What is minimalism? A guide for the not-so-sure

What is minimalism? 

Minimalism might not be what you think it is. It’s not about getting rid of all your things, living in a sparsely furnished home with only the bare necessities, or downsizing to tiny houses.

In reality, minimalism means different things to different people.

Sure, to some, it could mean downsizing and donating what isn’t being used anymore; for others, it might be as simple as cleaning out closets every once in awhile.

For simplicity’s sake, minimalism is trimming down the things in your home and your life so that they take up less. Less time. Less space. Less stress.

It’s a way to prioritize what you value most by getting rid of what doesn’t matter.

In essence, the minimalist life is making time for exactly what you want without the stress of clutter and things that take away from you having your ideal life.

What is minimalism not? Minimalism isn’t about the number of items in your home or what categorical boxes those things fall into, like clothing and tech gadgets. That would just be considered living with less stuff rather than living with what matters.

It’s not about living in a sparsely furnished home, either–though some people find that to be an appealing part of the lifestyle. Living minimally could mean having a full kitchen and plenty of storage space for all your appliances or it might just mean making do with what you have currently.

Minimalism is what you make it.

kitchen window with plans next to it
modern sink on black kitchen counter with vase of plant

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Should I become a minimalist?

Here’s the annoying answer: it depends. Mostly, it depends on you and what you want.

If you’ve ever felt lost at work or sucked into stress then minimalism can be a great way to lighten some of that strain you may be feeling.

Even if you’re perfectly content with your life, a more minimalist lifestyle can still be beneficial.

Owning fewer possessions will give you more space and allow you to spend time doing what you love.

For some people, this means having fewer dishes to tackle.

Or spending time with people they love instead of cleaning up the home so much.

Perhaps you just want to save money, spending less of your hard-earned cash on possessions that take up space.

Something to remember about minimalism, though, is that having fewer things will look different for everyone.

You can still have stuff while still enjoying the simpler lifestyle minimalism can offer to you.

What are the benefits of minimalism?

The idea behind minimalist living is to live a more fulfilled life with less stuff and, therefore, less stress. 

Minimalism can help with things like:

– getting rid of stress and clutter you no longer need, or what holds little value to your life.

– having a more intentional, thoughtful approach to the space that surrounds you (both inside and out).

– minimizing distractions in order to focus on what’s most important for your current stage of life.

– simplifying what you have and what you want so that the things we do own have more value to our lives than what it’s worth financially.

– clearing your home (or space) for new opportunities or experiences in order to promote an environment where possibilities abound rather than limitations.

Dad and children making cookies
Dad and children making cookies together

Do I need to get rid of everything in order to have a minimalist life?

No, not at all.

Some people find that what they really want to focus on is decreasing rather than eliminating. 

There are all sorts of ways that a minimalist lifestyle can be implemented into your own personal journey–whatever feels the most natural is what it should do for you.

Scaling back is a great place to start. Perhaps just paring down your closet, or exploring a capsule wardrobe. Or getting rid old paperwork. Even just donating items collecting dust in the attic.

Whatever feels most comfortable is OK.

How long does it take to become minimalist?

You don’t need to become a minimalist overnight.

A lot of what that looks like is what you want it to look like, which means the timeline will be different for everyone.

As with any type of change–especially one as drastic and life-altering as this–slowly easing into things rather than introducing them all at once will yield better and more sustainable results.

Do what feels right for you, what fits your lifestyle or what is easy on your personal budget–whatever that may be.

Can I have a minimalist lifestyle with a family?

Yes, absolutely.

Minimalist living is what works best for you and your family–whatever that may mean to you.

For some people this looks like every family member in the home being personally responsible for their own journey.

For others it may mean limiting the number of toys and items the children have.

And for others it may mean that all of your children’s toys are kept, but they’re stored and only a few are brought out to the common areas. Many prefer the Montessori method of a toy rotation. 

It’s what works for what you want your space to feel like.

If a family is on the same page, it will be more likely that there are fewer distractions and less stress as everyone knows what they’re responsible for–and what their role in the home should contribute.

Simple child's bedrooom with plants
Natural wooden floor and bright colors in simple child’s bedrooom with plants

Is minimalism difficult?

There may be a learning curve when you first start out on your minimalist journey.

But minimalism is about doing what feels right for you, what fits your lifestyle and what doesn’t feel like too much to handle–whatever that may mean for you.

The best advice is to take it at your own pace.

While some people may be able to speed through their homes and downsize everything, others may take significantly longer.

Either way, the goal is to simplify your life.

Not to make it more difficult.

Where do you start with your minimalist journey?

The first step is to assess what you have.

Next, identify what your needs are–things that provide value and meaning in your life.

