“Why” Often Matters More Than “How” (Essential: The Essays by The Minimalists)

Jun 4, 2019

3 minutes
Essential:The Essays by The Minimalists

How did you lose all that weight? VS Why did you lose all that weight?

How did you create a successful business? VS Why did you create a successful business?

How did you get rid of most of your stuff? VS Why did you get rid of most of your stuff?

We’re doers, we’re executors – all we want to know is HOW.

I geek out on tutorials and powerful stories as much as the next person, but NO ONE would have been able to accomplish anything interesting (the HOW) without having a specific motivation behind it (the WHY).

When things get tough, and you’re not sure if you can keep going, it’s your WHY that keeps you going – the reason you started along the path you chose in the first place + what you hope to gain/accomplish by continuing on that path.

Essential: Essays by the Minimalists is all about the Why, not the How, of living a minimalist-based lifestyle.

If you’re interested in the How behind transitioning to a minimalist lifestyle (like I did), Minimalism: Life a Meaningful Life is the better book. I read that book before reading Essential: Essays, and I believe they complement each other well.

Before we go any further, I would like to be clear that living a minimalist lifestyle does NOT mean you have to sell everything but 30 items, live out of a suitcase, and travel the world – unless that’s what would make your life feel more meaningful.

I live in a one-bedroom apartment, own a car, and (gasp) occasionally buy new things. Unlike my younger self, I buy things very intentionally now. Everything I buy has a clear purpose and if I don’t really need it for anything or would find no long-term enjoyment out of it, I probably won’t buy it.

While this particular book is a compilation of short essays, I enjoyed it quite a lot. I find their writing style to be pithy and to-the-point, but not lacking in emotion or fun. Again, if you’re looking for a book about HOW to live a minimalist lifestyle, this will give you a few insights, but it’s mostly focused on the WHY of living a minimalist lifestyle.

Awareness isn’t always pleasant, but becoming aware is important and necessary: the benefits, especially the long-term benefits, can be experienced only once we’ve seen our flaws for what they are – past weaknesses. Only then can we work toward strengthening ourselves. Only then can we move toward the best version of ourselves.


True awareness allows us to improve, to grow – to become better, but not perfect. Our lives will never be perfect: we’ve all been cut deeply. That’s okay. Awareness helps us heal, and our scars make up the best parts of us.

Personally, I connect very deeply to their many Whys of minimalism because they’re many of the same reasons I made the same choice/mindset shift: less time cleaning, less time shopping, less debt, less stress, more freedom, more ease, more fun, more space + time to explore what piques my curiosity … the list goes on for a while.

One of my favorite concepts from the book is, “Is this worth my freedom?”

Is this coffee worth $2 of my freedom?

Is this shirt worth $30 of my freedom?

Is this car worth $20,000 of my freedom?

In other words, am I going to get more value from the thing I’m about to purchase, or am I going to get more value from my freedom?

This is a great example of the Why behind minimalism for many, including myself.

If I spent $4,000 on an online course, is it worth my freedom?

Is it worth me needing to make that $4,000 back to have money to pay my business expenses, or buy groceries?

Is it worth the time I’m going to have to spend consuming the materials? Will I get $4,000 worth of value – directly or indirectly?

This is my new favorite way of thinking about purchases 🙂

For the goals we seek to accomplish during our lifetime, there are many ways to get there – many Hows, but none of that will matter if you have no reason to celebrate why you accomplish those goals, no Why.

(Thanks to the Austin Public Library for having this book available to borrow.)

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