Minimalism Isn't Just About Stuff: How To Apply It To Your Relationships

mbg Contributor By The Minimalists
mbg Contributor
Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, known to their audience as The Minimalists, help more than 20 million people live meaningful lives with less through their website, books, podcast, and films. They have been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and TIME magazine, and they have spoken at Harvard, Apple, and Google.
How Being A Minimalist Can Help You Set Boundaries & Improve Relationships
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In their new book, Love People, Use Things, The Minimalists apply simple living beyond the home and explore how the facets of minimalism can help us strengthen our creativity, values, and more. In this excerpt, they share how thinking like a minimalist and setting boundaries leads to more fulfilling relationships.

At first, it might seem like setting boundaries is one of the last things you'd want to do to foster intimate and open relationships—as if constructing boundaries means you're not willing to let people in. But you can establish a boundary without erecting a fence.

Henry Cloud, Ph.D., a co-author of the book Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How To Say No To Take Control of Your Life, says that "having clear boundaries is essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle." According to Cloud and his co-author, John Townsend, Ph.D., "boundaries define who we are and who we are not," showing others what you are personally responsible for. It's sort of like having your own property line around your well-being.

Although the physical world is filled with distinct boundaries—the partition around a cubicle or the walls in your apartment, for instance—it's equally important to construct physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual boundaries in our relationships. As stated by Cloud and Townsend:

  • Physical boundaries help us determine who may touch us and under what circumstances.
  • Mental boundaries give us the freedom to have our own thoughts and opinions.
  • Emotional boundaries help us deal with our own emotions and disengage from the harmful, manipulative emotions of others.
  • Spiritual boundaries give us renewed awe for the mysteries of the world.

You can set boundaries without pushing people away. In fact, your boundaries are a way to bring people into your world, to politely let them know what's acceptable and what isn't. You need boundaries to prevent mishaps, miscommunications, and misunderstandings. Healthy boundaries with your parents, significant other, children, friends, co-workers, and even yourself are necessary to protect your relationships from needless harm. So, just like you don't feel guilty for having a front door on your home, there's no need to feel guilty about your boundaries. Much like your front door, well-constructed boundaries keep the bad stuff out and let the good stuff in.

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Possibly the best way to set appropriate boundaries is through constant and effective communication. Before you can communicate your boundaries, though, you must first define them. If you were building a new house, you'd need precise specifications to get the job done. Similarly, you must identify the specs of your personal boundaries with respect to each relationship in your life:

  • What are your physical boundaries? Maybe you like to hug everyone, or maybe you don't even want to shake hands. Neither choice is right or wrong.
  • What are your mental boundaries? Maybe you want to keep your opinions to yourself, or maybe you want to share your political beliefs on YouTube. Again, one boundary isn't more "correct" than the other.
  • What are your emotional boundaries? Maybe you prefer to be polite and receptive, or maybe you feel the need to be blunt even if it repels some people. Only you know what's natural for you.
  • What are your spiritual boundaries? Maybe your religion, or lack thereof, is a private experience, or maybe you're eager to proselytize. Either way, do you.

Knowing your boundaries will help you get a grasp on what you're willing to accept, as well as what you need to reject, to live congruently.


Now, it's worth keeping in mind that your boundaries will change over time.

Just as you haven't had the same property line your entire life, you're not going to maintain the same boundaries as your relationships change and grow. Plus, your boundaries will become more specific as you communicate them with others.

Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D., the author of Nonviolent Communication, believes that "much of how we communicate—judging others, bullying, having racial bias, blaming, finger-pointing, discriminating, speaking without listening, criticizing others or ourselves, name-calling, reacting when angry, using political rhetoric, being defensive or judging who's 'good/bad' or what's 'right/wrong' with people"—could be classified as "violent communication." Instead of communicating through these means, Rosenberg recommends a four-step process of "nonviolent communication" that includes our observations, feelings, needs, and requests:

  • Consciousness: a set of principles that support living a life of compassion, collaboration, courage, and authenticity.
  • Language: understanding how words contribute to connection or distance.
  • Communication: knowing how to ask for what we want, how to hear others even in disagreement, and how to move toward solutions that work for all.
  • Means of influence: sharing "power with others" rather than using "power over others."

Over time, as we put this process in place in our own lives, we find that we lose the need to judge or persuade people, opting instead to communicate from the heart. And as we learn to communicate better, we also learn how to strengthen our connection with others.

From Love People, Use Things: Because the Opposite Never Works by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Copyright © 2021 by the authors and reprinted with permission of Celadon Books, a division of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC.


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