5 Key Lessons in Simplicity from Gandhi the Ultimate Minimalist

Gandhi the ultimate minimalist

Are you a minimalist – or are you a die-hard hoarder?

Do you go through life tumbling over your belongings and with your head full of things to do?

If so, then it’s time for you to learn some lessons in leading a simple life from the ultimate minimalist!

Today is the 65th anniversary of the passing of Mahatma Gandhi, one of my all-time heroes and whose life has profoundly impacted me.

Though it might be decades since he left us, his 6 Key Lessons in Life live on with us.  

It’s incredible how this seemingly simple man left such a legacy for the world and changed the lives of millions of people forever.

Though like all of us he had his faults and his personal challenges, his quest for truth and his message of non-violence is as valid and inspiring today as ever before.

As you look around the world today, can you even imagine how it could be transformed if somehow we could apply his message of “Ahimsa” – the avoidance of violence.

Gandhiji’s power and influence partly lay in his apparent simplicity and minimalist way of living. 

He practiced simplicity and minimalism in all areas of his life and he left behind a huge legacy in how to live a life of simplicity.

Today there’s a fledgling but growing movement in the world towards minimalism – and we can learn a lot from the ultimate minimalist. 

Gandhi was indeed the ultimate minimalist – a man who died a pauper but who affected the lives of many – and continues to inspire us with his message even today.

When Gandhi died, he had less than ten possessions including a watch, spectacles, sandals and eating bowl. He was a man of non-possession and didn’t even possess a house.

Gandhiji's belongings

Photo credit – Antiquorom Auctions

“You may have occasion to possess or use material things, but the secret of life lies in never missing them.” ~Gandhi

Gandhi was actually born into a prosperous family and had a very privileged upbringing, which included a prestigious education in England in the days when travel from India to England took many months by sea.

He studied Law at University College in London and he was subsequently invited to join the Bar there.

Though born into wealth, he ultimately gave it all away and through the course of his life managed to let go of material trappings. He followed a life of simplicity.

1. Accumulate Little

Gandhi believed in possessing little except the clothes he wore and some utensils for cooking and eating. He used to give away or auction any gift that was ever given to him.

It may not be possible these days for us to get down to less than ten possessions like Gandhi did, but start cutting down to bare basics. Recycle, give things away, or auction your unwanted possessions.

Take up the 100 thing challenge and see if you can get down to owning less than 100 or even less than 50 things.

We tend to spend a lot of time and energy looking after our possessions. By having fewer things to possess and look after, your life naturally becomes simpler.

To get you started, please answer my 20 questions to simplify your life forever.

2. Eat Simple Food

Gandhi never had a problem with being overweight. He followed a strict vegetarian diet and frequently cooked his own simple food, which was locally produced.

He ate this simple food from a small bowl, a reminder to eat moderately, and at the same time he ate mindfully, often accompanied by prayers.

So eat simply and moderately.

3. Dress Simply

Gandhi wore simple clothes that conveyed his message.

There is this anecdotal story of the time when Gandhi met the King of Great Britain in London and he wore his simple wrap around cloth.

A journalist asked Gandhi “Mr Gandhi, did you feel under-dressed when you met the King?”

Gandhi replied “The King was wearing enough clothes for both of us!”

Though it may not be practical to weave your own cloth and make your own clothes, you can simplify your life by dressing for comfort, not to impress.

A simple hairstyle can shorten your grooming routine. You could even go as far as Gandhi and shave your hair off!

4. Lead a Simple, Stress-free Life

Gandhi never got stressed. He meditated daily and spent hours in reflection and prayer.

Though he was a world leader and idolised by millions, he continued to lead a simple life with few distractions and commitments. He would even interrupt his political meetings to go off and play with children.

And despite all his needs being taken care off, Gandhi still insisted on doing his own simple things. He advocated self-sufficiency and simple work.

So don’t take life too seriously – remember to take time out to play.

5. Let Your Life be Your Message

Though he was a prolific writer and powerful speaker, in private Gandhi spoke very quietly and only when necessary. He was also very punchy and concise in his writing.

He preferred to let his life do the talking for him.

Be the change you want to see in the world before it’s too late.

