Commitment Devices for Minimalism and Simple Living

One way to stay on track with your goals is to use commitment devices – mind tricks to hold yourself accountable. These can be a powerful way to help keep yourself on track if used correctly, but can make life miserable if misused.

Written by Adam on 2018-02-15. adamfortuna, Blog, Goals, Minimalism, personal. 2 comments. Find out how I make money.

I’ve always liked commitment devices. The idea behind them is simple: Something that helps you achieve goals you already set out for yourself by setting up a system that helps hold yourself accountable. These can be public or personal, but I’ve always found them helpful after the fact – even if while I was working I slightly regretted their use.

Stay on the path

Commitment device might sound like a bit of an extreme word for these. These could also be thought of as supportive actions, or just good planning. Some examples of commitment devices would be:

  • Publicly announcing your goals. (Public)
  • Saying you’ll bike to work, then selling your car. (Physical)
  • Shaming yourself if you miss it. (Shame)
  • Setting an automatic deposit to a charity if you miss commitment. (Penalty)
  • Allowing a purchase of a treat if you complete your goal (Reward)

These 5 go back to a few core areas of:

Public Commitment

Announcing goals to friends, on social media, on a blog, or anywhere else people can see it would be an example of a public commitment. Every month, I post about my goals for the coming 30ish days which is a commitment device that helps hold me accountable to some extent. Even if I don’t hit every goal, I have no doubt this helps.

What would something like this look like for a simple lifestyle, or for minimalism? While that will greatly depend on what you’re committing to, there are a few ones I really like:

  • Talk to people about things you’re passionate about. If you’re really into Marie Kando, chat with others about what you’re doing. If you’re excited to try making your own detergent, or barbecue sauce, share that excitement.
  • Let people know what you’re trying to do. If you have a goal in mind to cut out all clothes you don’t wear, post a before photo of your closet and mention the task ahead of you. Just that nudge by others can help a daunting task seem more approachable.
  • Join a group with similar goals and share your commitments.

Aside from my blog commitments, I constantly bring up things I’m trying. I recently joined a Mastermind group with a few other bloggers, and that’s also been helpful in helping keep each other accountable by discussing what we hope to accomplish.

Physical Commitment

It’s possible to put yourself into a commitment where the only way to break it is to undergo a major change. The example above about selling your car to bike to work would be an example of this. The decision to break the “bike to work” commitment is now going to take a bunch of steps to break.

These types of commitment devices should not be used lightly. Whenever I want to try a physical commitment, I tend to do a pilot program for a little while first. Before we moved into our current apartment (less than half the size of our previous house), we decided to rent a similar unit for a month. We loved it so much the decision to downsize was easy.

Here are a few other physical commitment devices:

  • Move to a smaller house or apartment. You’ll require less and be unable to fill the space with the clutter possible in a larger house.
  • Sell your car to commit to biking and taking public transit to travel.
  • Box up and tape shut everything in your house you want to give away. If I don’t absolutely need to open the boxes, don’t.
  • I’m going to keep all possessions I want to get rid of in my living room until I go through them.

Shame Commitment

This is without a doubt my least favorite. It’s one I haven’t used (and don’t plan to), but I’ve heard some people have success with it. First off, there are multiple types of shame and blameendogenous shame and exogenous shame.

Endogenous shame is when the shame is directly related to decisions you’ve made that directly related to the shameful experience.

Exogenous shame is when you feel shame that is unrelated to the experience that is based on voluntary behavior.

For example (from my understanding), if you’re trying to lose weight and you sign up for a site that will email out your “before” pictures to all your friends if you fail, that might set you up to feel endogenous shame, since it is directly related to the decisions you’re making to lose weight.

If, on the other hand, you’re trying to lose weight and you sign up to have a donation made to a political foe if you miss your goals, that would be exogenous shame, since it’s unrelated to goals you’ve set out for yourself.

There have been some long research papers written about this subject (of which I really just scratched the surface) that have concluded that endogenous same (relating the shame to the goal) impacts motivation much more.

Penalty Commitment

Less appealing is committing to penalize yourself if you do not achieve your goal.

  • Setting an automatic deposit to a charity if you miss commitment
  • If I don’t complete this, I won’t do something I really want

These seem similar to exogenous shame – unrelated to the goals you’re trying to complete. If you did penalize yourself with something related to the goals you’re setting, then that seems more like setting yourself up for failure.

Reward Commitment

The carrot at the end of the stick approach. I tend to eat the carrot whenever I’m hungry, but delaying that gratification in and positioning it at a reward can help accomplish to accomplish more goals and feel more satisfaction in the reward.

  • If I clear out everything in a specific room, we’ll go out for a date night dinner.
  • Once I’m done organizing this folder of documents, I’ll play some video games.
  • If I

I’ve found relying on this one can be a slippery slope, where I don’t want to do anything unless I know there’s going to be a reward at the end of the line. Using is sparingly to increase motivation when I’m down can be helpful in getting out of a rut though.

What I like about this one is the combination of something that taxes self-control with something that doesn’t. By pairing them together, it feels like balance it introduced.

You can even take this a step further and make your rewards something that is living for today. Rather than conceptual candy as a reward (TV, food), what about making the reward something you’ve been saying you want to do?

  • Go for a run
  • Go shopping for ingredients and cook a new dish
  • Go for a hike outside
  • Write in a journal or blog

By positioning things that would otherwise be tasks of their own as a reward, I’m trying to change my personal perception of how I think about those. We’ll see how it works!

Do you use any commitment devices? Either formally, or informally?


Hi, I'm Adam! I help millennials invest to reach financial independence sooner than they ever thought possible. Want to see what you could do to reach FI sooner? You're in the right place!


Why not add to the conversation below? Your voice is welcome!

This is a good outline. I’ve never thought of it that much and I just go with what works for me. That’s mostly #1 and #2. Publicly committing to a goal is really useful. I keep track of my progress better and I feel more driven. Physically changing something is good too. It helps build good habits.
I haven’t used the last 3 much.

I really like your quarterly progress chart. I’m trying something similar this year, but at a month to month level.

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