Living With Less Essay Topics


New to minimalism? New to our website? Welcome aboard! There’s a lot of info here, and you certainly don’t have to read it all at once, but here’s the order we suggest for beginners. Start below, find topics that add value to your life, and take your time. There’s nothing wrong with moving slowly.


Start Here: Read, Listen, Watch, Connect

Free Essays. Subscribe to this website via email to receive free essays about minimalism from Joshua and Ryan. This way you’ll always receive new essays whenever we publish one (usually a couple per week). We never send spam (because spam’s yucky!). We want to add value to your life, so subscribe only if you find value here. Unsubscribe anytime.

Listen to Less. Each week, we discuss living a meaningful life with less on The Minimalists Podcast, which is often the #1 Health podcast on iTunes and has climbed the charts to the top 30 of all podcasts.

Documentary. Our film, Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, opened as the #1 indie doc of 2016, showing in more than 400 theaters worldwide. It’s now available online and on DVD.

Meet The Minimalists on Tour. We’ve spoken about minimalism in more than 150 cities in eight countries. Check our tour page to see where we’ll be next.

Connect via Social Media. Follow us on your preferred social network: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. We share a lot of insightful and funny things we don’t say here.

Newest Book. What if everything you ever wanted isn’t what you actually want? Everything That Remains is the touching, surprising story of what happened when Joshua Fields Millburn decided to let go of everything and begin living more deliberately (“Like Thoreau, but with Wi-Fi” —Boston Globe). Heartrending, uplifting, and deeply personal, this engrossing book is peppered with insightful (and often hilarious) interruptions by Ryan Nicodemus, Joshua’s best friend of 20 years.

Paperback: Amazon · IndieBound

Ebook: Kindle · iBooks · Nook · Kobo · Google Play · PDF

Audiobook: Audible · iTunes · Amazon


And then…


And then let us answer your questions by way of our essays…

Excess Stuff

Having trouble getting rid of stuff? Read these essays: The Short Guide to Getting Rid of Your Crap, 10/10 Material Possessions Theory, Getting Rid of Just-In-Case Items, When Everything Is Your Favorite Thing, What Would Happen If You Just Let Go?, and The Consumption Continuum. And listen to this podcast: Stuff.



Tired of clutter? Read: Packing Party: Unpack a Simpler Life, Decluttering Doesn’t Work Like That, Organizing Is Often Well-Planned Hoarding, Collecting Is Dangerous, What Things Can You Get Rid Of?, and 30-Day Minimalism Game. And listen to this podcast: Declutter.


Sentimental Items

Having trouble getting rid of sentimental items? Read these essays: Letting Go of Sentimental Items, Photo-Scanning Party, Dealing with the Death of a Loved One, The High Price of Pursuing My Dreams, and I Don’t Love You Anymore. And listen to this podcast: Sentimental.



What about relationships? Read: Letting Go of Shitty Relationships, It’s Complicated, A Minimalist’s Thoughts on Meaningful Relationships, and The Things We Are Prepared to Walk Away From. And listen to this podcast: Relationships.



Tired of buying and receiving so many stupid gifts? Read these essays: Getting Rid of Gifts, The Blackest of Fridays, and The Commodification of Love, Five Steps Toward a More Meaningful Holiday Season, and 40 Reasons to Avoid Shopping on Black Friday. And listen to this podcast: Giftgiving.


Counting Possessions

Is minimalism just about counting your stuff? (Hint: nope.) Read this essay: I Counted All My Stuff then I Threw Away the List Because I Didn’t Want It to Count as One Item and then take a Tour of Joshua’s Minimalist Apartment. Also: Less, Less, Less, Less, Less, Less, and Love People, Use Things. And listen to this podcast: Consumerism.


Explaining Minimalism

Having trouble explaining minimalism to your friends and family? Read these essays: Minimalism for Families with Children and Minimalist Family: Start With Yourself, followed by Minimalist Family: 12 Useful Links, Minimalism Is Not a Radical Lifestyle, I Was Not a Minimalist, Until I Was, Life Is an Acquired Taste, Gospel of Minimalism, and Take It Simple. And listen to these podcasts: Who Are The Minimalists? and Children.



Sick and tired of your soul-crushing corporate job? Read these three essays: Why I Quit My 6-Figure Corporate Job, Being Laid Off From My 6-Figure Job Was the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me, UnTeachers, The UnAmerican Dream, Life’s Most Dangerous Question: What Do You Do?, and Quitting Is Easy. And listen to this podcast: Career.



Wondering how minimalism can help you with your finances and help solve your money problems? Read these essays: Financial Freedom, Debt-Free, A Minimalist’s Thoughts on Money, What it Feels Like to No Longer Worry About Money, Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness, Neither Does Poverty, and Money Does Not Buy Better Habits. And listen to this podcast: Money.



