Green Cleaning, Home, Minimalism

How To Start Minimalist Living – A Guide For Those Not So Sure About This

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When many people think of minimalism, they think of bare white walls, empty book shelves, and perfectly clear surfaces. Maybe they even imagine tiny houses or small urban apartments. They may picture a living space with one or two chairs and maybe a lamp, but nothing else. For some people, this is minimalism and it makes them happy. For others, this sounds stressful and sad. Lucky for you, you do not need to be this extreme to start minimalist living.

Minimalism is a spectrum. It means different things to different people, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Personally, I avoid the term “minimalist” for myself and just say that I’m interested in minimalism. I like to do that because apparently I have a fear of labels…hah! But really, I do it because I often don’t feel minimalist enough, and this takes some pressure off for me.

However, that pressure is completely self-inflicted. Nobody cares if I call myself a minimalist or not. Logically, I know that. But I still tend to avoid labeling myself most of the time. πŸ˜‰

All that said, here is a how-to guide for the beginner minimalist–someone who isn’t so sure they want anything to do with minimalism, if it will even help them, if it’s worth the trouble, if they have to sell everything they own to fit in, if it’s just a silly trend that will go away in a year…this one’s for you!

Start Minimalist Living By Defining Your Minimalism

start-minimalist-livingWhile there are plenty of people out there that get judgmental about minimalism and if other people are following it to their expectations, that is not what minimalism is about. Ignore those people and remind yourself that this is a personal journey that is meant to help bring you a little more peace in your home and life.

Decide what minimalism means for you. Do not automatically go with the vision of it you have in your head. Rather, think about what problems you’re facing, what you want to solve, what you think might solve it, and think about what defines a homey, stress-free space for you.

Minimalism might mean that you finally took the time to rid your closest of old, worn out clothing. Maybe it just means that you finally got rid of the toddler toys now that your kids are elementary-aged. Or maybe it means you sold or donated 75% of your belongings. The journey is yours.

Here were my problems and goals I had when I first started with minimalism and was unsure if I was really going to stick it out:

Problems:

  • Could not keep up with the house cleaning
  • Many things did not get put away because we didn’t know where to put them
  • We were considering a move in the coming months, and I was overwhelmed at how we could possibly get our house decluttered, staged, listed, and kept clean for showings.
  • On top of showings, how were we going to find the time to pack everything? And did I really want to drag any of this stuff into a brand new home and new beginning for our family?

Goals:

  • Pare down on non-essentials in the home
  • Make sure everything we wanted to keep had a clearly defined home
  • Find a system that helped us keep up with the cleaning, especially with two small kids in the house
  • Even if we didn’t move (and we ended up not moving), I wanted to feel more comfortable in our house.

I will say that after I went through my own process with minimalism, I was absolutely blown away by the benefits my family received. Not only did we achieve our goals, but we had many more benefits outside of the goals I listed above.

The biggest one was a reflection on our materialism and what we really needed to be happy. We ended up shopping so much less, and not because we told ourselves we needed to stop buying things, but because we didn’t WANT to buy things. It wasn’t a spending freeze where we felt deprived; it was freedom from feeling like we needed more and more and more.

We went from feeling like we needed to move because we were bursting at the seams to realizing that we could make any space work for us. This doesn’t mean we will never move, but it was so eye-opening to us to realize the problem was not our house, but rather our things…most of which we didn’t even want. Why buy a new house so you can store things you don’t even want?

Maybe these goals will resonate with you. If anything, I think 99% of us want to feel like we can keep up with the cleaning and clutter a little better than we currently are.

Find A Method & Some Inspiration

After you decide you’re willing to take the plunge, motivate yourself with some reading or other media. There are so many minimalism resources and methods out there. You don’t know which one might really resonate with you until you do some research.

The KonMari Method

One of the most popular minimalism methods is the KonMari Method by Marie Kondo. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing is the book that contains all the steps for this method. What sets this method of minimalism apart from others is that it’s not necessarily about having the least amount of items possible to survive, but rather it is about being intentional with your belongings.

In a nutshell, this method of decluttering involves going category by category as opposed to room by room. We will use clothing as an example. You start by taking every single piece of clothing you own out and put it in a big pile to sort through. Marie describes the need to make sure each item “sparks joy.” You should hold each item and decide for yourself if it is something you use and love. We shouldn’t have anything in our home that we do not use or love.

The only criticism I have about this method isn’t really about the method, but about some ideas people have about it. I think some people get really carried away with the idea of sparking joy, and they sometimes make decisions that aren’t very practical. For example, it’s really easy to use the KonMari method as an excuse to get rid of perfectly good items and replace with new ones just because they don’t spark joy.

