Quite often, when I share with someone that I am a minimalist, I am met with multiple follow-up questions. One of the most popular questions I’m asked is, “What does it mean to be a minimalist?” My go-to, quick answer is often, “I am someone who lives with less,” but taking a minimalist approach to life is about so much more than simply owning fewer items than I once had. (Though, to be fair, it is a significant part of the equation…)
So, what is minimalism?
Minimalism is a way of life that prioritizes life’s necessities over the excess, and is about making room in your life for more of what is most important to you.
Take a moment and think of the things in your life that have had the most significant impact on you and that mean the most to you…
While an item or two may have crossed your mind, it’s quite likely that most of your list consists of people, places, and life experiences. That is the true essence of being a minimalist. Minimalists embrace living with less, because it allows us the ability to have more of the moments and experiences that are truly impactful and important.
Minimalists get rid of the things that we don’t use or need, and the items that may be taking more away from our lives than they are adding. The less you have, the less you have to clean, organize, and upkeep, the less you have to make payments on, the less debt you accumulate, and the less time you spend stressed.
Minimalism has also been shown to improve your quality of sleep, your mental clarity, and your ability to concentrate, along with increasing your levels of overall happiness.
This approach does not only pertain to possessions. Minimalists often apply this approach to every aspect of their lives. Everything from the events you attend, to your perceived obligations, to the relationships you maintain can be minimized to only those that truly bring you joy and that continue to serve you.
The thing is, we outgrow people, places, and things, yet we tend to hold on to them, despite them having outlasted their value and usefulness to us. Without you even realizing it, these things can hold you back from fully enjoying your life and from fully focusing on the present moment. It can feel difficult at first, but letting them go can make you feel lighter, and experience a sense of freedom that you may not even realize you don’t already have.
Are you looking to lighten your life, and to live like a minimalist? Not sure where to start? Here are my tried and true tips for how you can immediately start living a more minimal life.
Identify your why
It is incredibly important for you to know why you want to minimize, and what you hope to accomplish by doing so.
Are you hoping to have an easier time finding what you need? Are you looking to upgrade the aesthetic of your home? Are you looking to lead a less stressful life?
With so many positive impacts, there are probably multiple reasons why you want to minimize. I highly suggest writing your reasons why on a piece of paper, or making a note of them somewhere in your phone.
No matter what your motivations are behind your desire to do so, it’s important for you to be able to refer to and remind yourself of them often during the minimizing process.
While you may be aware of the many positive effects that living like a minimalist can have upon your life, the actual act of minimizing may be difficult (physically and / or emotionally) for you to do.
Let’s be honest, if it was easy and convenient, you probably would have done it already. If minimizing gets uncomfortable, or you lose motivation to keep going, it helps for you to be able to remind yourself of why you wanted to do so in the first place, and for you to visualize the end results you desire.
While minimizing may be challenging, the end results outweigh the temporary discomfort of sorting through your stuff. Keep your list handy and refer to it whenever necessary.
Remember that there are no rigid rules
I’ve found that many people have preconceived ideas for who can be or how you have to live in order to be considered a minimalist. But I’m here to tell you that there’s no right way, or set of rigid rules for how to live minimally.
You don’t need to have a specific family size, live a specific lifestyle, choose a specific career, have a specific number of possessions, (etc) to be a minimalist. Minimalists may be single or have a large family, may travel often or stay stationary, or choose a variety of different career paths.
Minimalism is not one size fits all, and different strategies (or a combination of more than one) may feel more fitting for you than others. An initial approach I often suggest is to start small.
Begin by choosing an area of your home that isn’t overwhelming and minimize it as much as you desire. This will help you get over the initial hurdle of getting started, and will allow you to build confidence in yourself and your downsizing decisions, so you can move on to another, more complicated area of your home.
Trust me, the more you part with, the easier it becomes. However, this may not be the starting strategy that suits everyone best. My husband, for example, was the exact opposite and found it much easier to dive right into the thick of things. For him and his personality, diving right into downsizing exactly where it would have been the most difficult for others was what worked best for him.
Also, don’t hesitate to combine more than one approach. I found that sticking to a single strategy was not what I wanted to do.
For me, in different rooms and in different moments, a combination of starting small, the KonMari method, and packing up a room (as touted by the Minimalists) was what helped me achieve my minimalism mission.
Don’t feel like you’re stuck sticking to a single approach. Do what works best for you and what feels right in the moment.
If you’re looking for some approach inspiration or some minimizing strategies, our article “5 Minimalist Tips for Decluttering Your Home AND Your Life” may be of particular interest to you.
Clearly communicate with your partner
It’s all well and good if you’re single and want to minimize, but it may not be only you living within your household. Another thing it is important for you to do to get started is to clearly communicate with your partner about your goals and to make sure you are on the same page.
While my partner and I didn’t find ourselves applying identical approaches, we did find ourselves working towards the same goal. It is important for us to remember that the same approach may not work well for everyone, but that we can still be supportive of each other during the process.
This is also important to bear in mind if you have a lot of “joint” items. For me personally, it was mainly “my things” and then my “husband’s things.” But in other partnerships, you may have more items are shared.
Work together, and clearly communicate with your partner about how often you use things and how much value they bring to you personally. I know there are items in my house right now that I never touch that my husband uses every day.
Making sure you are considerate of what brings value to your partner will be necessary in the process of minimizing.
Set a clear, achievable goal
It can be incredibly helpful for you to establish what you’d like to accomplish and when you’d like to accomplish it by. Like I discussed earlier, minimizing may not always be comfortable and you may find yourself procrastinating or putting off making decisions.
I myself had a habit of saying, “I’ll go through that later” over and over when I started to find the process difficult. I probably would have dragged the process out for years! I found it incredibly motivating to establish goals for when I wanted to have things downsized by.
Your goals can be anywhere from a few days to months away from when you start, and they may be large lofty goals, or smaller, easier to achieve milestones.
For me personally, I had a large lofty goal in the back of my mind, but I chunked it down and focused on smaller, easier to achieve milestones. This helped me from becoming overwhelmed and allowed me to feel like I was accomplishing things as I went.
It can also help to mutually agree with your partner when you set your goals to be. That way, you are both working towards an agreed-upon goal, and you can lend each other support and keep each other accountable.
It’s up to you to choose what suits your situation and to use what you find to be the most motivating, whether it be dates to have things done by, rooms to finish, or by accomplishments. Trust yourself and trust the process.
So my full answer to the question,“What does it mean to take a minimalist approach to life?” is “Minimalists choose to live with less, so that we can experience more. Minimalists aim to experience more freedom and more meaningful moments.”
Minimalists choose to live with less, so that we can experience more. Minimalists aim to experience more freedom and more meaningful moments.
But remember, there is no one size fits all when it comes to minimalism. Living like a minimalist is about experiencing more joy, not about fitting yourself inside a box. Make sure you know your reasons why, establish a goal, and visualize your desired outcome and, before you know it, you will be living like a minimalist.