Want to stop wasting your time? Thinking about getting rid of your TV or your phone maybe even getting rid of the internet at home? That’s great! Read these essays: Most Emergencies Aren’t, Why I Don’t Own a TV, Killing the Internet at Home Is the Most Productive Thing I’ve Ever Done, Why I’m Getting Rid of My Phone, Reprogramming The Twitch, and How to Check Email Like a Minimalist. And listen to this podcast: Priorities.



What kind of clothes does a minimalist wear? Read these essays: Favorite Clothes of a Minimalist, What If You Accidentally Spilled Bleach on Half Your Wardrobe?, Fool Price, Logos, Less Clothes, More Routines, and A Rolex Won’t Give You More Time.



Want to clean up your office, desk, or workspace? Read these two essays: My Minimalist Workspace and My Minimalist Desktop. Also: Minimalist Screens: Free Wallpaper for Your Smartphone and Desktop.



Ever thought about living with no goals and just enjoying your life? Read these essays: Living with No Goals, Moving Beyond Goals, When Goals Are Important and When They Are Not, What is Your Outcome?, and Accomplishments Without Goals.



Having trouble making a hard decision? Read: How to Make a Damn Decision and Right Path, Wrong Path, Left Path, No Path. And listen to this podcast: Education.



Wish you could live in the moment more often? Read these essays: Right Here, Right Now, Fighting the Voice in Your Head, Waking Up, Be on The Mountain, and Clear Your Damn Plate. And listen to this podcast: Mentalclutter.



Wish you had more time for yourself? Read: Alone Time, 5 Ways to Create Solitude, Someday, and Taking Back the Morning.



Feel too busy all the time? Read: Not Busy, Focused and The Details. And listen to this podcast: Focus.



Wish you were in better shape? Wish you exercised more? Wish your diet was better? Wish you were just healthier? Read these essays: A Minimalist’s Thoughts on Diet, Minimalism is Healthy: How I Lost 70 Pounds, 18-Minute Daily Minimalist Exercises, and 6-Minute On-the-Road Minimalist Workout (with Videos). Also: The Costs and Benefits of Awareness. And listen to this podcast: Health



Having trouble letting go of the past? Read this essay: Your Past Does Not Equal Your Future, Letting Go of Control, and Worthy. And listen to this podcast: Away.



Are you a perfectionist? Read these essays: Nightmares of a Perfectionist and The Pressure We Put on Ourselves. And listen to this podcast: Passion.



Want to know the meaning of life? Read these essays: Ask Not What You Can Get, Ask What You Can Give, Giving Is Living, and Adding Value. Also: Imagine Everything.



Want to know what freedom really means? Read our three-part essay series: Conscious Freedom Essay Series. And listen to this podcast: Debt.


Life Lessons

Want a bunch of life lessons from 30 years of living (complete with a ton of great links)? Read this essay: 30 Life Lessons From 30 Years by Joshua, followed by Ryan’s 30 More Life Lessons From 30 Years. Also worth reading: A Minimalist, a Japanese Cowboy, and an Arrogant American Walk into a Museum. And listen to this podcast: Blame.


Explaining Yourself

Tired of always explaining yourself? Read these essays: You Don’t Have to Explain Yourself, Fake Outrage: Dealing with Criticism, and Preaching to the Congregation. And listen to this podcast: Criticism.



Feel like you’ve tried everything but can’t get results? Read this essay: Stop Trying, followed by The Discomfort Zone. And listen to this podcast: Next.



Want to know who’s holding you back? Read this short essay: Who Is Preventing You from Being Completely and Totally Free? And listen to this podcast: Education.



Want to see 10 links that changed our lives? Read this essay: 10 Life-Changing Links. And listen to this podcast: Documentaries.



Interested in starting your own website or blog? Read: How to Start a Successful Blog Today. And listen to this podcast: Writing.


Once you’re done with all that, check out our TV, radio, and print interviews, as well as our archives page, which contains all of the essays on this site as well as our guest essays on other sites throughout the web.

If you’re interested, we offer an online writing class and private mentoring.

Finally, you can check out some of our favorite websites about minimalism.

Have questions? See our FAQs page, or you can contact us.

Getting into an elite college has never been more cutthroat. Last year, Harvard’s admissions rate dipped to a record low, with only 5.3% of applicants getting an acceptance letter. Stanford’s rate was even lower, at 5.05%.

These days, it takes more than impressive grades, a full roster of extracurriculars, and a deep commitment to community service to get into a well-ranked school. Experts say that a stellar essay is the linchpin that will win the admissions department over. But what is less well known is that different colleges favor particular topics and even specific words used in essays.

