Minimalism and Revision

I’ve been getting into minimalism recently. It’s always been a dormant part of my nature, but I’m starting to act on it. In September, I wore 31 different articles of clothing. Total. Counting coats and shoes. (I also never completely duplicated an outfit, which I used to do all the time.)

I’ve dropped off bag after bag at Good Will and taken a long hard look at my possessions to see what I really need. So far, I haven’t missed anything I’ve gotten rid of. My husband and I have discussed not getting our daughter anything for Christmas this year, since (a) she’s six months old and won’t know better; (b) she already has what she needs; and (c) my parents have already started Christmas shopping for her.

Minimalism and I get along really well. I’m even cutthroat toward my bookshelf, which I want to fill, but only with books I love to re-read.

But where minimalism serves me best isn’t choosing outfits in the morning, or making room on bookshelves, or saving money on Christmas. It’s when I’m editing.

On my fourth pass through my completed manuscript, the plot was fairly well tied down, and sentences were doing all right. Instead, as I read, I asked myself “Do I need this for it to make sense?” I asked it of words, of sentences, of entire paragraphs. I deleted words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages at a time. I deleted more than 4,000 words from an 80,000-word manuscript without changing the meaningΒ at all.

Just like I don’t live in a tiny house, or have 10 articles of clothing, my minimalism isn’t bare in my writing. I didn’t reduce sentences to “I did this. I felt that. Then this happened.” Instead, I was cutthroat with repetition, redundancy, and unnecessary information.

This is how a good manuscript is written. (

That’s what minimalism as a lifestyle and design aesthetic are about. Living in the necessary. Appreciating the enough.

In books, minimalism will result in a dense manuscript. Not dense as in “difficult to read.” Dense as in “every single word matters.” Like Elmore Leonard said, “When you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.”

If you’re a minimalist, how do you exercise minimalism in areas beyond the obvious? If you’re an author, how do you decide what stays in your manuscript? Do you struggle to kill your darlings?



  1. Moving to Africa definitely made me a fan of minimalism. Althought I like to think of it more as living efficiently. For some reason the term minimalism doesn’t sit well with me, and maybe it’s because our American view of minimalism is still excess to 90% of the world. I actually found it incredibly freeing to go through our house and sell almost all our belongings to move here. We still have some things in storage because we felt it would be better financially to not have to replace EVERYTHING when we came back. But it taught me to take a good hard look at whether I need something, or whether it’s just cluttering up the house because I think I might need it someday. Now that we’re preparing to move back, I’m going through the same process with our house here in Rwanda. And once again I’m loving it!

    We didn’t do much in the way of Christmas gifts for our boys the first few years. We got each of them a Jesus Storybook Bible (BEST kids Bible out there) for their first Christmas, but yeah – grandparents got enough to clutter our house with toys. I saw a really neat blog post about a family that does something simple every year. Each kid gets some new clothing, something new to read, and something fun to play with. I grew up in a family where we didn’t get much for Christmas because we couldn’t afford much, so the simple small gifts appeal to me. My husband grew up with multiple gifts along with one large gift, so I’m sure we’ll have to find a compromise as our boys get older. =)

    • Sorry for the late reply– I was thinking about it a lot and wanted to leave you a nice long comment.

      You’re absolutely right. I read somewhere that the whole idea of minimalism is only possible in a culture of excess, where daily needs are a given. Minimalism is a response to born privilege, and we definitely don’t do it right. I know my house is too big, and I own too many things even as I work on purging them. The term isn’t my favorite, either. I prefer the idea of pursuing The Enough. Some minimalism is too extreme for my taste (Let’s not buy a single thing for a year and live as homeless migrant workers doing hired help), while culture in general is stuffed with excess. So I try to tell myself “Do I have Enough clothes? Enough journals? Enough silverware?” and let it be like that. I know I still have too much, though… working on it. πŸ™‚

      I did end up buying a set of blocks for Alexis for Christmas this weekend. My church closed and was liquidating, and they had an excellent set of wooden 1″ blocks for $3. Since I was planning on getting her blocks anyway, I figured that would work. I like that idea of something to wear, something to read, and something to play with.

      I grew up in a family with excess Christmas presents (and it’s continued, though my sister and me are in our 20s), so it will be hard to convince them that I don’t actually want the silly Dollar Tree finds to round out their spending (my mother is adamant about spending the same amount on each of us…), and that I’d rather have experiences and practical items. I’m gonna try, though… and we’ll decide what to do with Alexis when she’s older.

  2. I like the idea of pursuing The Enough. That’s a nice balance, because I agree that some pursuits of minimalism are too extreme. Sorry to hear about your church closing. πŸ™ I hope you’re able to find another one that you like.

    When it comes to gifts from other people, we pretty much keep our mouths shut. We don’t feel like it’s really fair to expect other people to follow our ideals. In those situations, to me it’s more of a harm vs good situation. Is it more harmful to the relationship to set up rules you want them to follow versus the good you get from having your values upheld? If we set up rules for the gift giving, it sort of takes the joy from the giver. In our little family, we get joy from giving and receiving practical gifts, and our extended family gets joy from giving random things. =) I don’t want to take that joy from them.

    If our parents were showering our kids with gifts year round I’d probably decide it’s worth the confrontation, but when it’s once a year, I’d rather keep all our relationships healthy and let them do what they want. As long as we keep our gifts practical in our little family, I already feel like we’re improving our kids’ view on gift giving and receiving. Besides, I want to reserve the right to spoil my grandkids in twenty years. πŸ˜‰

    • πŸ™‚ So far, the church hunt is going well.

      That’s a good point–when my mom inevitably asks what I want for Christmas, I’m going to try and tell her practical and experiential things. But enforcing rules on my family does seem like a bad idea. πŸ™‚ You make excellent points. I really appreciate it. πŸ™‚

  3. Glad to hear it! And yes, I think that’s a perfect response to your mom’s question. Plus, the more she sees how you and your husband do gifts for each other and Alexis, the more she’ll catch on. =)

  4. Laughing as I read … my mom makes sure everyone (kids and grandkids alike) has the same number of gift AND the same total $ spent for each, and she goes way overboard. But, as you two have mentioned, since it’s only once a year – plus, I may do the same on my grandkids some day soon, I go with the flow! Be sure and let me know Rochelle, what your parents get Alexis for her first Christmas – so we can compare results. For our first daughter’s initial Christmas (seven months old at the time), among the many other gifts, my mom and dad gave Denae a tricycle πŸ™‚ … I think it was mainly my dad’s idea. Becoming a grandfather really mellowed him out!!

    • wow, your mom puts my mom to shame! We don’t get the same number of gifts anymore, that’s for sure. Alexis will be barely six months old–can’t wait to see what my parents come up with. I’ll be sure to let you know if a tricycle is involved. πŸ™‚

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