Minimalist Business Rules

Minimalism has taken the world by storm.

I’m guessing you might have noticed that.

The Western world, after spending seven decades in the relentless pursuit of more, is starting to come around to the idea of less. Fewer things, but more carefully and consciously chosen. Fewer activities, but ones that are just right. We’re starting to move away from the black hole that is perceived lack.

I started my minimalism journey with Marie Kondo. (We all know how I feel about her.) When I packed my one bag and spent 100 days circumnavigating the globe, I got a little more into it. (Even the divine Ms. Kondo has more than a carry-on.) Then I read Goodbye, Things, and that’s when it really kicked in for me.

Having too much stuff sucks, and even when I had very little, I realized I had too much.

As we begin to apply the peace of minimalism to our lives, it is natural to start wanting to feel those good feelings elsewhere. Minimalist parenting, minimalist holidays, minimalist travel – we’re starting to realize that less really is more.

So what about business? Is it possible that this thing we spend all those hours on could be minimalist as well? Could we get the pure and peaceful and centered feelings at work, as well as at home?

Yes, dear reader. Yes, we can. Here are some places to start.

1. Just because it’s good, doesn’t mean you should do it.

We are encouraged, conditioned and even rewarded for purchasing stuff whether we need it or not. When I did my first run of Marie Kondo’s konmari method, I discovered I owned over 150 different pieces of clothing that went on the top of my body. Shirts, blouses, tunics, sweaters – they were everywhere.

Each one of those items was bought on the basis of a) it looked good on me, b) I liked it, or c) it was on a crazy good discount.

Those were all valid and worthy reasons for buying any given item. But not ALL THE ITEMS. An item having intrinsic value does not mean that it needs to be in your life. This is why we’re not all married to 40 people who are “pretty great”, and we don’t have six hairstyles at once. We can’t have everything that’s good.

The same applies to your business. There are an infinite number of strategies, tactics, projects, directions, goals, books, and so on, that theoretically could be GOOD for your business. Just because they're good, though, doesn’t mean you need to pursue them.

2. Activities exist in tandem with other activities.

In physical minimalism, we understand that stuff comes with its own stuff. Knives come with knife sharpeners, knife blocks, and the business card on the fridge reminding us of when the knife sharpener guy comes around. When we add a new thing to our life, we add its 10 hungry children as well. Comfortingly, the reverse is just as true – when we remove an item, we remove everything that supports it.

The same is true in business. Activities beget other activities, sometimes to a factor of 10x.

If you’re deciding whether or not to go on Instagram, say, you don’t just have to devote time to learning Instagram. You have to research whether you need social media automation software, you need to decide between CoSchedule and Tailwind, you need to LEARN CoSchedule or Tailwind, you need to learn how to take and edit pictures, and research what pictures are doing well, and on and on it goes.

The decision to take on an activity requires the willingness to take on all of its associated activities. Only when we comprehend what we’re really taking on can we make an informed decision.

3. One in, one out.

The “one in, one out” minimalist approach is elegant in its simplicity – to maintain a small amount of stuff, you get rid of one item when you bring in another.

Generally, this is based on equivalent size or type of item. If you’re acquiring a new shirt, you get rid of an existing shirt, or pair of pants, or whatnot. You don’t bring in a new home theater system and toss out a plastic fork.

With business, the equivalent you want to look at is the sum of time, money and energy devoted to that particular project or activity. If you want to take on a new project, finish an old one. If you want to invest in a new media, outsource another one.

Don’t let them pile up on your plate. Keep your overall workload about the same, or you’re barreling towards maximalism again.

4. When all things are equal, choose the minimalist activity.

Minimalism is a lifestyle and a philosophy. When we have a philosophy, it is usually the key determining factor in most of the decisions we make. When all things are equal, we make the choice that most aligns with our philosophy, and we’re usually pretty happy with the results.

When it comes to shopping, possessions, and physical stuff, this is pretty intuitive to understand. For example:

  • Unless someone expresses a strong preference for a certain gift, I will default to buying them something low maintenance. It’s the minimalist choice.
  • Unless I’m obligated to make a dish with 17 ingredients, I will default to just grilling a steak. It’s the minimalist choice.
  • Unless there’s a good reason to take up golf (which requires 23 possessions), I’d rather play tennis (which requires one). It’s the minimalist choice.

You can do this in business as well. You can just pick the minimalist option. If you don’t much care whether you write blog post or make videos, pick the one that requires less of you. For some, that’s blog posts, because all you need is a text editor. For others, blogging takes a bajillion years, but videos just take pressing record. Your answer is unique to you, but it’s there and obvious if you look for it.

5. Put all your eggs in one basket.

We have been conditioned to believe that putting all your eggs in one basket is about the riskiest thing you can possibly do. We’re supposed to constantly diversify – income streams, investment portfolios, even the people we date. Putting all your eggs in one basket is colloquially considered to be a crazy gamble.


Putting all your eggs in one basket is also called “focus” and it is a VERY minimalist thing to do.

  • If you only ever wear black, you’ll always know what to wear.
  • If you only ever bring spinach dip, you’ll always know what to bring.
  • And if you only ever do Facebook Live video, you’ll always know what you should be doing right now.

Choosing one strategy that you’re good at and giving it all you’ve got is a much more peaceful way to live. It also tends to work better than scattershot tactics, jumping on bandwagons, and feeling pressured to get in on the latest craze.

6. Spend the money.

We live in a world of really cheaply made crap. Companies go out of their way to spend as little as possible to create products that look better than they are. Add planned obsolescence into the mix, and you have a recipe for constantly buying new, cheap shit.

As people explore the minimalist journey, they discover that buying more expensive products is cheaper in the long run. A quality $150 shirt lasts as long (and looks better) than 3 shirts bought at $50. This makes intuitive sense, but since we’re conditioned to cheap prices, spending that much feels like wretched excess.

But for minimalists, really nice stuff means your stuff lasts longer and takes up less space, because you don’t need so many items in your house.

The same principle applies in business. For many services and products, spending more gets you more. When I upgraded to a better web hosting company, I no longer had to take care of so many tasks like security, backups and site speed tweaks. For many ittybiz owners, paying SquareSpace monthly saves the constant heartache of WordPress baloney. Getting a pro photographer means you don’t have to spend 18 months taking (and hating!) your own amateur photographs.

Paying more frees up an enormous amount of time and energy clutter, making you – the heart of your business – available for bigger and better things.

7. Use what you have.

Minimalism encourages using what you currently have rather than going out and buying new stuff. Certainly, this applies to straight-up purchases of purely new things (don’t go out and fill your house up with BOGO candles at Bath and Body Works), but it also refers to buying a new item when an old item will do. Don’t buy a standalone grilled cheese maker when you can use your existing frying pan, for example.

Part of keeping things minimal is about finding ways to use what you have for multiple purposes instead of buying a whack of single-use items that will just clutter up the place.

In business, this means abandoning the mindset that in order to achieve a new end, you have to find a new means.

We think that if we want to make more money, we need to make a new product. No. It’s much more efficient to do a better job selling what you already have.

We think that if we want to grow our list, we have to start doing something new – webinars, advertising, podcasts, and so on. But it’s probably smarter to tap into that 5500 person Facebook group that you’ve got idling away in the background.

We think we need a new tool for lead generation, when the free and simple solution is lead nurturing.

Before you do something new, see if you can get better at doing something old.

Your business can be as clutter-free as your living room.

If we apply the lessons we’ve already learned at home, we can get the benefit of those lessons at work, as well.

Then, who knows? We might actually get to start sparking some joy.


Things you can do next…