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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. 😉
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
While 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:
- 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?
- 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.
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.
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.
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!