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Minimalism & Islam: How Living With Less Gives Me More

Imagine being in your late twenties and already having a six-figure income and all the goodies that come with it.

Now imagine willingly leaving your corporate job and selling 90% of what you own.

That’s what happened to Joshua Fields Millburn and his best friend, Ryan Nicodemus; and it’s what’s happening for Millennials all over the country.

Having seen how materialism and the endless obsession with getting more served our parents’ generation (hint: it didn’t), many of us are seeking a new path.

The old adage, “He who dies with the most toys wins” is untrue, and damaging, and my generation isn’t buying it. Literally.

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What is Minimalism?

According to Millburn and Nicodemus, minimalism is not living with less; it is living more fully with less need for stuff.

“Minimalists don’t focus on having less, less, less”, they say. “Rather, we focus on making room for more. More time, more passion, more experiences, more growth, more contribution, more contentment. More freedom. Clearing the clutter from life’s path helps us make that room.”

Make no mistake: Minimalism does involve intentionally living with fewer belongings.

It means doing as Marie Kondo advises in her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”: Choosing to keep only those items which do one of two things:

  1. Serve a tangible purpose in your life.
  2. Bring joy to your life.

But, minimalism is not just about belongings.

It’s also about being intentional in all that you consume, including the food you eat, the entertainment you enjoy, the company you keep, and the way you spend your 24 hours each day.

Minimalism is about looking at what you have, the people you love and those that love you; it’s about the time you are given and being intentional about how you will spend your time, energy, love, and life.

My Experience with Minimalism

I have always despised clutter. I like clean lines and very little visual noise in my environment.

In my 31 years of life, I have moved house upwards of 50 times; and every time, I had to pare down what I owned, especially for the cross-country and cross-ocean moves I’ve made.

But my first real experience with minimalism happened against my will. During my four year stint in rural Egypt.

I lived in a small village, far from Cairo, where nice, expensive, high-quality things were hard to find and even harder to afford.

During that time, I can’t remember owning even one piece of furniture that I liked, or that I had chosen.

I learned to break the connection between who I am and what I own.

But there was something very freeing about having no attachment to my physical possessions.

When it was time to move again, I wasted no energy trying to decide what to take and what to leave. Everything I owned was necessary for daily life, and the mementos which gave me joy could fit in a shoe box.

How Minimalism Brings Me Nearer to God

I have never been interested in mansions of gold or beautiful jewelry or the like, not in this life and not in the next.

Reward does not appeal to me, and fear of punishment does not deter me.

Only one thing drives me in this life: the overwhelming, burning hunger I have within me for nearness to God.

In truth, everyone has this hunger, but our cultures and societies push us to mistake that hunger for a need for more: more money, more stuff, more prestige, more love from others, etc.

I am intimately aware of the fact that nothing in this world can fill me; I have experienced extreme poverty and tasted some wealth.

And I watched my step-father drive himself into extreme debt and drug-addiction; he always needs more, more, more, whatever it costs him or our family.

The more I have stripped down my belongings, the more I have been made aware of what lies beneath: The true me, beautiful and terrifying and very, very temporary.

Life is temporary, and all that I love and spend my energy on will someday be dust.

Only God remains. Only God will be there when all that I love is gone. So, only God deserves my worship.

Minimalism forces me to face that truth that at any moment, all my belongings could be destroyed by fire or flood.

Living with less forces me to face the reality of my inevitable death.

I am forced to look at what I have, who I love and who loves me; and the time I am given as sacred, precious, non-renewable resources that will break down and eventually be destroyed.

Minimalism Gives Me More

Each morning, God gives me 24 hours of life; and He gives me a certain supply of emotional and mental energy.

Minimalism reminds me that each day is a container; and I cannot fit more into that day than the space I have.

That means that when I spend a little extra time on social media, I am taking from the time I have for reading a good book, meditating, or relaxing with my kids.

There truly is no such thing as “free time”. My time with my children is sacred, just as my time with my friends and with my family and my husband are.

Minimalism also means that I have very few friends, intentionally. A few very good friends is much better than 100 acquaintances.

I am careful who I spend my time with, because both my time and my emotional energy is limited and is spent with those I value, who in turn spend their time and energy on me.

Because I live with less, I leave room in my life, my heart, and my day for the things that truly matter.

(From Discovering Islam’s archive)

About Kaighla Um Dayo
Kaighla Um Dayo is one of the authors of "The New Muslim's Field Guide", expected to be published in Feb. 2018. She is also a former Ask About Islam editor. She is also a regular contributor at, where she ruminates on life as a Muslim American. Her favorite things are meditation, painting, drinking tea, and being outside in nature.