I don’t remember exactly how it all began, but about three years ago my husband and I decided to simplify and downsize our lives in every way we could. Somewhere along the line a shift had occurred; we no longer desired a bigger house, nicer cars, more clothes or just more stuff in general. Having both grown up conditioned to consume and collect material items, it was no surprise that our home had become cluttered with unnecessary items and miscellaneous junk that just kept on accumulating in random drawers and closets. I suddenly found myself asking why we even had so much stuff in the first place.
When the discussion of moving came up we quickly decided downsizing was the direction we wanted to go, and we jumped right in! We had a dumpster delivered, items posted for sale online, and bags full of clothes, kitchen supplies, shoes, and books to be donated. Interestingly, as we parted with more and more of our belongings, our desire to simplify only grew stronger. The simplification soon went beyond just the physical items themselves and evolved into a way of living where we owned less, ate simply, reduced expenses, minimized food waste, and simplified cleaning products and supplies. We canceled our TV service and opted for a Netflix subscription only. Without much effort at all we reduced our alcohol consumption significantly and started eating out less (and we felt better as a result!) We were trading things for experiences and learning in the process what truly mattered to us in life.
Eventually, we secured a contract on a house less than half the size of the one we were living in, and the months spent cleaning out and re-organizing suddenly proved to not be enough. The master bedroom in the house we chose to buy had a very small closet and only enough room for one dresser. We managed to downsize our clothing collection enough to fit both of our wardrobes into one tiny closet and one large dresser. We kept going, and in the end we sold and donated two couches, a few accent tables, a shelving unit, a huge area rug, a desk, an office chair and two bed sets. We somehow found more tools, decorations, glasses, bowls, plates and silverware, etc we were comfortable parting with. Any items we had multiple of were reduced down to whichever single item was the newest or of the highest quality. Another heavy donation pick-up and a garage sale later a sense of freedom started to set in. The sight of empty closets and drawers was oddly satisfying. Since settling into our new home in June 2016, we have scheduled donation pick-ups every other month as we continued to pass on even more furniture, more clothes, and more kitchen items.
Of course we have purchased some new clothes and new items for the house along the way, but these items were chosen mindfully and with a focus on quality and durability. Minimizing isn’t the same as being cheap. It’s actually quite the opposite. We approach our purchases with a different mindset these days, with a focus on quality over quantity and repairs over replacements. Buying cheap items may feel like you’re saving money initially, but when you have to keep constantly replacing your junk with new junk it adds up quickly, and you’re left with the stress of having to shop and buy new junk over and over again. When it comes to clothes I no longer purchase whatever is cheap, because cheap usually means it was cheaply made or in ways that are unethical or unsustainable. It took a while to get here, but getting dressed in the morning is infinitely less stressful, and now I very much enjoy having a smaller wardrobe of high-quality clothing that fits me well.
All of this comes down to few simple questions:
How much do I really need?
Do my possessions and expenses tie me down or give me freedom?
Does my consumption hold me back from pursuing my dreams?
These are personal questions, and the answers will differ for everyone depending on their current situation and unique personal values. Each person’s style of living with less does (and should) look much different than another’s. With that being said, I’ve broken down our minimalist adventure (which is still on-going) into a few simple steps that have worked beautifully for us. Like I said, some of them may not be relevant or realistic to your situation, or you may not be quite ready to dive right in and have a dumpster dropped off in your driveway (and that’s okay, too!)
Here’s what has worked for us. If you are interested in minimalist living but don’t know where to start, this is for you!
10 STEPS TOWARDS PRACTICAL MINIMALISM & SIMPLICITY
1. List Your Priorities
When it comes to minimizing you can’t do everything all at once. Be very honest with yourself; which area of your life feels the most cluttered or chaotic? Do you have clothes overflowing out of your closet? Do you own 100 pens and pencils, half of which don’t work? Do you have 20 coffee mugs? Do you have a pantry half-full with expired food? Maybe you have stacks of paperwork that you haven’t sorted through in months (or years). Maybe it’s your schedule that needs simplifying. Maybe you eat out or buy coffee more than you’d like to admit.
Make a list of the things that would be easiest and most beneficial for you to simplify first, and keep it handy so you can look back on it and make changes if needed. Plus, if you’re like me, it feels good to cross things off your lists. :)
2. Set a Goal
Why do you want to simplify? Maybe you want to move in the next few years and want to start fresh. Maybe you’re sick of having clothes you never wear taking up space in your closet. Maybe you’re like me and get frustrated when you have to dig through a dozen different lids and containers in order to find one compatible pair. Your goal can be as simple as reducing stress or as big as eliminating all of your debt. Maybe your dream is to travel and you want to cut out the things that are weighing you down.
Big or small, set a clear goal and let it guide you.
3. Start Small & Complete the Task
Start with the areas that you identified as priorities above. If you set out to clean out your pantry, for example, dedicate a time to do it and maybe even rally up some helpers. Go in with the mindset of completing your task so that you can feel a sense of accomplishment when you are finished. This will also build your confidence and fuel your motivation to move on to some bigger projects. Try your best not to stop half-way through. If your priority was to reduce a particular expense your focus should be on consistency. Create commitments and stick to them, starting small and working your way up.
