There’s a staggering excess of things we don’t need.
Piles of junk mail show up in our mailboxes each day. Thousands of products are promoted in stores and on screen, and hundreds of promotional swag are given out for “free.” Every item has an additional hidden cost. Every item takes from our limited reserves of time, energy and attention.
In a world of such excess, I’ve found it essential to pare down and embrace a minimalist lifestyle.
Minimalism has better enabled us to take on the risks of quitting our jobs and freelancing. While choosing a more minimalist lifestyle has helped with the big lifestyle change my husband and I have made in the past 18 months, it’s not the only reason.
I believe living a minimalist lifestyle is incredibly beneficial regardless of income or circumstance.
You don’t need to live in a tiny house or get rid of collector’s items. You don’t need to have below a certain number of possessions, or follow any particular rules.
By considering these five simple tips, you can get the benefits of living a more minimalist lifestyle.
1) Let go of items that no longer fit
I mean this broadly—in terms of size, style and use.
Let go of the jeans that are a size too small, the dress that’s a bit too tight. Holding onto misfitting clothing just clutters your closet and consideration set with unwearable options. I’ve found it helpful to tell myself that I’ll buy a better-fitting outfit in replacement if I end up slimming down. But even still, letting go of things is easier said than done.
Even though it’s been more than a year and a half since my husband and I started minimizing, I recently let go of clothing favorites from several years ago—a jumper, skirt and several pairs of shoes that were slightly snug or outdated. It goes to show that the minimizing process can take time.
While clothes may come first to mind, this tip can apply to appliances, decor or furniture. If you move into a smaller place, you may want to consider letting go of any unused furniture and decorations instead of storing them.
Past hobbies and activities are also common sources of basement or storage clutter. Anything you’re not likely or not going to use again isn’t serving you by sitting in the house. If you no longer ski, consider selling the gear or gifting them to someone who will use them. Arts and crafts supplies can be donated to schools or nonprofit programs. For me, this excludes seasonal or infrequently used items—as long as I still use them. Even if something’s used only once or twice a year, I usually vouch to keep it.
Any items with sentimental value tend to be more difficult. There are different approaches, but my stance is to let go of items when I’m emotionally ready. Over time, most of us become more willing to let go.
2) Clear surfaces and put things away
Cluttered surfaces are distracting. It’s jumbling to the mind when your vision is bombarded with stuff strewn on the floor and table. When faced with a visual roster of things yet to be dealt with or put away, it can be difficult to concentrate.
One of the first things I ask when I’m feeling overwhelmed is if the surfaces in my home are clear. Most likely they aren’t.
Perhaps the aftermath of lunch is still on the kitchen counter. The coffee table has contents from a weekend trip not put away yet. My work table is cluttered with papers, mugs and other things. Clothes are off their hangers and draped over a chair after deciding what to wear in the morning.
By clearing and putting things away each day, you’re providing a more calming and productive home environment for yourself.
3) Organize hidden areas into usable spaces
Part of the reason why we have far more bottles of lotion, number of scissors and duplicates of tools than we need is due to disorganization. The overcrowded, disorganized closets and drawers are also a source of stress every time you open them.
These are areas that can be streamlined and organized. By going through drawers and compartments, you can assess the contents, get rid of what you don’t need or want, and group what remains in a way that works best for your household.
Having everything in its place will reduce the time spent finding an item and save you from buying multiples because you couldn’t find what you had. Not only that, you’ll feel a sense of pride in knowing exactly where and how much of something you have.
4) Don’t rely on self-control
There was a period of time when I chose not to enter any retail or grocery stores without a clear idea of what I was looking for.
I’d pass on shopping trips with friends or suggest another activity. Before entering the grocery store, I’d make a list. I’d resist the temptation to walk into the little boutique shops on the street, just to take a look. By distancing myself from situations where I’d need to rely on self-control, I didn’t even give myself the chance to make the wrong decision.
This was particularly important towards the beginning of my minimalism journey. During those days, I was still prone to buying sale items, books, or cutesy trinkets on a whim. After about a year, the twitch calmed to the point I could walk in and out of a store without buying anything—a rare occurrence back in the day.
5) Before you let in a new item, be clear on its purpose
I still buy things as a minimalist; I’m simply much more intentional and thoughtful before I take something new home with me.
Before bringing in a new item—free or purchased—ask yourself if this is truly something you need. Does it fill a role that no other item in your life is able to do? Is it something that will provide value and use to you over time? If the answer is yes, welcome the item in your life.
Minimalism isn’t about deprivation or lack. Minimalism is about getting the best use out of your space, time and possessions.
If the answer is no, what’s different about this item from what you already have? Can you donate, give away or sell what you have in exchange for the new one? If you can, let a day pass before making your decision. Perhaps you’ll realize there’s another solution. Maybe you’ll conclude you don’t need the item after all.
My life was markedly more complicated prior to following these guidelines. I’d seemingly spend hours tidying up my apartment each weekend. I’d spend more time looking for a certain book or object. Nowadays there’s rarely any need to tidy, and everything has its place. I feel much lighter and freer than I’ve ever felt.
There’s still more to do though. The minimalism journey continues on as my life shifts and my needs change. Yet once you’ve experienced a more minimalist lifestyle, you won’t go back to where you were before.