It’s about looking at what you want for yourself versus what others may think of as being “the right way” or the perfect lifestyle.

Again, what feels right for you is what’s best.

For some people that may mean having to get rid of everything and starting over from scratch in order to feel at peace with their surroundings–again, what works best for them.

There are all sorts of ways a minimalist lifestyle can be implemented into your own personal journey–whatever feels the most natural is what it should do for you.

Are there rules I need to follow to become a good minimalist?

Nope.

You don’t need to abide by anyone else’s rules in order to be a “good” minimalist (whatever that means).

The goal in minimalism is to provide you with a more simple life, less focused on material things, in order to gain more. More time. More energy. A chance to focus on the most important things.

So create rules that work for you.

But I like my stuff! What do I do if minimalism seems overwhelming?

Good news, even minimalists like their stuff.

The key to minimalism is to be very intentional with those belongings, though.

You don’t need to completely downsize and move into a tiny house in order to live a minimalist lifestyle.

Getting rid of external clutter in order to make room to enjoy life is the primary goal here.

Sure, you may need to make some tough decisions and get rid of certain possessions that are no longer necessary. But you don’t have to get rid of everything.

And if minimalism seems overwhelming, then start small.

Perhaps you go through your home and only focus on getting rid broken items.

Then, after you’ve purged the broken items you may find that you feel a bit lighter, and can begin to tackle more stuff.

Minimal clothing in closet
Minimal clothing in closet

Can I take minimalist living for a “test drive” before committing?

Of course!

It can definitely seem like a big commitment to become a minimalist, but remember that no two people have to pare down the exact same way.

Maybe you have a closet full of clothes, but you’re not really sure that you want to get rid of any of them.

In that case, you may want to consider a capsule wardrobe.

Pick out a designated number of total items and put all of your other clothes away in boxes. Then, only wear that set of clothing/accessories for a set period of time (such as one season). Project 333 does a great job of walking you through a capsule wardrobe. With Project 333 the goal is to essentially only wear 33 articles of clothing/ accessories (with some exceptions) for 3 months.

Another option could be to put many of your items in boxes and to only pull out what you need when you need it. At the end of a pre-determined time you can decide if you want to get rid of the things you never pulled from their boxes (ie. things you didn’t really have a need for).

Where do I start with minimalism?

There are many different approaches when it comes to becoming minimalist.

You could set a goal for yourself to remove a certain number of items from your home each day/week/month

One popular method that would fall into this category is to get rid of 30 items in 30 days.

Seems a little less overwhelming, doesn’t it? Especially if you just get rid of one thing each day?

Getting rid of one item per day as opposed to sprinting through you home at the end of the 30 days is a simple way to get your feet wet with minimalism.

It means you can slowly get used to the idea of living with less.

It may even help you to get in the habit of removing unnecessary items from your home as part of your daily life.

Create 3 piles or boxes: broken items, donations, and items to keep.

Another option is creating boxes or piles in your home that you deal with every day or week.

With this method you’re not necessarily seeking out opportunities to get rid of stuff, you just tackle items as you come across them.

Trash

For example, a box for any broken items you may come across (or better yet, just toss them in the trash can right away).

As you go throughout your day, every item that you come across that is broken and not worth it to repair goes in this box (or trash can).

A pen that doesn’t work? Goes in the box.

A ripped t-shirt that you don’t wear anymore? In the box.

Donations

Perhaps you have a handful of clothes just lurking in the back of your closet that you know you’re never going to wear again.

Maybe you have a rice cooker and an insta-pot, which has rendered your rice cooker basically unnecessary.

As you come across little (or even large) items that are still in perfectly usable condition, but just aren’t necessary for you and your home, they go in the donations pile.

Items to keep

Depending on your personal clean-up style, the items you find throughout your home that are not “where they belong” can either go in this box to be redistributed to their proper place at the end of the day or you can just put them away as you find them.

Happy family hanging picture of sea over the fireplace at home
Happy family hanging picture of sea over the fireplace at home

The Marie Kondo method

You could follow the KonMari method and review everything you own by category (such as all of the clothes or books in your home), getting rid of whatever doesn’t spark joy. Obviously, this is a very abbreviated version of what she teaches. However, it is quite effective.

Marie Kondo offers courses and even has two Netflix shows: “Tidying up with Marie Kondo” and “Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo.”

She also has several books including: “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up;” “Spark Joy;” and “Joy at Work.”

One room at a time

You could tackle each room in your home individually, only moving on to the next room when you’ve simplified that space.

Start with a single room, perhaps the least overwhelming room.

Or the room where you spend the most time.

Maybe you want to start in the room where the television is so you can sort through everything while being entertained.

Or the quietest room where you can really think about each item you’re sorting through.

Concentrate on making each room a valuable space for you and your family. .

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