The Intersection of Minimalism and Running a Successful Online Business

Where business and pleasure mix in the life of an entrepreneur …

Years ago Courtney Carver was working a day job where she felt unsatisfied and was putting in too many hours. It was affecting her life at home as well as her health.

She decided to make some intentional decisions with her life — she turned to the fundamentals of minimalism, removed the unnecessary, and got down to business.

In this 21-minute episode Courtney Carver and I discuss:

  • The story behind her popular website Be More With Less
  • How authenticity in business helps you connect quickly to the right people
  • The evolution of the Project 333 movement
  • How she built a business around a passion play
  • Minimalism and how it’s really just a personal mindset

The Show Notes

The Intersection of Minimalism and Running a Successful Online Business

Brian Gardner: Okay, so let’s turn a corner. That’s a pretty good indication.

Courtney Carver: And you’re like, “In other news …”

Brian Gardner: Hey, everyone, welcome to the No Sidebar podcast. I am your host, Brian Gardner, and I’m here to discuss the struggles around being and becoming a creative entrepreneur. Together, we’ll identify what stands in the way of you building and growing your online business.

No Sidebar is brought to you by the Rainmaker Platform, a complete website solution for writers, designers, podcasters, and other online entrepreneurs. Find out more, and take a free 14-day test drive at Rainmaker.FM/Platform.

You might be noticing a trend around No Sidebar. Simple, intentional, clutter-free — these are words that are used to describe a lot of what we do and so on. The ideology applies to re-brand of the website that we recently went through, but it also carries out to the types of people we like to have here on the show.

Today’s guest is a good friend of mine, someone who, like Joshua Becker, I had the very distinct pleasure of working with on their own site design. She’s the creator of the website called Be More with Less and a minimalist fashion movement called Project 333 and was recently seen here in Chicago on WGN TV. Please welcome my friend, Courtney Carver. Courtney how are you doing today?

Courtney Carver: Hi, Brian. I’m great. Thanks for having me today.

Brian Gardner: Yeah, it’s so good to have you on the show. I know we have a lot in common, and we’ve talked many times on Skype. I felt like it was time to bring you on this show. There’s lots of your life that I want to talk about, so without going too fast, I want to get right into it.

Courtney Carver: Yeah, let’s jump in.

The Story behind Her Popular Website ‘Be More with Less’

Brian Gardner: So Be More with Less, this is your blog. It’s something you started, which is about simplifying life and ‘really living.’ Beyond that, it’s grown into a thriving community of like-minded folks. Can you tell us how that came about and a little bit behind the story there?

Courtney Carver: Yes, I started the blog in 2010, May of 2010, while I was working full-time in advertising sales, ironically enough. Four years prior to that I had been diagnosed with MS after many of years, decades even, of a really stressful, busy lifestyle that probably didn’t look very different from many other people. There was information coming from everywhere, too many things to do. I would work through feeling sick, and I felt like I had to keep pushing and pushing and going and going and trying to make ends meet.

While that MS diagnosis wasn’t my first wake-up call, it was the one that stopped me in my tracks and gave me permission to evaluate what was happening. Why had I created the life that I did, and how could I make it different and better? How could I live well in the face of chronic illness?

That was really my catalyst for simplifying, and the blog is that story and an extension of that.

Brian Gardner: It’s interesting that things, diagnoses, deaths, whatever — not that everyone has those depths of these types of things — but it seems like the story of a minimalist or someone who’s gone out to intentionally to live more simply, there’s some story or nugget or something that says, “Hey, this was my wake-up moment. My wife threatened to leave me because I was working too much.”

In your case it was a health issue. But I’m pretty sure that behind the scenes of every person that is going through this there is that ‘ah-ha’ moment where they realize enough is enough. “I’ve let this go too far. I’ve spent too much. I’ve focused too much on the wrong side of things.” It’s really great, from your perspective, to come in and tell your story, because it’s as authentic as it gets. This is your story that you’re telling. There’s nothing that anybody can say against that.

