Close up of womans hands in prayer.

The Way of Less: Declutter Your Life

Leo Babauta

Our lives naturally get filled with clutter: Possessions that we ordered online pour in week by week. We take on more and more. We are constantly reading and watching and responding. Messages pour in daily as well.

The modern world is one of more, more and still more.

What would it be like to declutter our lives and live with less?

The Way of Less is one of:

  • Less clutter, fewer possessions, just the essentials.

  • No need to reach for the comfort of buying things or holding onto things, because you have learned to take care of your stress without things.

  • Less doing and busyness, because you’ve said no to more things, and have focused only on the things that make the most difference.

  • Less distractedness, because you’re checking on things less, more focused and less responsive.

  • Less on your to-read list, less on your to-watch list, less than you have planned because you’ve let go of needing to read and watch and do everything that looks interesting.

Woman practicing yoga meditation with eyes closed.

By reducing down to less, you learn to become content with little. You have space in your life. You can breathe. You can give focus to what matters most to you. You can find joy in the simple things.

This is the Way of Less, and many people I know have found it to be a joyful way of living. I often get off the path myself, but returning to it is always like coming home.

Essentials for the Way of Less

The Way of Less is not really about saying no to everything, tossing everything out, or doing nothing. Sometimes it involves those things, but that’s not what it’s about.

It’s about saying yes to what really matters. Paring down to the essentials that matter most to you, and making space for those.

Identify What Matters Most 

What are your essentials? My list might look something like this:

  • My mission (work, including writing and teaching)

  • My loved ones

  • Learning

  • An active, healthy, mindful life

The last one might seem like a cheat, but it’s flexible: it includes meditation but could include walking, hikes, sports, lifting weights, yoga, cycling, swimming, surfing or more.

What are your essentials?

Essential Possessions 

You can also make a list of essential possessions. Mine might include:

  • A minimal amount of clothes for a week

  • A dozen books or so (I have more than that right now, but am paring down)

  • Exercise equipment and a yoga mat

  • My computer and phone

  • And of course things like dishes, towels, a bed, sheets, etc.

Projects and “Doing” Essentials 

How much do you have on your plate? If you could whittle it down to the essentials, what would it look like? For me, it might look like:

  • My mission—one project at a time

  • Cultivating the communities of my programs (including responding to messages once a day)

  • Learning project

  • Doing things with my loved ones

I’m not saying these are the only things I ever do, but they’ve become my “projects and doing” essentials lately.

Closeup of man practicing yoga meditation.

Digital Essentials 

How much do you do online? What do you read and watch? How often are you responding to messages or checking social media? If you had to pare it down to your essentials, what would it be?

For me, it’s email and the online communities for my programs, along with team and client messages. I also check a few news websites, but those aren’t essentials for me. I also often do my learning projects using online reading.

It’s not about cutting everything out of your life, but about contemplating what your essentials are.

Getting to the Way of Less

Once you’ve identified the essentials, getting to the Way of Less is the next part of the journey.

We won’t go into the details of it right now, but here are some key points to this journey:

1. ​Identify the Essentials

As we talked about in the section above, it’s important to identify what’s most essential to you—in your life, digitally, with your possessions, projects, and so on. Get clear on this.

2. Start Decluttering the Rest, One Chunk at a Time 

Now start to let go of the rest. Do you have big commitments, projects, activities that have been taking up your time but not on the essentials list? Start to let them go. Do you have a lot of clutter beyond your essential possessions? Start to let those go as well. Digital distractions, huge reading, and watching lists, all of the aspirations that you don’t have time for—start to let them go! Just a little bit at a time—otherwise it can get overwhelming. It’s the same as how you eat an elephant: one bite at a time

3. Learn to Cope (And Thrive) Without the Buying and Overdoing

Now here’s the thing we need to start to shift, in the Way of Less—not needing to buy things to deal with stress, sadness, loneliness. Not needing to always be busy. To be willing to feel what we feel, and be OK with it. That’s a key skill. It starts with meditation, but cultivating the capacity to be present with your feelings is a lifetime practice.

4. Find Joy in the Things that Matter to You

Now that you’ve let go of most of the non-essential things, the key is to stop looking for happiness and comfort in everything else—and start finding the joy in the things that you’ve kept. The things that matter most to you. Find joy in very little. This is another lifetime practice, but you can do it today. Find one thing on your shortlist of essentials (like my mission, loved ones, learning, and healthy life), and see if you can find joy in it.

5. Start Saying No to the Rest More Often 

And here’s another key step that we often forget about: once you create some space for the things that matter, stop saying yes to everything else. As much as you’re able to, don’t let things creep back in. I have to either keep this front of mind, so that I am saying no as a general rule, or come back to it when I start to forget. I know that I’ve forgotten when I don’t have enough room for what’s important.

6. Enjoy the Space  

It’s not just finding joy in the things that matter. It’s also finding joy in having some breathing room. Having some space. Not needing to keep doing, but to stop and just be. Just notice. Just breathe. Relax into it. Very few people actually allow themselves to do this, without needing to fill everything up with reading, watching, doing, responding, talking, moving, acting. Enjoy the empty space, as if it were just as important as all the rest.

It's the small things. Read an article about the joys of walking from our special contributor Charlotte Bell: The Yoga of Walking.


Lillah Schwartz, Lillah's course for Healthy Backs, YogaUOnline presenter, Yoga Teacher, Yoga practice tips


Reprinted with permission from Leo Babauta's Zen Habits.

Zen Habits is about finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness. It has over a million readers. My name is Leo Babauta. I live in Davis, California, with my wife and six kids, where I eat vegan food, write, run, and read.