I don’t think that’s always bad, but I do think that can be frivolous sometimes. My bed frame in my master bedroom definitely does not spark joy, but I’m not going to go out and spend $500 right now just to spark some joy when what I have works perfectly fine! Maybe someday I will replace it, but I’m not going to let the idea of immediate joy sparking push me into that.

While there are so many perks of going category by category (you can really learn what you have in different areas and make sure you’re not unknowingly keeping duplicates), it can be very time-consuming at first. I think at the end of the day, any method of decluttering is going to take about the same amount of time, but if you have small children that interrupt you a lot, it can be hard to gain momentum with KonMari, lest you accept living with a half-sorted through pile of stuff in the middle of your floor until you can get to it again.

If you are interested in learning a little more about KonMari and have a subscription to Netflix, a new series was just released called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. The episodes are somewhere in the 30-minute range and it’s pretty cute! It does not go in-depth by any means, though, so if you are serious about the KonMari method, you will definitely want to pick up the book. The show will just serve as some light & fluffy inspiration.

You can get the book at Amazon by clicking here (also available in a Kindle edition) or look for it at your local library.

Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things

 

Speaking of Netflix, they have an awesome documentary I’ve already mentioned a bit in this post. This version of minimalism is a bit more extreme than the KonMari method, but the makers of this documentary bring up several good points. It’s very inspiring, and even if you don’t wish to be as minimal as the guys behind this documentary, it definitely helps you to put life into perspective.

If you don’t have a Netflix subscription, you can rent it on Amazon video by clicking here.

This documentary is 1 hr 18 min, so not a huge time commitment, but your mind will definitely be reeling when you finish it.

If you find these guys likable and want to participate in a 30-day challenge to jump start your minimalism journey, here is some info about their 30-Day Minimalism Game!

These are just two of the many minimalism methods and resources that are out there. They are both very different, and hopefully you find that encouraging. Your journey doesn’t have to follow any one method perfectly; it only needs to bring you closer to accomplishing your goals.

Get Started!

start-minimalist-living

If you are following the KonMari method, you will be starting with clothing. If you are doing a different method or just doing your own thing, pick a starting area. My advice is to start with an area that you have fewer attachments to. I found that I started with the area I was most excited to declutter (my kitchen), and later I ended up going back and doing it again because I held on to more than I needed to. At any rate, pick where you’re going to start and consider taking a before photo.

The more you work at decluttering, the easier it is to let things go. I would start with areas that are a little boring to you to get yourself warmed up. For me, that would have been the closet in our spare bedroom or entry way.

Get some boxes or bags ready for the items you wish to get rid of. I like to have 3 different areas for discarded things: donations, recycling, and trash.

You may need to do a bit of recycling research to know what you can recycle in your home bins and what you can’t, and where you go to bring items that you can’t recycle at home. Click here for a resource from Waste Management that may help. (hint: any tech items can be brought to Best Buy for recycling if you have one nearby!)

Once you finish an area or category, try to appropriately dispose of anything you need to immediately by visiting a thrift shop or donation center, the recycling center, or getting things in your trash can. The longer things sit around, the more likely you are to start overlooking them again, but still feel the stress of a cluttered space.

If you want to sell things, that’s great. I highly recommend a place like Facebook marketplace because you want these things gone ASAP! Unless it’s prime garage sale season where you live, the last thing you want to do is declutter just to keep piles of things around for several months until you may or may not follow through on a garage sale.

Set a time limit for yourself for the sale of the item. Decide how long you want to attempt to sell it before you just donate it. I usually do anywhere from 3-7 days. Find a friend or family member to hold you accountable for donating the item when that time limit is up so it does not end up as clutter again.

Once you finish an area, take an “after” photo (if you took a before). Grand transformations are always motivating!

Not A One Time Deal

The thing with minimalism is that it’s not a one-time decluttering process. The problem with stuff is that it has a way of creeping back into our lives. You need to also declutter your mindset and adopt a proactive attitude toward clutter.

Anytime you get the mail, sort immediately. Recycle the junk & pay the bills. Do not let your mail pile stack up.

For other items, try consolidating your shopping trips. If you are used to running errands multiple times a week, cut it back to once a week. After you are used to that, try running errands every other week instead. Eventually, you can work your way to once a month.

Shopping less often will greatly reduce impulse purchases of unnecessary items. I attempt once a month shopping myself, but I do go out each week for milk, eggs, and produce. I’m not always perfect, but it’s made a big difference and saved us a lot of money.

