(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that I’ll earn a small commission if you decide to buy using these links. Buying won’t cost you anything extra, but it’ll allow this blog to earn an income―thank you if use them! You can read my full affiliate disclosure here.)
When you’ve spent a significant chunk of your life coveting, consuming and collecting, there will come a time when the opposite has to happen.
At some point, you’ll need to confront the sheer volume of things that you own, and do something about them and your desire for more because of one or more of the following reasons:
- you’ve realized that all that stuff you own is making you feel drained instead of fulfilled and happy.
- you’ve spent just about all your money acquiring things in what you now realize has been a futile bid to impress other people, and are now all the poorer for it.
- you need to move house and as a result, have to deal with packing up everything you own or get rid of a sizable portion of your belongings.
- you’re tired of living in a messy, cluttered home and want to reclaim your living space by clearing it out.
- you’re overwhelmed with the amount of time, energy and money that maintaining everything you own’s been costing you, and want to simplify your life.
- you’re getting older and realize that one day, someone’s going to get rid of everything you own, and it may not be you.
Or if you’re like me, you unexpectedly find yourself standing in front of your broken-down fridge one hot afternoon, having to clear out all the wilted, expired excesses that seemed like a good idea when you first bought them on impulse.
The sad, soggy and slowly decaying mess that sat before me was symbolic of the other areas of my life that had been stalled and suffocating under the sheer weight of accumulation.
Something had to change: I wanted more room to breathe and focus on what really mattered to me.
And so I started with my overstuffed fridge.
WHAT IS MINIMALISM?
On the surface, minimalism can seem simple enough: Just get rid of everything you own (heads up: you don’t have to), keep just enough to fit into a backpack and ride happily into the sunset to live like a monk, free of your preoccupation with the material world.
In truth, being a minimalist is so much more nuanced than that.
“Minimalism isn’t about removing things you love. It’s about removing the things that distract you from the things you love,” says Joshua Becker, who wrote The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life and blogs at Becoming Minimalist.
In The Minimalist Home, Becker likens minimizing your life to optimizing it — reducing the number of things you own until you get to a number that’s right for you and the people you share your life with.
This means that if you want all your worldly possessions to fit into a back-pack, great. But if, on the other hand, being a minimalist means keeping your overall expenses low so you can splurge on traveling, that’s great too.
WHY BECOME A MINIMALIST?
“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”Tyler Durden, Fight Club
At one point in my life, I was living the exact consumption-driven nightmare Tyler Durden rails against in Fight Club — there was never enough time or money spent to keep up with the Joneses, Smiths and Lees in my small, but appearance-obsessed orbit.
But cleaning out my fridge, and then my wardrobe and keeping them clutter-free felt liberating.
All of a sudden, I had fewer things to weigh me down and worry about, and it made me want to simplify the other areas of my life too.
Over time, the benefits of taking the minimalist path became obvious:
- More time: The less time I spent fantasizing about that new thing I had to have and shopping for it, the more time I had to spend on things that were more important to me, like spending time with family and friends, or on meaningful projects.
- More money: Not constantly shopping for things I wanted but didn’t need meant more cash saved for investments and emergencies, giving me a greater sense of financial security.
- Less stress: The more things I had, the more space they took up in my consciousness they took up. Minimizing the non-essentials freed up the need to think about maintenance and storage, which I didn’t care for.
- More focus: Having fewer things to devote my energy to led to greater mental clarity and subsequently, the focus I needed to commit to my priorities.
- Less decision fatigue: Simplifying my options in key areas of my home like the kitchen and wardrobe sped up my ability to make decisions so I could move on and focus on other things.
Now think about the areas of your life that feel the heaviest and most cluttered: How would becoming a minimalist change things for you?
MINIMALISM MISTAKES TO AVOID
If you’ve been dying to declutter your life, it can be tempting to jump right in, right now, without a plan or the right intention.
Now’s the perfect time to stop and take a step back — at least for now — to consider (and side-step) the biggest mistakes beginner minimalists tend to make:
GOING ON ONE LAST SHOPPING SPREE
Just like a yo-yo dieter who’s tempted to go on one last binge before they start their new eating plan tomorrow, you may be thinking: “Why not splurge one more time? I won’t be shopping for a long time after this anyway”.