Obviously, it resonates with so many people because you’ve built a very successful blog. You’ve built a community, probably as a by-product of that. My guess is that you didn’t go out and say, “I’m going to go out and build a community of like-minded folks.” It just happened as a result of you and your authentic story. Is that right?

How Authenticity in Business Helps You Connect Quickly to the Right People

Courtney Carver: A little bit. I really was excited to connect with other people who were going through a similar journey. While the catalyst of that journey may look very different, I’ve learned so much from the people that I’ve connected with through my blog and through other people’s blogs and social media. It’s just a really small world in the big Internet world when you really start talking about what matters to you. I think that’s a surefire way to connect quickly to the right people. When I say that, I just mean the people that resonate with your story and that you can learn from and grow with.

Brian Gardner: The thing I like about what you just said is that it was you learning from the people, rather than them learning from you. After all, this is your property, your web property. The types of communities that thrive are the ones that feel very symbiotic in that you tell your story, and they resonate. But it goes back and forth. There’s not a teacher-student type of thing.

For me, No Sidebar is becoming that type of community and environment, too. As much as I’m sharing what I’ve gone through from a design standpoint, a life standpoint, and the changes I’ve decided to make. I hope that resonates with other people, but I hope to learn from other people. You’re a great example of that type of relationship where I learn from you and what you’ve gone through. We’re like-minded, and we have mutual friends like Joshua Becker and others in that space, and I really do hope that it’s a lot of us learning from each other rather than becoming us trying to teach everybody our way.

Courtney Carver: It has to be that way, for me especially, because I obviously didn’t know what I was doing up until that point. I was kind of focused on just getting by and figuring it out as I went. Now, to have such great connection information and things to consider and that space to consider those things, it feels like this enormous blessing to have the blog, which is my business, but it’s also my life. I’m so grateful for all of it. Sometimes I feel like it might sound a little trite, but it really is my heart.

Brian Gardner: That type of authenticity really shines through. From people that I’ve seen respond to comments on your blog and stuff like that, I definitely think your heart conveys the message to other people, and it’s received really well.

The Evolution of the Project 333 Movement

Brian Gardner: Let’s talk about Project 333 a little bit, a minimalist fashion challenge that you created which invites others to dress in 33 items or less for three months. Is that sort of an evolution of Be More with Less? In other words, you had the blog. It was kind of blanket ‘simple living,’ but this was a very specific call to action. Something very tangible. I know in the context of ‘live a simple life,’ sometimes it’s hard to say, “That’s great, but where do I start with that? Give me something practical or some sort of tangible direction.” Project 333 is exactly that.

Courtney Carver: Yes, and my simplicity journey has evolved very slowly and very gently over time. I felt like I needed some type of experiment or challenge to kick-start things. It started as a blog post on Be More with Less to announce my personal challenge of dressing with 33 items or less and to invite people to join in if they didn’t think it was completely crazy or that I was completely crazy. It took on this life of its own. It’s been growing ever since as a standalone thing. There are a lot of people that know about Project 333 that have no idea about Be More with Less.

Brian Gardner: So in that regard, indirectly — I know that’s not what you intended — but it kind of serves as a lead-gen, and probably, it goes both ways, where Be More With Less introduces people to Project 333 and vice versa. It’s kind of a unique way to bring people in on both sides of the fence.

Courtney Carver: Yeah, it works like that in some cases, I think, when they discover the benefits of dressing with less, and they see that there’s an opportunity to live with less in other areas of their home. They take that next step and vice versa. Some people have been gently simplifying, and they see this as an opportunity to see a big difference quickly.

Brian Gardner: The really cool thing about this is — I’m going to call this kind of the ‘trinity’ of your online life — there’s clearly interest in the niche of minimalism and simple living and all that. You’ve built a big following, with lots of fans and people spreading the word and whatnot.

How She Built a Business around a Passion Play

Brian Gardner: This brings me over to the third property you have right now, which is I suppose we could call this the professional business side of the business that you’ve created, freelancing. What you’ve done is you’ve shared your story, built an audience. You’ve kind of become the authoritative figure in the space.