This is a key finding from AdmitSee, a startup that invites verified college students to share their application materials with potential applicants. High school students can pay to access AdmitSee’s repository of successful college essays, while college students who share their materials receive a small payment every time someone accesses their data. “The biggest differentiator for our site is that college students who share their information are compensated for their time,” Stephanie Shyu, cofounder of AdmitSee, tells Fast Company. “This allows them to monetize materials that they have sitting around. They can upload their file and when they check back in a few months later, they might have made several hundred dollars.”

Shyu says that this model has allowed AdmitSee to collect a lot of data very rapidly. The company is only a year old and just landed $1.5 million in seed funding from investors such and The Social + Capital Partnership. But in this short time, AdmitSee has already gathered 15,000 college essays in their system. Many are from people who got into well-ranked colleges, since they targeted these students first. The vast majority of these essays come from current college students who were admitted within the last two or three years.

AdmitSee has a team that analyzes all of these materials, gathering both qualitative and quantitative findings. And they’ve found some juicy insights about what different elite colleges are looking for in essays. One of the most striking differences was between successful Harvard and Stanford essays. (AdmitSee had 539 essays from Stanford and 393 from Harvard at the time of this interview, but more trickle in every day.) High-achieving high schoolers frequently apply to both schools—often with the very same essay—but there are stark differences between what their respective admissions departments seem to want.

What Do You Call Your Parents?

The terms “father” and “mother” appeared more frequently in successful Harvard essays, while the term “mom” and “dad” appeared more frequently in successful Stanford essays.

Harvard Likes Downer Essays

AdmitSee found that negative words tended to show up more on essays accepted to Harvard than essays accepted to Stanford. For example, Shyu says that “cancer,” “difficult,” “hard,” and “tough” appeared more frequently on Harvard essays, while “happy,” “passion,” “better,” and “improve” appeared more frequently in Stanford essays.

This also had to do with the content of the essays. At Harvard, admitted students tended to write about challenges they had overcome in their life or academic career, while Stanford tended to prefer creative personal stories, or essays about family background or issues that the student cares about. “Extrapolating from this qualitative data, it seems like Stanford is more interested in the student’s personality, while Harvard appears to be more interested in the student’s track record of accomplishment,” Shyu says.

With further linguistic analysis, AdmitSee found that the most common words on Harvard essays were “experience,” “society,” “world,” “success,” “opportunity.” At Stanford, they were “research,” “community,” “knowledge,” “future” and “skill.”

What the Other Ivies Care About

It turns out, Brown favors essays about volunteer and public interest work, while these topics rank low among successful Yale essays. In addition to Harvard, successful Princeton essays often tackle experiences with failure. Meanwhile, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania tend to accept students who write about their career aspirations. Essays about diversity—race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation—tend to be more popular at Stanford, Yale, and Brown.

Based on the AdmitSee’s data, Dartmouth and Columbia don’t appear to have strong biases toward particular essay topics. This means that essays on many subjects were seen favorably by the admissions departments at those schools. However, Shyu says that writing about a moment that changed the student’s life showed up frequently in essays of successful applicants to those schools.

Risk-Taking Pays Off

One general insight is that students who take risks with the content and the structure of their college essays tend to be more successful across the board. One student who was admitted to several top colleges wrote about his father’s addiction to pornography and another wrote about a grandparent who was incarcerated, forcing her mother to get food stamps illegally. Weird formats also tend to do well. One successful student wrote an essay tracking how his credit card was stolen, making each point of the credit card’s journey a separate section on the essay and analyzing what each transaction meant. Another’s essay was a list of her favorite books and focused on where each book was purchased.

“One of the big questions our users have is whether they should take a risk with their essay, writing about something that reveals very intimate details about themselves or that takes an unconventional format,” Shyu says. “What we’re finding is that successful essays are not ones that talk about an accomplishment or regurgitate that student’s résumé . The most compelling essays are those that touch on surprising personal topics.”

Of course, one caveat here is that taking a risk only makes sense if the essay is well-executed. Shyu says that the content and structure of the story must make a larger point about the applicant, otherwise it does not serve a purpose. And it goes without saying that the essay must be well-written, with careful attention paid to flow and style.

Shyu says that there are two major takeaways that can be taken from the company’s data. The first is that it is very valuable for applicants to tailor their essays for different schools, rather than perfecting one essay and using it to apply to every single school. The second is that these essays can offer insight into the culture of the school. “The essays of admitted students are also a reflection of the community at these institutions,” Shyu says. “It can provide insight into whether or not the school is a good fit for that student.”

A final tip? If you want to go to Harvard and write about your parents, make sure to address them as “mother” and “father.”


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