The Minimalist’s Bookshelf: 10 Books I’ll Never Part With

Minimalist Joshua Becker, author of The More of Less, draws the line at giving away these books.

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Eight years ago, I became a minimalist after growing tired of all the time and money and energy that went into taking care of the stuff that I owned. While the world around me continued to buy more and more things, I began to own less and less.

I reduced the number of things in every area of my life: clothes, furniture, televisions, decorations, kitchenware. Even books.

Parting with my books wasn’t easy, and it took time. But over the course of several months, I downsized my book collection from four bookshelves to one. I considered each of the books on my shelf and determined to save “only the best.”

Here are ten of the books I decided to keep—books that have had such a profound influence on me that I couldn’t imagine life without them.

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How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

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The leadership principles in this book continue to be both the simplest and the most important: be kind, smile, and ask questions.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

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As somebody pursuing a simpler life focused on things that matter, Essentialism is a book that is simultaneously informative, inspirational, and practical.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

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Considering I do the same, books that challenge conventional, American notions of happiness are well-appreciated by this writer. Among the books written in this present generation, The Happiness Project is one of the best.

More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity by Jeff Shinabarger

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In this lesser-known book, Jeff calls us to challenge our presumptions about how much we need for a joyful life—and invites us to practice generosity with our excess.

Introduction to the Devout Life by Francis De Sales

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Spiritual readings and meditations have always been important to me as they keep me focused on higher pursuits than the physical world around me. This book is one I return to often.

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin

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I love biographies and autobiographies. They challenge and inspire me. The list of good ones is quite lengthy—but the one I consistently recommend to others is Born Standing Up.

Money, Possessions, and Eternity by Randy Alcorn

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Depending on specific spiritual preferences, this book resonates with some and turns off others (it is unapologetic in its use of the Bible as prooftext). But for me, no other book has provided such a counter-cultural perspective on money.

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

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This novel, in my opinion, is still the greatest story on grace and redemption ever written.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

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I enjoy Salinger’s story, but beyond that, this work represents the first time I ever critically analyzed literature in a classroom setting. Even 25 years later, I recall those days fondly.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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As with so many other young readers, To Kill a Mockingbird was the first to challenge my assumptions about the nature of humanity and how we create divisions among ourselves.

I found a simple joy in minimizing my book collection. For one thing, it provided opportunity to spread the joy and share some of my favorites with friends and family. But these ten listed above? I’m keeping.

What books can you not bear to part with?


Featured image: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

JOSHUA BECKER is the founder and editor of Becoming Minimalist, a website that inspires millions around the world to own fewer possessions and find greater fulfillment in life. As one of the leading voices in the modern simplicity movement, Joshua speaks both nationwide and internationally. He has contributed to articles in Time magazine, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Christianity Today. He is a frequent guest on HuffPost Live and has appeared on numerous television programs, including the CBS Evening News. He and his young family live in Peoria, Arizona.

About Joshua Becker

JOSHUA BECKER is the founder and editor of Becoming Minimalist, a website that inspires millions around the world to own fewer possessions and find greater fulfillment in life. As one of the leading voices in the modern simplicity movement, Joshua speaks both nationwide and internationally. He has contributed to articles in Time magazine, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Christianity Today. He is a frequent guest on HuffPost Live and has appeared on numerous television programs, including the CBS Evening News. He and his young family live in Peoria, Arizona.

  • Pamela

    Hi Joshua, I’ve been following your blog about a year now. I love it! However, I’m over here weeping as I’m going through my bookshelves. You see, I’m a homeschooling mom…or was. The kids are all in school now (teenagers), and young adults. These books are so linked to memories of good years for me, while I’m going through some difficult years now. We have another move coming up in one month, so I know I must reduce yet again. I am embracing minimalism, and have completely changed my thinking in so many ways regarding possessions, but I just don’t know how to detach my sentiment from these books…the special ones. Any tips? advice? Can you relate? There are currently three ‘knee deep’ piles on the floor, so that’s progress 🙂 Thanks

    • Joshua Becker

      Pamela, I would encourage you to not to think about needing to remove all the books. Instead, I would encourage you to pare down the number of books by deciding to keep “only the best.” For example, could you cut the book piles from 3 down to 2? Or maybe even down to 1? When you do, I think you’ll find two things that happen: First of all, you’ll find that you bring greater value to the ones that you keep by removing the others. Secondly, and probably more importantly, you may find more energy and focus for your current situation. Granted, I don’t know what you mean by “difficult years” and maybe lightening the weight of physical books in your life cannot change it. But at the very least, I think, the process will help you stop looking back at the years-that-once-were, and begin making the most of the new stage of life you are in—which, to me, sounds like it needs all the attention you can give it.

      • Pamela Rush

        Thank you 🙂

  • Paula

    Necessary Loses by Judith Viorst

    • Joshua Becker

      Ooh thanks Paula. I’ll check it out.

  • I love how your books are a kind of snapshot of your life, a highlights reel of significant turning points or perspectives shaped over time. I read The Happiness Project a few years ago, and it is also a favorite of mine.