4. Six Month Rule
This applies to your stuff. Even if you don’t think you have “stuff problem” you can find value in this practice. Do a quick mental inventory of each room, and you’ll quickly spot items that you haven’t touched in years or that you keep around only because you think may use them some day (but know you actually won’t). Maybe you start asking yourself if all those little decorations around the house really add significant value to your life or if they're just collecting dust.
At first you will find plenty of things you are comfortable with getting ridding of, but eventually you’ll start to dig up items you have deemed as sentimental or of possible use in future. Be easy on yourself when it comes to these sensitive items. If you’re on the fence about something keep it for another 6 months and come back to it. You may find that a few months down the line you are ready to let those items go as well. I like to take pictures of these items so that I have a digital version, which makes it easier for me to let go of the physical object. The more you get rid of, the easier it gets. The 6 Month Rule helps you avoid accumulating more stuff and allows you to get a better sense of how much you really have and how much you really need.
5. Take One, Leave One
For me, this applies to clothes. If I purchase a new shirt I pick one out to donate. Again, this helps you avoid accumulation. Remember though that the point of minimizing is to live minimally, so be conscious and selective with your purchases. When in doubt, ask yourself, “does this/will this add value to my life?”
This goes for everything, and I mentioned it a little above. The kitchen seems to be the worst when it comes to multiples. Again, do a mental inventory and ask yourself if you really need all those plates, cups, mugs, pots, containers, silverware, etc. I guarantee most of us could empty out enough stuff to supply any entire family in need of kitchen supplies!
7. Save Energy & Minimize Waste
Check out your energy and water bills, and then commit to be as efficient as possible. That doesn’t mean you have to take military showers, don’t worry! Simply turning off the lights and TV every time you leave a room and encouraging whoever you live with to do the same is a great place to start. Get in the habit of not leaving the refrigerator door open (I’m guilty of this one!) Consider upgrading to a smart thermostat that automatically adjusts the temperature when you aren’t home, or consider keeping the house warmer in the summer and a bit cooler in the winter. There are plenty of other ways to save energy as well
Did you know on average each person in the US generates 4.4lb of garbage per day? That amounts to 258 MILLION TONS of waste created in the US per year. It’s insane. The worst part is, we don’t see it because (thankfully) our sanitation system is so good. However, after spending time in Thailand and Malaysia where this is not the case the trash, and specifically plastic, the extent of our trash problem was very obvious. Minimize waste (and expenses) by using jars or containers to store food rather than plastic bags. Bring your own grocery bags to the store and your own mug to the coffee shop. Be creative and seek to learn new ways to reduce your waste. You’ll find yourself reducing expenses and simplifying your purchases as a result.
8. List & Review Expenses – ALL OF THEM
From your bills, mortgage/rent and car payment to your morning coffee or lunch, review it all. If you don’t already, make an accurate spreadsheet of your monthly expenses. If you buy coffee every day, include that in there. If you go out to the bars on the weekend, include that. If you eat out often, be realistic when you record it in your expenses. Sometimes seeing the numbers is enough for you to initiate some changes. Little, every day expenses quickly add up, and you’ll realize how easy it is to take small actions that create collectively big changes.
9. Impulsive vs. Mindful Purchases
We live in a Capitalist economy where companies have to compete for your business. As a result, marketing has become highly persuasive and very effective when it comes to grabbing your attention and getting you to believe you need what they are selling. We are constantly bombarded with ads that all have the same general message: you don’t have enough. This type of advertising leads us as consumers to fall into the mindset of focusing on what we lack and fantasizing about what we could have. It’s a topic for another post, but happiness does not come from buying more and more stuff. To begin making the shift from impulsive to mindful purchases start by being aware of those moments when you feel drawn by an advertisement and feel the urge to make a purchase. Once you have identified a desire, immediately move away from it. Focus on a different task or do something to clear your mind. Check back in with yourself a day or two later and see if the same desire is still there. If has passed, then you have identified what would have been an impulsive buy. If the desire is still there, begin to research the product more thoroughly so you can make an informed decision as to whether or not this item aligns with your goals and priorities or if it will simply just end up in the back of a cabinet or collecting dust in the garage.
10. Experiences over Things
As you begin to de-clutter and simplify your life you will notice a greater appreciation for experiences and a diminished desire for material items. Feeling more at ease, you will naturally become more flexible to the constant changes that life brings.
The transition towards minimalism has simplified our lives and has reduced our stress levels. By having less we are able to travel more and do more of what we love. By creating space in our home physically, we naturally opened up more space within ourselves. We enjoy the little things, and we connect more with each other. Overall, we are more present. Our dreams for the future have changed, and we feel a liberating sense of freedom and clarity, physically, emotionally, and spiritually without the weight of materialism holding us down.
What's important is that we all find our own groove. You don't have to give up everything, and you don't have to do everything all at once.
Start by looking around with a more attentive eye and defining and living by your values.
It starts with awareness and organically transforms from there.
This documentary really inspired us when we began this journey. You can watch the trailer below.
I hope you have found this post inspiring as well.
After all, the less you have the less you have to worry about.