your home a sanctuary that’s organized, efficient, and easy to clean, this book is for you. Additionally, if you’re looking for great tips to prioritize and streamline your daily schedule, you’ll find that here too. It’s a perfect book for life hackers of all types.

What You’ll Get

The Joy of Less is divided into four parts: the philosophy of minimalism, the STREAMLINE decluttering system, a room-by-room approach to decluttering, and tips on decluttering your schedule. The book starts you off by explaining what minimalism is and how to get into the right mindset, then goes into plenty of actionable, step-by-step tips on how to ditch all the junk in your house and storage. The final section offers advice for incorporating minimalism into your busy life. Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll find:

  • Part One – Philosophy: You’ll learn how to look at your possessions differently, and see that less stuff means less stress and more freedom. You’ll also learn why having space in your home is valuable, and learn how to enjoy things without needing to own them.
  • Part Two – STREAMLINE: An acronym for Jay’s step-by-step decluttering process that you can use anywhere. Start over, Trash/Treasure/Transfer, Reason for each item, Everything in its place, All surfaces clear, Modules, Limits, If one comes in—one goes out, Narrow it down, and Everyday maintenance.
  • Part Three – Room by Room: You’ll learn how to best apply the STREAMLINE process to each zone of your home. Specific tips for your living or family room, bedroom, wardrobe, home office, kitchen and dining room, bathroom, storage spaces, and a section on saying goodbye to sentimental items and heirlooms.
  • Part Four – Lifestyle: A collection of tips for streamlining your schedule and productivity. You’ll find tips on learning to say “no,” eliminating excess activities, prioritizing tasks, and standardizing the tedious and predictable things life throws our way.

The book is fairly hefty at almost 300 pages, but it’s set up in a way that easily allows you to jump to the section you need at the time. You can read it all in order, or go right for the best tips for decluttering your living room—it’s up to you.

One Trick You’ll Take Away

Sometimes the best way to make positive changes is by taking extreme action. Starting with a clean slate is definitely an effective way to know what items really matter. In the “Start Over” chapter of the STREAMLINE section, Jay suggests you take a quick peek back in time:

…let’s think back to first day we moved into our house or apartment… It was a beautiful blank canvas, empty and full of potential, ready to be personalized with our own special touch. We relished the thought of a clean slate—what a fabulous opportunity to start fresh and do things right!

Of course, over the years, there’s less time and desire to keep things looking nice. You’ve accumulated more stuff, gotten rid of very little, and now your once methodically designed room has become a mess of “things.” When things get that bad, Jay recommends you move back into your home, one room at a time:

We’re just going redo moving day—but now we’re going to take our time, breaking up the gargantuan task into little pieces. We’re going to orchestrate a fresh start for each area of our homes… The key to Starting Over is to take everything out of the designated section. If it’s a drawer, turn it upside down and dump out its contents. If it’s a closet, strip it down to bare hooks, rods, and shelving. If it’s a box of hobby materials, spill them all out.

During that process, you’ll have time to ask yourself questions about every single object you own. How did I acquire this? What does this provide me? If I were just moving in, would I bother to bring this? It will take some work, but slowly and steadily you’ll reduce your clutter by a substantial amount.

Our Take

What’s great about this book is that it provides a lot of down-to-Earth, actionable advice that only ever ventures into the author’s personal stories to help make examples. It focuses on helping you reclaim the space in your home (and your life), all while emphasizing the notion that life doesn’t have to only be about filling empty space with things.

The book also does a good job of explaining that minimalism isn’t about emptiness or barren living spaces, but about cracking down on the junk that’s so easy to accumulate. The tips are straightforward and the mindset you develop while reading the book is easy to grasp and start implementing immediately. Decluttering an entire home is a daunting task and Jay realizes that. Throughout the book, the challenges set before you are approached with humor and a pinch of “don’t stress, you can totally do this.” Personally, I didn’t think I’d have as much fun reading it as I did.

Most of the productivity and schedule streamlining tips are variations on things we’ve covered here a lot already, which may make those tips feel a little less powerful to veteran life hackers, but it’s still handy information to have all in one place, especially if you’re making a concentrated effort to get rid of all your clutter once and for all. However, that section isn’t required to get a lot of great tips out of this book.

It should be noted that the book does touch on some more big-picture things, like consuming less as a human and how that can benefit the earth in general. Before you run away mumbling something about hippies, however, the thoughts and tips in those small sections are pretty straightforward (the benefits of recycling and reusing, for example), and don’t ever venture into anything too preachy. If it bothers you for whatever reason, its easily skippable.

You can grab The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life on Amazon Kindle for $10, or around $12 in paperback. You can read more about the author Francine Jay at her web site, Miss Minimalist.

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This article was written by Patrick Allan from Lifehacker and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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