Unexpected Benefits

I mentioned earlier in this post about some unexpected benefits, and I’m going to elaborate a little more on them here.

While I had a goal of making my home easier to clean, I didn’t realize how much faster that cleaning could get when we really pared down our belongings. It makes sense when you think about it, but that didn’t cross my mind at first. I figured it would still take the same amount of time, but that it would be less frustrating.

I was excited to find that once we decluttered, I could maintain a clean living space in less than 10 minutes a day (this is excluding time for things like dishes and laundry). It was much easier to get the kids involved when they knew where all their toys needed to go.

As time went on and stuff crept back into my house, this quick cleaning was also one of the first benefits to go away. That is definitely motivation to try to keep up with minimalist principles at all times.

Another benefit has to do with our emotional attachment to our home. While I liked my house before starting this journey, I was convinced we were outgrowing it and I focused on all the things it lacked that I thought we needed. As I decluttered and focused on filling our home only with practical items and items that we truly loved, it became a completely different place to me.

We were able to find so many solutions for storage problems, bedroom problems, office work spaces…we were really able to customize our house to what we needed.

It also helped me become more present and intentional. Instead of focusing on what we needed because of general ideas I had for the future, it forced me to focus on what it is we truly needed right at the moment. I realized that in that moment, we had everything. Stressing about arbitrary plans for the future than may or may not even happen only allowed discontentment to creep in and a desire to “keep up with the Joneses.”

If you are unhappy in your home, I’m not saying minimalism with 100% fix it. You very well may need to move. Heck, I’m sure there will come a time that we move, too. But it is amazing how minimalism was able to completely change the relationship we had with our house and make us feel more at home than ever.

What do you think? Willing to give this minimalism thing a try? Let me know in the comments!

Holly Lee

I'm Holly and I'm the mom of two awesome young boys. We have been cloth diapering for 5 years. My family and I live in Minnesota with our dog, Ruby, and cat, Gherkin. Outside of Rocking the Cloth, I am also a middle school teacher. Thank you for visiting Rocking the Cloth--feel free to email me at holly@rockingthecloth.com if you have any questions or concerns. I'd love to help!

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16 Comments

  1. Ciara says:

    I loved this article. I developed a minimalist life style when I traveled cross country for the summer. I lived out of my CR-V and a tent, so I had very little. When I returned “home” I realized how much I didn’t feel an attachment or need most of my belonging. I donated every article of clothing that I didn’t love and also donated a lot of kitchen gadgets that were just never used. I will soon be living in a school bus and there will no room for things that don’t bring me joy and purpose.

    Thanks for the article!

    –Ciara

    1. Holly Lee says:

      That sounds like quite the adventure, Ciara! How wonderful!

  2. Dhayours says:

    Based on this post, I’ll like to tag myself a minimalist, because all my life I’ve always made sure I got only what was essential at that moment.

    Being a minimalist is quite good because it’s all about intentionally promoting things of value to us and removing the stuff that distract us from it.

    1. Holly Lee says:

      That is a great point–it’s about so much more than getting rid of what you don’t need. Most importantly, it’s about living life with things you truly value.

  3. Chrissie Spurgeon says:

    Minimalist I am not!! 

    More of a hoarder in fact! I have sentimental attachments to so many objects, and I know that the time has come for me to do something about this!

    So I have made a resolution to gradually declutter my house, so your article is very timely for me! I know that I will find it really hard, but equally I know it must be done! Its no good doing just a little bit in a room and thinking that you have done a good job, because before you know where you are, many things have found their way back to where they were, and you are no better off!

    So your article has really inspired me to make a determined effort.

    Thank you so much

    Chrissie πŸ™‚

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Glad you found it helpful, Chrissie! πŸ™‚

  4. Joe Handigr says:

    I’ve always thought of myself as a minimalist since I always had little stuff to begin with.
    But recently things have started to stack up, I have things and clothes that I know I just would not use but I can’t see to get myself to get rid of when it comes down to it.

    I still live with the mindset of “if I don’t need it then I shouldn’t get it” its the same with if I don’t enjoy it around me then I see no reason to hang on to it, but usually they get stored with the idea of needing them at another time.

    What way do you think I should approach my specific situation?
    I can’t bring myself to get rid of it, would storing it away be a good alternative?

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Hi Joe!

      I think your situation is a common one for many people. Many people store duplicates of things, or things that they never use but like the idea of using one day.

      One quote that really speaks to me in this area is, “Your home is living space, not storage space.”

      That doesn’t mean we will never store anything, but before you decide to just store it instead of getting rid of it, ask yourself:

      -Have I ever used this? If the answer is no, do you think it’s realistic that you ever will?