Now, you have the luxury to build a business around what’s started kind of a passion play, storytelling thing to really changing other people’s lives who need help and need some guidance in how that can work for their life. Let’s talk about the freelance side of this a little bit.

Courtney Carver: It’s interesting that you bring that up, because I have a lot of changes in mind for what that’s going to look like. Right now, is sort of my virtual headquarters and where I’ve historically talked about the business side of things and how to enjoy your work and thrive as a creative entrepreneur. I’ve had the great fortune of working with people on a one-on-one coaching level and also within some larger workshop events.

However, I’m looking at changing a lot of those things, really to simplify, believe it or not. It’s something I am passionate about, so I want to simplify what I offer and how I offer it and make it more of a seamless experience for people.

Brian Gardner: Its funny how this is sort of the second iteration of me personally working with a simple person and having them come to me and say, “I have a number of web properties, which ironically are about simple living in various forms, and I want to consolidate that.”

Tsh Oxenreider — it was probably two years ago, we connected about taking all of her simple sites, of which there were five or six at the time. She said, “This are all about simple, but now I’ve got six websites that I’ve got to manage, and we need to consolidate”. She and I had a number of great conversations around that. You and I have had at least two or three conversations very specifically about three web properties: how can they come together? Where does it make sense? Where does it overlap?

A lot of it comes down to being intentional. When we start to build a business, things start to accumulate, not necessarily in a tangible way, just in things we want to offer and things we want to write about. It kind of gets to a point where we’re like, “Okay, now I’ve got all these going on. I can see that my schedule is becoming more and more hours a week, and it’s great because I love this.”

But, there needs to be an efficiency factor where you have to come back and have that Jerry McGuire fewer-clients moment, where you realize, “I need to focus very intentionally on some very specific things now. Otherwise, I run inefficiently, and I’m not satisfied,” and so on.

It’s funny you mentioned the changes — and we can cut this out of the show if you decide not to — but this was number six on my question list, which was “Can we talk about that?” Because I think a lot of business entrepreneurial types out there might gain some knowledge and wisdom with the psychology behind consolidating ideas and concepts within a business.

Courtney Carver: If it’s helpful information, I’m happy to share what I’m thinking. After five years of any business, especially a solopreneur business, I think that there’s a natural evolution where things are changing. I like to be very mindful about how I spend my time, and am I engaged in the things that I love and I feel are helpful and useful, and ways that I can be of better service or more service with not more necessarily time investment, because I left that world. I left a very stressful career, working all the time, not focused on my family, not focused on my health. Now that self-care and love of spending time with people I love — I don’t know if that made a lot of sense — those are my priorities. Then, if I can have work that fuels that, all the better.

To be able to make these changes and see them more clearly now that I’ve been in the business for a little while, it’s again, sort of natural. Things change, and I want things to evolve as they should and not stand still because things are working. They are — they’re working fine — but I think they could work better.

I don’t know if it’s going to look like all three sites coming together as one. As a matter of fact, I don’t think it is. I have some ideas on how to streamline things, and I’m looking forward to your opinion, but I’m not ready to share all the details because I don’t know if it’s the right answer yet.

Brian Gardner: These are the things we will talk about after the call.

Courtney Carver: Perfect.

Brian Gardner: One of the things you just talked about was the intentional living of what you’re going through, and you live out what you talk about. It’s not like you live in a cluttered city, and you talk about living life a certain way. You actually do it.

Let me ask you this is kind of a fun question: you post a lot of pictures on your site Be More with Less with quotes on them. This is a hunch I have — most of those shots were taken by you, then, that you use for your own site. Is that right?

Courtney Carver: I’d say any images from the past three years, maybe four years, are 100 percent mine, yeah.

Brian Gardner: There are many sites out there, like Unsplash, where you can get stock photography of pretty mountains or whatever. What I love about that is these are the shots that I see in your Instagram feed or on Twitter or Facebook. These are the ones you use on your own site. Talk about eating your own dog food.

