Commusings: How to Be a Spiritual Minimalist by Light Watkins

Jul 21, 2023

Dear Commune Community,

Lao Tzu once wrote, “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” Today’s essayist, Light Watkins, took the legendary Chinese philosopher quite literally. He forsook almost all of his earthly possessions and became a spiritual minimalist.

Modernity covets “things.” And we so often associate our happiness with their attainment. If fact, there habitually appears to be a gap between us and our happiness that looms somewhere “out there” in the form of external agents — from sports cars to fancy promotions. One way to close this gap is by chasing these sparkly objects of desire. But the effect so quickly fades as another shinier targets appears on the horizon. An alternate method of addressing this happiness chasm is to love what you already have.

If you can cherish the people and things that already punctuate your life, you’re home free (again, literally, in Light’s case). Really, we require very little. Verse 11 of the Tao Te Ching:

Thirty spokes are joined together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that allows the wheel to function.
We mold clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that makes the vessel useful.
We fashion wood for a house,
but it is the emptiness inside
that makes it livable.
We work with the substantial,
but the emptiness is what we use.

It is the emptiness we seek, for “enlightenment” may be nothing more than feeling light.

Here and not at [email protected] and treading lightly on IG @jeffkrasno.

In love, include me,

• • •

How to Be a Spiritual Minimalist
by Light Watkins

Excerpted from Travel Light

I flipped the switch, but there was no light.

It was January 2022, and I had just returned to my Mexico City Airbnb from a week-long meditation retreat that I’d been facilitating. I set my daypack down on the couch and began investigating. None of the other light switches were working. Evidently, the electricity was out, which meant that I would not have the ability to wash clothes, charge my phone or tablet, use Wi-Fi, turn on the floor heaters, or do much of anything other than sit in darkness until it was time to go to sleep.

I notified the apartment manager right away. She had no idea why the power wasn’t working in my unit even though it was on throughout the rest of the building, and she verified that the electricity bill was current. Regardless, she promised to have the power restored right away. Later that night, I received a message informing me that she hadn’t had any luck with the electric company and that she would try again tomorrow.

This was obviously not a life or death situation. In fact, some would refer to it as a “first-world problem,” barely worth mentioning. However, if you’re not prepared for a relatively small change of expectation like this, losing access to power for even a couple of hours can be detrimental to your entire day, especially if you’ve just returned from a trip with clothes to wash, or food to cook, or a meeting to prepare for, with devices that need recharging. But luckily, I had been preparing for this kind of situation ever since I began intentionally practicing minimalism on May 31, 2018, the day I started traveling light.

My leap of faith into minimalism officially began when I turned in my thirty-day notice to the landlord of my two-bedroom Venice Beach apartment after a whole year of thinking about doing just this. I then contacted my car dealer and made an appointment to return my leased car at the end of the month. Next, I posted a series of classified ads online, listing all of my furniture, my Vespa scooter, and everything else of value that I no longer needed.

After doing some research, I found out that twenty-two inches was the largest carry-on bag allowed in the overhead compartment on most airlines. So I went to the luggage store to inspect the latest carry-on bags. I brought a bunch of clothes, accessories, and toiletries to see how much would comfortably fit into whichever carry-on bag I was considering. I left the store a couple of hours later with a brand new, high-end, twenty-two-inch carry-on bag.

This carry-on would effectively be my new apartment because, over the following month, I methodically cleared my apartment of everything that wouldn’t fit into my bag. There would be no storage room, either, as I was allergic to paying a few thousand dollars a year to store items that I would likely forget about within a few months. On May 31, I rolled my new “carry-on” apartment out of my old, empty apartment and set out on my nomadic adventure.

A couple of years and dozens of destinations later, I scaled down to an even smaller backpack. And a year after that, I traded my backpack for a smaller daypack. In this process of elimination, I discovered one of the principles of what I began referring to as “Spiritual Minimalism”: the fewer options you have, the more freedom you have to make decisions, and the more present you become.

I currently have around thirty items in my daypack, which include:

1 button-down shirt
1 pair of pants
2 pairs of shorts
3 pairs of underwear
3 T-shirts
1 jacket
1 hoodie
1 sweatshirt
1 belt
1 pair of casual sneakers
1 pair of shoes
1 pair of sandals
Refillable water bottle
Meditation shawl
Meditation teaching kit
Podcast microphone
Rechargeable battery
Mala beads

With these items, I’ve managed to travel the world two or three times over, giving talks; speaking on panels; leading workshops and retreats; working out each day; swimming, running, and hiking; going on dates; attending church, funerals, weddings, graduations, dinners, premieres, beach trips, celebratory gatherings, hot air balloon rides—you name it.

Back to Mexico City: It ended up taking my apartment manager two days to restore power. But it was only a mild inconvenience, because by that point—four years since becoming home-free—I had grown accustomed to operating with maximum efficiency and had trained myself to perform my most important daily tasks without relying upon electricity or even light.

For instance, many people, after returning from a week-long trip, arrive back home with a couple of suitcases full of dirty clothes that they need to wash immediately in order to have something to wear the next day. They also need a haircut. Maybe a shower. And they need to do some work on their phone or laptop, which likely needs to be recharged.