Except that there will always be ‘”few more things” to get, so you promise yourself that you’ll stop buying once your perfect, all-new capsule wardrobe for every season is complete, or when your pantry’s been stocked up to last you the next 6 months.
Rather than procrastinating, try making this key minimalism habit work for you: Start by making a change now, and using what you already have instead of automatically assuming that you need a replacement or upgrade.
NOT DECLUTTERING THE RIGHT WAY
Starting a major decluttering operation without a plan can leave you feeling confused, overwhelmed and stuck.
This is why Marie Kondo, the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way To Banish Clutter Forever, advocates going about decluttering your belongings in bulk, one category at a time, and without interference from family members or friends who live with you.
Her recommendation: Sort through your clothing, books, papers, and miscellaneous items, followed by sentimental items like photos and letters in that order, keeping the items ‘spark joy’, and discarding the ones that don’t.
This systematic approach is meant to keep you from giving into sudden changes of heart or being convinced by someone else to keep items that you want to get rid of.
MAKING IT ALL ABOUT MATERIAL THINGS
Becoming a minimalist isn’t just about decluttering your stuff.
In fact, it isn’t necessarily about living with as few things as possible — it’s a mindset that’s meant to help you navigate through life with as few unwanted distractions as possible.
This way of living then frees up the time, energy and money you need to focus on what truly matters most to you.
Without knowing why you want to be a minimalist, you won’t know which aspects of your life needs simplifying beyond your belongings.
LETTING JUDGEMENT GET IN THE WAY
Confronting the areas of your life where it’s heavy, cloudy and cluttered can be difficult.
Coming face-to-face with everything you’ve accumulated and the money you’ve spent on things you’ve never used can bring up feelings of guilt, shame and self-judgment.
And once you’ve ‘become’ a minimalist, there’s the possibility that you’ll find yourself judging others who aren’t on the same path as you.
This judgment can be particularly intense with family and close friends who aren’t minimalists.
Over the years, I’ve found that the best way to get the most joy and meaning out of my minimalism journey is to focus on myself.
After all, I have no control over other people’s beliefs, thoughts and actions, but I can take charge of my own.
HOW TO GET STARTED WITH MINIMALISM
The path to becoming a minimalist isn’t always a clear or easy one, but the following tips can help you get started.
1. GET CLEAR ON YOUR PURPOSE
Tired of feeling like your things are owning you instead of the other way around? Write that down.
Want to free up more time and cash to spend with friends and family instead of stuff? Get that down in black and white too.
No reason is too trivial to be acknowledged.
Gaining clarity on why you want to become a minimalist can give you the momentum you need to put one foot in front of the other, and strengthen your resolve when you’re tempted to give in to moments of weakness or give up when things get difficult.
2. CONSIDER EVERY AREA OF YOUR LIFE
The distractions that are keeping you from living a full, meaningful life on your terms come in many different forms, not just an overstuffed closet or cluttered desk.
To create more space physically, mentally and emotionally, you’ll need to approach your minimalism journey with a wide-angle lens.
3. START WITH THE EASY STUFF
For most folks, this means beginning their minimalism journey by decluttering specific areas of their homes, like their work desk, pantry or wardrobe.
Starting with the areas of least resistance will help build the confidence you need to take on the more challenging areas of your life, like your finances, relationships and work.
4. KEEP THE ESSENTIALS, GET RID OF THE REST
The rule of thumb when you’re in the throes of decluttering is this: If you’ve not been using it, lose it, and lose it quick before you change your mind.
This will save you from moving it from one part of your home to another because you’ve succumbed to ‘someday-itis’ (the condition where you feel an overwhelming urge to keep things you haven’t used for a long time because you might need it someday).
5. LIMIT NON-ESSENTIALS TO MEANINGFUL ITEMS
When you’re feeling conflicted about getting rid of or buying a non-everyday item, one way to resolve your internal conflict is to figure out if it adds meaning to your life.
