minimalist business

What is a Minimalist Business?

15 April 2021 | by Gina Lucia

In this article, I’m going to be explaining what a minimalist business is, where the term came from and what it means to create a minimalist business.

Lifestyle minimalism is everywhere. 

It’s a sub-culture that’s hit the mainstream with Netflix films, books, podcasts, and entire businesses centered around this simple living concept.

the minimalists less is now Netflix

But can a concept like minimalism really be applied to business? 

Especially when businesses or consumerism are the reason lifestyle minimalism started in the first place?

Watch the video:

So before we talk about minimalism in business, I think it’s important to look at where the term ‘minimalism’ came from. 

Because this was a doozy to research!

The origins of minimalism

Minimalism first began as an art movement in the 1960s. 

It was created by artists in New York who believed the previous era of abstract expressionism was too elitist and academic. 

Frank Stella minimalist

So instead, they created art that removed self-expression, or the artist, from the artwork. 

The idea behind this concept was that the viewer would respond only to what is in front of them, not the intention of the artist. 

In other words, the viewer could make up their own mind.

minimalist artwork

The artwork itself was usually, but not always, paintings and sculptures featuring clean lines, geometric shapes, and mostly neutral colour palettes. 

It was pretty radical at the time!

Okay, so what on earth does this have to do with lifestyle minimalism?

What is lifestyle minimalism?

Much like how minimalist art was a direct answer to abstract expressionism.

The minimalist lifestyle movement was created as a direct counter-culture to consumerism.


I’m going to call it lifestyle minimalism to separate it from the art movement and subsequent design, architecture, film, and music movements of the same name. 

Just so we’re clear.

Although not as impactful, the minimalist lifestyle movement’s slow growth likely originated from a book called The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs published in 1997.

The Simple Living Guide book

In her own words: 

“Simple living is about living deliberately. Simple living is not about austerity, or frugality, or income level. It’s about being fully aware of why you are living your particular life, and knowing that life is one you have chosen thoughtfully. Simple living is about designing our lives to coincide with our ideals.”

Janet Luhrs

Let’s compare that to a more modern take on minimalism from the pair who made lifestyle minimalism mainstream, The Minimalists:

The Minimalists

“Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

The Minimalists

You can see the similarities even if they’re both pretty vague. 

The Minimalists go on to talk about this in their many essays and books so I’ll be a little more specific. 

Lifestyle minimalism as a concept isn’t about ridding yourself of all your possessions. It’s not about owning as little as possible. 

Instead, it’s about simplifying all aspects of life so you can bring focus to the things you truly care about.

So, now we’ve gotten all that out of the way. Let’s get down to business.

Introducing the minimalist business

Again, just like the minimalist art movement and the minimalist lifestyle movement. 

The minimalist business movement can be seen as a direct counter to corporate and growth-focused business.

In fact, the term ‘minimalist business’ first originated in 2009 by the self-confessed minimalist businessman, Everett Bogue in his e-book ‘Minimalist Business’.

minimalist business book

In this e-book, Everett tells the story of how he quit his job and hopped on a plane to Portland Oregon in search of freedom.

He may well have been one of the first to usher in a new wave of stereotypical minimalist white men to forego all of their positions, quit their job, hop on a bike and take what us brits would consider the job equivalent of a gap yar.

Within this time, Everett released his Minimalist Business e-book which subsequently funded his minimalist business lifestyle.

It was admittedly a bit of a rocky start to the term ‘minimalist business’, but it was a start nonetheless.

The basis of a minimalist business

In his e-book, Everett underlines the fundamental basis of a minimalist business, which is as follows:

  1. The business has no, or very little, overhead.
  2. It employs as few people as possible, ideally only one.
  3. It runs on automation in order to free up as much of the owner’s time as possible.

Using this as an example, in Everett’s eyes, the main focus of a minimalist business should be to reduce spend and therefore increase profit so you can spend more time on other things.

Pretty basic stuff. 