When I arrived back at my Airbnb, my daypack was already full of fresh, clean clothes that I had hand-washed on each night of my retreat. I was thoroughly practiced in shaving my head, even in the dark, without the need for a mirror, just in case I encountered this type of situation. I had already practiced doing everything I needed to do work-wise from my phone, including editing my website, composing complex newsletters, and writing this book. And I carried a portable charger with me everywhere I went in the event that there was no available power outlet to recharge.

What would have been considered major inconveniences were fairly minor thanks to my years of intentional preparation and practice. In fact, I kind of enjoyed having nothing to do in the evenings while navigating my apartment by candlelight. Of course, I didn’t admit that to the apartment manager because I wanted her to get the power restored as quickly as possible.

But I was okay with the situation, and because I had cultivated fulfillment inside, I was able to focus on the opportunities as opposed to the few minor inconveniences, making the score for that day Unexpected Change = 0, Spiritual Minimalism = 1.

• • •

When considering a minimalist lifestyle, you may be excited to quickly get rid of half or three-quarters of your belongings, or to follow my example and purge any item that doesn’t fit into your carry-on bag or daypack. After all, that’s what minimalism is all about, right? Minimizing your life? Creating space?

If that’s primarily how you’re interested in approaching minimalism, I’ve got some good news for you: there are dozens of sources that offer very methodical approaches to cleaning out your closets, hosting yard sales, and acquiring new items with more intention—but I am not one of them.

Instead, I offer you a less obvious but more individualized approach to minimalism, which I call “Spiritual Minimalism.”

Spiritual Minimalism is more of an inside-out approach than the conventional outside-in approach to making space. In other words, this is not the get-rid-of-my-stuff-to-be-happy approach to minimalism. Rather, this is the get-happy-inside-first-and-see-what-happens-after-that approach to minimalism.

To illustrate the difference between the two approaches, let’s run a quick thought experiment:

Suppose you only had two weeks to become a minimalist—how would you proceed? We can imagine that most people would start by frantically going through their closets and getting rid of the items that they no longer use or need.

Nothing wrong with that, but the Spiritual Minimalist would take a different approach. The Spiritual Minimalist would spend those first few days getting quiet enough to hear or feel in which direction their inner guidance was pointing them as the best path forward. Maybe it would be to clean out the garage. Or it could be to pull the plug on a friendship that is no longer serving them. Or to finally commit to an exercise routine.

Whatever the Spiritual Minimalist hears internally as a first step, no matter how illogical it may sound to the conventional minimalist, they trust it enough to start moving in that direction. A Spiritual Minimalist makes the majority of their decisions from their own inner guidance. And the best way to make sure your inner guidance is providing you with the highest quality information is to turn up the volume on what I call your “heart voice” through practices like daily meditation.

Conversely, the less connected you are to your heart voice, the more likely you are to make the majority of your decisions based on logic and external factors. This approach is not wrong. It’s just not as efficient, because your heart voice is like your very own internal GPS. And not listening to it is a lot like ignoring the GPS in your car while it’s attempting to guide you to your destination. You can still find your way using external signs, but it’s going to take you longer, and you’ll potentially make more mistakes along the way.

Your internal GPS is not just for arriving at destinations. It’s also useful for knowing what to hold onto in your life and what to let go of. And the less access you have to your internal GPS, the more likely you are to ignore your gut instincts and the red flags warning you that certain relationships, material possessions, or experiences may no longer be relevant for where you’re going.

So, while your closet may be tidy, if you’re clinging tightly to a toxic relationship because you’re afraid of being on your own for a while, then you may look like a minimalist in appearances, but you won’t feel like one emotionally or spiritually. And which is more important? Looking like a minimalist, or actually embodying the principles of minimalism?

A Spiritual Minimalist becomes a specialist in listening to their heart voice, not because they were born with some unique ability to hear it, but because they invested sufficient time and effort to cultivate a reliable connection to it. And as a result, the Spiritual Minimalist will have an easier time letting go of whatever’s been holding them back personally, professionally, or even spiritually, in order to create space for new experiences that are more aligned with their values and purpose.

This means that as a Spiritual Minimalist, you don’t need to get rid of anything.

What matters more than clearing out your closets is how much trust you have in your inner guidance and that you treat life as if there are no throwaway moments, give what you want to receive, follow your curiosity, are able to find comfort in discomfort, and embrace the freedom of choicelessness whenever possible.


Light Watkins has been an author and meditation and spiritual teacher for more than 20 years. He became nomadic in 2018 and now travels the world giving talks on happiness, mindfulness, inspiration, and meditation to sold-out audiences and he has been profiled in Time, Vogue, Forbes, People, and the New York Times. For more, visit

Excerpted from Travel Light: Spiritual Minimalism to Live a More Fulfilled Life, by Light Watkins. Sounds True, July 2023. Reprinted with permission.

Leading teachers, life-changing courses...

Your path to a happier, healthier life

Get access to our library of over 100 courses on health and nutrition, spirituality, creativity, breathwork and meditation, relationships, personal growth, sustainability, social impact and leadership.

Try Membership Free for 14 Days

Stay connected with Commune

Receive our weekly Commusings newsletter + free course announcements!