By living a simple life, Gandhi was able to devote his life to his chosen higher purpose.  He was totally focussed on his commitment to his people and the world.

Even if you don’t wish to be another “Gandhi” your life will be much simpler and happier by following his life lessons.

If one has wealth, it does not mean that it should be thrown away and wife and children should be turned out of doors. It simply means that one must give up attachment of these things!~ Gandhi

Start living a simpler life from today – and you will release a lot of time and energy. This will give you the space to create the life you really want to live, a life that is inspired and inspiring.

So does what you do and how you live convey your message to the world?

Let your life be your message.

Editorial note:- A version of this article first appeared as a guest post written by me on Zen Habits

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  1. I remember reading this post, especially as the title stuck in my memory as very apt for the great man you refer to.

    Simple living and high thinking is the ultimate goal. In today’s lifestyle, it is such a challenge to get there. Yet, for those of us who have been around for some decades, it is not that hard because we knew life before the internet.

    I am constantly striving to minimize. I still have a long way to go, though!

    • Vidya, knowing you as well I do now, I am sure you’ll soon get to reach just the right level of minimalism for you:-)

      I like your ultimate goal – simple living and high thinking. Let us all aspire to that…

  2. Gandhi is a great lesson for us all and I love what you’ve written about this amazing man…his nobility of mind shines through. Emulating that in him even in a small way, would be a great victory.

    Thanks for this Arvind.

    Love Elle

  3. Arvind,

    I didn’t realize that Gandhi died with so few possession and a pauper. That’s so inspiration. Thanks for sharing his story of minimalism with us. It contains so many different dimensions.

    • Sandra, yes Gandhi died a “pauper” in the material sense but his rich legacy will live on forever:-)

      PS – That’s a great line to share with others – I just tweeted it!

  4. Unfortunately i’m more of a hoarder. But i’m finding it more valuable to get rid of alot of the clutter especially in my work environment.

    I certainly have a long way to go before I am at Gandis level though.


    • Ben, we all have a long way to go before we get to Gandhi’s level!

      And maybe in the modern world, it may not even be possible to aspire to his level – we can only try:-)

  5. so true… and unfortunately so different from the materialistic mentality we live at…

  6. Larry Lewis says

    I think the legacy he left is the inspiration to us all. Whatever our goals, the outcomes we seek, we must remember that our time here, and the journey we will take will leave a mark, and each of us in our own small way should try and contribute goodness to this world we live in, giving ourselves and making the difference.

    • Larry, welcome to my blog.

      I love the way you have expressed yourself so eloquently:-

      “…each of us in our own small way should try and contribute goodness to this world we live in, giving ourselves and making the difference.”

      Imagine what out world would be like if everyone did just ONE small thing each day to contribute goodness!

      And it starts with you and me…

  7. Gandhi is a cause that makes us think.

    To have only 10 possession at the end of the life is different to the world where “consume more” idea is promoted.

    Many people would suffer much of having only 10 possession.

    That is the real happiness when you can find joy life just they way it is given to you.

    • Ion, welcome to my blog!

      I loved your article about the head massaging:-).

      Unlike Gandhi, I am not sure in the modern world, any of us would survive with just 10 possessions.

      So lets start with the 100 Challenge first 🙂

  8. Thank you for this thoughtful reminder, Arvind.

    Simplicity is certainly a calming goal. One of the most satisfying things I ever did was to move to Mexico two years ago with only what I could fit in the back of a pickup truck. I gave away about 4000 books to friends and libraries, and almost all my furniture, clothes, etc to family, friends, and charities.

    At times, I still miss a few of the books, but not as many as you might think, I wish I’d brought the Grampa’s Weed Puller, because the grass has a ton of weeds! I’ve accumulated some stuff here, but nothing I couldn’t give away in a heartbeat. I’m nowhere near Gandhi’s 100 possessions goal, but it does feel better to live more simply.

    None of need to aspire to be another Gandhi, just our own best self.

    Hug, namaste,


  9. Arvind,
    I really love this post! Every now and then I’ll have a day or a week when I practice these kinds of tips. They are often the best days that I have. Love this quote, too:

    “You may have occasion to possess or use material things, but the secret of life lies in never missing them.”

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge of Gandhi.

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