      -Do I have a specific plan for using this in the future? (example: you stumble upon a forgotten holiday decoration that you bought on clearance after the previous year’s holiday, and you want to make sure you use it this coming holiday season)

      If you have never used it before and can’t describe a time you would really use it in the coming future, I think it would be a better use of your space and resources to get rid of it. But only you can decide what you are comfortable with.

      Another benchmark people use in these situations is evaluating how much the item costs and setting a limit for themselves about what would be reasonable to spend should they need to get it in the future. Example: I find a fall jacket in the back of my closet that I’ve never worn. Even though it’s decently cute, I prefer the one I usually wear, but I’m worried that my favorite jacket might rip or wear out and I’d miss having this backup. Maybe this jacket cost $20 on sale wherever I got it from. If I decided to donate it but then something happened to my current jacket, would I be able to spring for the $20 to replace it?

      $20 means something different to everyone. To some, they will think, “Good point, I’ll just donate it and catch another sale in the future when needed.” Others will think that’s half their grocery money for the week, so no they don’t really want to get rid of it. (In that case you might sell it…but if you want to hang onto it, I think that’s fine).

      I hope this helped!

  5. charles39 says:

    I have not heard of the term but I am it’s worth trying anything that will bring positivity. Change in my life is welcome and this one seems to one of them and it seems it works well. I have been extravagant for some years and it’s taking its toll on me, so I may be in need of becoming minimalist.

    1. Holly Lee says:

      That’s awesome that change is welcome in your life, Charles! We all need a little bit of that in us since change is inevitable.

      I’m glad you see the benefits of a minimalist lifestyle. I think a lot of people start exploring it more after a period of extravagance fails to make them as happy as they thought it would.

  6. David Kellas says:

    Yeah, I have issues hoarding my non-essentials when I really should get rid of them, great point!

    Yeah, I agree, we should not have anything in our home we do not use or love.

    I may watch that Marie Kondo Netflix series, thanks for the name drop!

    Sometimes I struggle with knowing what to recycle and what not to is there a list somewhere online detailing what is recyclable and what is not?

    Normally I go to the supermarket every few days, but perhaps I should create a master list of everything I need for that week and do the shopping all at once thanks for the tip, I would save on petrol as well.

    Yeah, when I de-cluttered my house I also found it was easier to do the cleaning as there was literally no cleaning to be done.

    Thank you so much for such an informative and long article on minimalism Holly, I might stick around and see what other articles you have on your website if you don’t mind, Dave.

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Hi Dave! I’m so glad you found it helpful!

      I like to use this resource to help me out with home recycling questions: What Can I Recycle

      Only thing with that site is I believe some recycling rules/standards can vary by region, country, etc. You might try looking up your recycling company (if you have one that picks up at your home) or the website for your local recycling center.

      Hope this helped!

  7. Nancy says:

    I LOVE this article.  πŸ™‚

    I read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and it totally made sense to me. I’ve started it with my clothes, but not quite done yet, but will get back to it when I can. It is so true that going into my closet now sparks joy.

    I also loved how she explains to store clothes in your drawers. It is life changing. 

    Did you get through all the categories in the book? I’m hoping to do so soon.

    I also added that documentary to my Netflix queue and I plan on watching it this week.

    Great, great article! It makes me want to pull the book out again and get started tonight.

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Hi Nancy! That’s awesome! I’m so excited that you are enjoying this process and loving your things in a new way! πŸ™‚

      I have not gone through all the categories in the book yet–I actually used another method of decluttering when I got started with all of this and got into KonMari later on. I am excited to implement more of her strategies.

  8. jessie palaypay says:

    I have really given serious thought to minimalism in my life because I see that consumption among society and keeping up with everyone else seems to make everyone unhappy whether they realize it or not.

    I have started to look at the things in my house that I don’t really need and realize there are a lot of things that I regret buying but in hindsight, it was what I wanted. 

    I think minimalism can be a way out for most people who are unhappy with their lives. Things such as buying a simpler affordable car as oppose to a luxury car. It really makes no sense to me why someone would make themselves unhappy just to keep up with society and consumption.

    1. Holly Lee says:

      These are all great points, Jessie. I agree. I think when used appropriately, minimalism can really help people to refocus on what is truly important, thus leading to greater life satisfaction. 

      I acknowledge that some people might use minimalism as another path to go down to try and find happiness and maybe use it in ways that just become another idol in their life or distraction from what they really need to focus on, but if we can remember that minimalism in and of itself is not the goal, but rather a means of focusing on what is important, I think it can be a very useful tool.

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