If it brings you joy and fulfillment or makes your life better in some way, that’s a clear sign that it belongs in your life.
If it doesn’t, let it go.
6. MAKE RULES THAT WORK FOR YOU
Just like your diet, there’s no one-size-fits-all minimalism ‘formula’ that works for everyone — the path to a simpler life is just too personal for there to be one.
The one and only way to be a successful minimalist is to make your own rules: What’s important to you, and what excesses do you need to release from your life to make the important stuff a priority?
7. ASK YOURSELF HARD QUESTIONS
Before you can build the foundation that your minimalism practice will stand on, you’ll need to do plenty of digging by asking yourself some hard questions.
Think of the excavation process this way: If you don’t know what you want your minimalist life to look like, how will you know what to build it with (and without)?
8. BECOME A MINIMALIST AT YOUR OWN PACE
Just like there are no rules when it comes to how to be a minimalist, there’s no ‘perfect timeline’ for how long it should take you to get there.
It can take anything from days or months to a lifetime, depending on how much simplifying you have to do. You might even want to take a breather if something feels particularly challenging or painful to face.
For example, simplifying my wardrobe took about a week, but doing the same for my finances and relationships will probably take years to decades because it’s a much more complex and delicate process.
For me, working towards a simple life will likely be a lifelong work-in-progress, and I’m OK with that.
9. AVOID THE DAILY TIDYING TRAP
Tidy a little bit every day, and you’ll be tidying forever, says Kondo in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying.
“Changing lifestyle habits acquired over a span of many years is often extremely difficult. If you have never succeeded in staying tidy to date, then you will find it next to impossible to develop the habit of tidying a little at a time,” she writes.
The secret to making lasting change is to tidy your space in one go to create a result that’s so dramatic that it’ll bring up powerful emotions about the change you want, which will subsequently shift your mindset.
“This approach is the key to preventing rebound,” she says.
10. RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO BUY ON IMPULSE
I still get tempted to shop for fun from time to time, and this temptation usually comes about when I see ads for things that I’ve had my eye on, but don’t need.
The most effective way to curb my propensity to buy is to keep those ads out of my digital feeds.
This means unsubscribing from marketing emails, using ad blockers on my web browser, and turning off tracking on the apps I use.
When it comes to minimizing your impulse shopping, it truly is a case of out of sight, out of mind.
Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways To Slow Down And Enjoy The Things That Really Matter by Elaine St. James I got my hands on this treasure over 15 years ago, way before simple living and minimalism became popular, and it was the first resource that introduced me to practical, everyday steps I could take to ‘un-complicate’ my life. I didn’t have enough life experience then to ‘get’ everything that St. James presents in this book, but when I revisit the pages of Simplify Your Life now, they make perfect sense. If you’re just starting out in your simple living journey and are exploring your possibilities, I highly recommend giving this a read first. Get your copy here.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way To Banish Clutter Forever by Marie Kondo Being able to pay attention to the little things in your life starts with decluttering — not the easiest thing to do if your living (or even work) space is disorganised and drowning in stuff. This is my bible as far as tidying up my space and keeping it that way goes. Get your copy here.
The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life by Joshua Becker with Eric Stanford In this detailed home decluttering guide, Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist walks you through the mental, emotional, physical and financial toll our desire for more ‘stuff’ has been taking on us, how minimalism at home can set you free, and how to go about reclaim your space using what he calls The Becker Method. Get your copy here.
Audible Premium Plus Want to learn more about minimalism but don’t want to clutter your home with more physical books? Try listening to them instead. Get A FREE 1-month Audible Premium Plus membership, which gives you access to the entire Audible catalog of audiobooks, podcasts and Audible Originals series, in addition to a free audiobook of your choice each month. Sign up for your free month here.
START SIMPLIFYING YOUR LIFE.
Having trouble leaving behind the clutter, excess and drama that’s making you feel suffocated? Start shedding the stuff that’s holding you down along with everything that’s not contributing to your health, wealth and happiness with my FREE Simple Living Guide. Get your copy of this guide-and-workbook-in-one here.