    • Joshua Becker

      Yes, indeed. Now that I think about it, I probably should have listed them in chronological order of when their impact was most felt in my life.

  • Kristin ‘Ashton’ Willett

    I love “Freedom of Simplicity” by Richard Foster. I have come back to it time and again. I recently have been hooked on some pop psychology: “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg and “The Switch:How to Make Change When Change is Hard” by Chip and Dan Heath. I would second your “To Kill A Mockingbird” there is still so much we as a culture can learn from the wisdom of that book.

    • Joshua Becker

      Kristin, I would credit “Freedom of Simplicity” as being one of my first introductions to voluntary simplicity. If I can say this correctly… I didn’t keep the book, but probably just because I read it at the wrong time in my life. Its message didn’t impact my thinking at the time… at the time. Though it was most certainly influential in my life providing a groundwork for future realizations that would occur a decade after reading it.

  • ToughGirlChallenges

    This is awesome! I have started to reduce down all of the suff I own. Getting rid of book was one of the hardest. What I ended up doing, was re buying them and adding them onto my kindle – so I now have all the books I want at my fingers tips. I also came across – Blinkest – which has been amazing . You can read any non fiction books in 15 mins and get all of the essential information out to them – They are a new company & totally worth checking out!!! http://jump.blinkist.com/aff_c?offer_id=2&aff_id=2271

    • Nancy Halsema

      Ouch! But with Blinkest you don’t get to enjoy the ride. The story is secondary and not near as important as the adventure.

      • Ali Markin

        Extremely well said u make me want to take the ride. However I find that I have little time to dedicate to taking a nonessential ride. Rarely have I found a book so mesmerizing that it could hold my attention through out the “adventure” of its entirety. Blinkest sounds good to me. Keep up the reading.

  • Michelle Richards

    I dont buy magazines, instead I have quality hardcopy books on gardening (and some art) mostly as gardens are a love of mine. I only buy novels (usually fictional history) from op shops and I only keep the ones that I know I will like to revisit on a rainy day. I have a couple of reference books, dictionary, thesaurus and the like that appeal to me for as much the tactile or visual (embossed, illustrated, old etc) as the content. I never regret getting rid of things that perhaps on another day I wouldn’t have. I am a big believer of donating to and buying from charity op shops – I imagine someone coming across something I once or still do treasure – and that person being so happy to have had the opportunity to buy it at a reduced price……and the Universe always rewards me with the same sentiment, a handmade kimono comes to mind I found one day (I love to hand sew and like Oriental themes). Clothes are very easy to keep in check – I recently gutted my bedroom, taking out built in robes that had more clutter (gone) than clothes and removing old smelly carpet. Now I have a 1940s Gentlemans Wardrobe, shoulder high with just a few draws and one hanging side. Just enough room for a fortnights worth of work clothes (no drier so need a reasonable rotation of shirts and trousers). The floor kept clean with a quick sweep under freestanding furniture. Weekend wear and special clothes fit in a small chest of draws in a spare room. The being a minimalist for me is about honouring whats important to my soul and having the freedom of will and courage of spirit to know when its time for someone else to enjoy what I have grown weary of…(in Australia)

  • Teri Hawk

    The Shack

  • Lyn Steimel

    I wish I’d found a man like you to enrich my life! There is great joy in my life, but also profound sadness.

  • Catherine Black

    I am a librarian, so books play a big part of my life. I must keep Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd, for challenging the intensity of my faith as I age. Next on the keep list are Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books as he challenges my thought process.

    • Nancy Halsema

      Thanks for the suggestion. I love her writing so will check this one out of the library immediately.

  • Jo priestley

    I enjoyed reading this. As an avid book reader i read many books again and again. I have hundreds if not thousands of books. I cant get rid of them….like my forebears our villa in the country in NZ is so cold and draughty…we use books as insulation!
    I will be taking your advice in other areas of my life though. Jo

  • Peg Johnson

    Sorry – but I’d get rid of everything else I own before I’d part with my cats, my music or my books. It’s a good thing it’s not necessary for me to live out of a suitcase or move on a regular basis.

  • KB

    Love his minimalistic ideas, but my bookshelf is my one weakness. I always seem to acquire books and can’t stand to part with them!

  • Nancy Halsema

    I have pared from 18 boxes down to about 4. Must I really go further? I love the idea of a one-shelf collection and will think long about what would be on it. I don’t think any of your choices would be there for me though. Surely a Beatrix Potter and a Jane Austin would be in the number just to remember how it all started.

  • sunflowertattoo

    The Odyssey and the illiad both by Homer, the complete works of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde.

  • Emily

    I have all my books, literally every one that I have ever bought or that has been given to me as a gift. In dire circumstances, though, I would keep my beloved copy of The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, the children’s books I received as gifts – including one given to me by my elementary school librarian, my signed copy of AS Byatt’s A Whistling Woman, and my father’s collection of Foxfire books that were handed down to me.

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