The Challenge to Stop Saying "I Can't" About Minimalism

When I talk about simplifying to non-minimalists, their first reaction is usually positive.  Everyone would like a bit more peace and focus in their schedules.  Everyone would like simpler home care, with less frustration when it comes to the tasks we need to do every day, such as getting dressed, preparing meals, and corralling toys.

As the conversation continues, however, they often become less enthusiastic.  Of course, minimalism is a challenge in our consumerist culture.  Yes, it requires a period of adaptation.  But plenty of people come to the conclusion they could never make such a lifestyle change.

random kitchen

I thought less was impossible.

When I mention giving up unnecessary shopping, people may agree.  But once we get to specifics of wearing fewer clothes and shoes, buying fewer restaurant meals, traveling less often and closer to home, perhaps considering a smaller house or fewer vehicles, those same people get uncomfortable.  The thought of buying fewer fancy coffee drinks, fewer salon services, less home décor, and placing limits on kids' toys or after-school activities is unwelcome.

Usually this is because they think minimalism is all about loss, and they can't see the gains.  They fixate on what they "could never give up," and don't understand why they'd even want to try.

I thought the same thing when I first started reading about minimalism.  "Sound intriguing, but I could never give up _______," I thought.  Maybe there are a few ways you'd fill that blank yourself.

I was wrong.

I said I wouldn't be able to give up TV, but we did without one completely for six years.  Then in 2002, we got one with a built-in DVD player so we could watch the occasional movie.  We only began streaming at the end of last summer, and we still try to keep 3-4 nights every week TV-free.

I said I could never get down to a minimalist wardrobe, but I've been dressing with one for over two decades now, usually about 16 pieces, plus underwear, nightwear, and one formal outfit.

I said it would be impossible to give up owning a house, mostly because I didn't think I'd be able to stop renovating and redecorating.  We've lived happily in an 800-square-foot apartment for 12 years.  During that time, I've added two pieces of wall décor, a table for the entry hall, and had our 32-year-old couch reupholstered.  Our landlord replaced the old flooring almost five years ago.

I said I didn't think we could go back to having just one car after we had got used to the multi-vehicle life.  We've been fine with one car for more than 10 years.  (Yes, we have to coordinate our use of it.)

I said we'd probably always have a certain level of debt.  We were able to become debt-free (except for an auto loan) in 2018, and now the auto loan is gone too.

Stop saying it.

glasses of wine
My dad used to say, "Can't never did anything."  I hated it when he said that!  "Can't" was my out.  I thought I could get away with it, because I wasn't being a brat, saying I "won't" do the thing – I was saying it just wasn't possible.

Saying that made it so.

We need to stop saying we could never do a thing.  "Can't" means "I won't even try."  "Can't" defeats us before we even begin.

My grandfather and three of my mother's brothers thought they could never give up cigarettes.  All of them eventually became tobacco-free.  My gluten-intolerant son thought he'd never be able to give up bread, pasta, and most baked goods.  He has.

You might think you could never give up your evening glasses of wine or your expensive manicures.  I might think I can't give up sugary foods or French fries.  But why am I limiting myself?  The truth might be that I don't even want to try.

I've got an idea.  Let's surprise ourselves.

Take the challenge.

If you've said, "I could never give up _______," I challenge you to stop saying that and give it a try.

Want more inspiration?  Try these articles:

Many people are tired of the stress and frustration clutter brings, and want salvation from the frazzled lives they've been leading.  They want focus and peace, but don't know what that would look like or where to begin.

My completely revised 3rd edition of Uncluttered: How Minimalism Can Help You Thrive* is available now on Amazon.  It's a comprehensive handbook for a simpler life – not a one-size-fits-all approach, but a creative, encouraging, multi-faceted guide to help you remove the stuff that's bogging you down, find time and space for what you care about, and uncover a more spacious home that supports your best life.

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

By the way... I was named an expert in an ApartmentGuide article. Check out the featured article: How to Declutter Your Home Fast: Tips From Our Experts | ApartmentGuide


  1. About 10 years ago, a light bulb clicked on for me. Someone told me that every time I said "I can't," I was really saying, "I choose not to." Whoa! So true. If we're honest with ourselves, our "can'ts" are simply instances of "I choose not to."


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