In fact, Everett highlights that with his e-book in hand, you should be able to make upwards of $3,000 a year by implementing his techniques.

Little did Everett know that just 12 years later people were making over $30,000 a month using similar techniques.

Let’s take this a step further though.

3 years later in 2012, Annie Mueller wrote a piece for the American Express blog (yes that’s a thing!) titled ‘Taking The Minimalist Road To Success’ 

In her article, she talks about how building a minimalist business is a matter of perspective.

She outlines each aspect of lifestyle minimalism and applies it to business. 

They are as follows:

The concept of reducing the amount of ‘stuff’ you own

less stuff more success

In business, this can apply to each new idea or strategy you have. 

Because each one is going to cost you in terms of time, money, energy, and space. 

So by reducing the number of things your business does, you’ll have more time, money, energy, and space to focus on doing better at the smaller amount of things your business does.

Next, prioritise freedom instead of things

freedom instead of stuff

In business, she draws comparison with wealth or growth and how much time we spend working in order to earn and how this actually takes away our time freedom.

And lastly, having fewer responsibilities gives you more meaning

fewer responsibilities

Annie then talks about how reducing the unnecessary tasks and todos in our businesses and potentially outsourcing can give us more time to focus on the things that we do best and have an impact on our businesses. 

So why are people opting to use this strategy for their business in the first place? 

Why bother going through all the trouble to reduce and pare back your business?

The 4 burners theory

As I said earlier, the concept of a ‘minimalist business’ is a direct counter to a more growth-focused corporate culture of business. 

But there’s a little more to it than that.

With hustle culture promoting a work-focused lifestyle, one that requires you to sacrifice other areas of your life to achieve the level of success you desire, it’s no wonder a more minimalist approach to business has started to reject this culture.

This idea is best illustrated with the 4 burners theory. 

Taken from an article by James Clear but first written about by David Sedaris, the 4 burners theory goes like this:

4 burners theory

Imagine that your life is represented by a stove with four burners on it. 

Each burner symbolizes one major quadrant of your life.

  1. The first burner represents your family.
  2. The second burner is your friends.
  3. Third is your health.
  4. The fourth is your work.

The Four Burners Theory says that “in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful, you have to cut off two.”

I’d like to think that you might not cut off a burner completely, but you might turn it way down.

This concept explains why burnout is so prevalent and why many people who prioritise work over their other burners, may look successful from the outset, but something else is going on behind the scenes.

The 4 burners and a minimalist business

In 2018, blogger Kate Neath talked about this theory and related it to running a minimalist business as a counter to her experience with burnout

minimalist business four burners

Kate argues that when you run a minimalist business you don’t need to cut off one of your burners or even turn them down, you can have them all burning equally.

This is because, with a minimalist business, you intentionally create more time in your life for these other areas because you use your time, money, and energy effectively. 

Sounds pretty good to me.

So what have we learned?

Phew, that was quite something. 

You can tell by now that the term ‘minimalist business’ is pretty subjective.

It has no real definition because as a concept or movement, it’s unorganised and most people who practice it, don’t name it.

It’s a bit like the minimalist lifestyle movement, everyone has their own definition so it means something new depending on where you heard it first.

So I’d like to draw a direct comparison with the minimalist lifestyle movement and the term ‘minimalist business’ with a quote from the author of the book Company of One, Paul Jarvis:

company of one cover

“Minimalism is a mindset rather than a blind purge. If something is useful or pleasurable, you keep it. If it’s not, then you consider scrapping it.” 

Paul Jarvis

So by creating a minimalist business, you’re intentionally looking at your products, processes, marketing, and how you’re spending your money, time, and resources.

You then decide if all of this is actually helping you achieve your goals, helping others, or enjoyable to you. 

If not, get rid. 

Especially if it’s causing other areas of your life to suffer.

So we now know WHAT a minimalist business is. But how on earth do you apply this thinking to your business?

Check out this article for information on that: How to Create a Minimalist Business in 2021

And before you go, let me know what you think about the term ‘minimalist business’ in the comments