Courtney Carver: Well, it’s pretty great because I live in Utah, and I think the majority of the shots are from the state that I live in, my own back yard. I love that even though I live in a city, in five minutes, I can be off the beaten path or in the mountains. If I travel, I try to capture those shots and really appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. I think everyone has that in their own back yard to some extent. There are some beautiful things to see if we slow down and take a look.

Brian Gardner: There’s a take-home message right there, absolutely, without a doubt. What I will tell you is that among the thousands of reasons that I do like you, there is one reason I don’t. And that is that you live in Utah, and you have access to the mountains. I’ve visited Park City a number of times. I have friends that live up there. I love flying into Salt Lake and taking the 10- or 15-minute drive — literally what it feels like — to get up to Park City. Anytime you post photos of hiking, walking, mountains, and snow, I dislike you.

Courtney Carver: Okay, that’s fair. Although I was in Chicago in your back yard just recently, and it’s gorgeous. I did an architectural boat tour, and the cityscape is just phenomenal there.

Minimalism and How It’s Really Just a Personal Mindset

Brian Gardner: It is interesting that in the context of downtown Chicago — and this is to your point that no matter where you are, you can stop, and more or less freeze time and find something very simple about what you’re doing. Even in Chicago, you can be going down an architectural boat ride, and it seems like all of the people and the cars and all of the traffic and all that is on the sidelines of where you are. Floating down a river is probably not quite as noisy as people would think. You’re just looking, and you’re experiencing this simple experience, and that’s just another challenge to anybody. You can be busy in the mountains and be not-busy in the city.

This is what I’ve felt about minimalism all along. It’s kind of a personal mindset. It really isn’t a set parameter of “This is what minimalism is.” I just recently wrote, yesterday, published a little bit of my prerogative on what minimalism is and why that type of lifestyle is a great way to live. It all comes back to intentionality and what works for each person.

Courtney Carver: That’s true, but what I love about it is that it does start, or at least my journey started, from the outside. It really was about the easy stuff, which wasn’t changing my mind. It was changing my surroundings. It was about decluttering and clearing space on the outside so I had time to clear the space on the inside. Time and motivation.

Brian Gardner: I think it does look different for each person, but overall — just like you said — the outside coming in, inside coming out. Decluttering to free your mind, or free your mind to declutter. All of it is a more satisfying way to live.

All of us go through seasons. I’ll go through six months where it’s very easy for me to remove all of that, and then maybe something with work comes up, and we’re hustling and kind of go through a season. I miss that simple living and non-stress type of thing, so I’ll kind of go back. It ebbs and flows.

I don’t think there’s necessarily a wrong way to define minimalism for different people. I think it’s kind of ‘different strokes for different folks,’ but it’s all the same road to somewhere, right?

Courtney Carver: Absolutely, and that just reminded me it really never is about, at least, lasting simplicity. It’s not because we want a clean countertop or clean bookshelves. It’s always something more, like ‘ease’ or ‘peace’ or ‘love’ or ‘health.’ Dave Bruno, the author of the 100 Thing Challenge, said one of my favorite quotes, and I’m probably going to mess it up. It said something like, “When we crave simplicity, we aren’t after a simpler life. We’re after life.” It just sums it up perfectly that we aren’t necessarily after this clean, orderly, clutter-free life. We’re after life and discovering what means most to us in our lives.

Brian Gardner: That is a brilliant way to end the show. I love that, and I will look that quote up, and I will put that in the show notes, by the way. So thank you for pointing that out.

In the spirit of No Sidebar, we’re going to cut the show off, because Courtney talked about a lot of great things. I’d rather have you check out her sites,, and From each of those, you can admire the wonderful and brilliant site design she has from yours truly. Speaking of that, maybe we’ll have you back on in another show because I did want to talk about that on this one, but we can figure that out at some point.

Courtney, thanks again for being on the show. Audience, thanks again for tuning in.

If you like what you’re hearing here on the podcast, the best way to support the show is to leave a rating and/or comment over on iTunes. Want more? Check out, and sign up for our free weekly newsletter. Each week, we curate the very best and most interesting articles when it comes to designing a simple life at work, at home, and in the soul.

Until next week, this has been Brian Gardner. Thank you so much for listening.