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A Skeptic’s Guide To Easing Into A Minimalist Lifestyle

Approximately once a year, I wake up in the middle of the night with a sudden and inescapable urge to clean out one of my cluttered closets.

In 2014, I had one of these crack-of-dawn cleaning sessions that ultimately turned into a minimalist bender. I sorted my possessions for 12 consecutive hours, like a complete maniac, fueled by the natural high of completing a to-do list item that I legitimately never thought I’d get to. I didn’t necessarily begin my process with specific rules, by the end of my first “purge party,” I felt 1,000 pounds lighter. I donated everything within one day and never looked back.

I don’t think everyone should be aiming to donate all of their belongings and start fresh as a minimalist. But I know that most people I know like the idea of reducing some clutter. While I didn’t have rules when I started purging my belongings, I discovered a few ways to start what seems like a daunting and impossible task. If you’re looking to start the process, I suggest framing the process in an approachable way. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just remember:

  1. Start small
  2. Set realistic goals
  3. Use logic, not emotions

I also tend to boil down every minimalist “rule” into one question that has become my mantra:

Does this item add value to my life?

Oftentimes, I can answer that question right away. No, this spare part of a vacuum I no longer own does not add value to my life. Yes, this beautiful painting my parents gave me adds value to my life.

Sometimes I struggle for a very long time with that question. I’ll give you a very strange, but hopefully relatable, example: curtains. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I cannot donate curtains. I have four curtains that I bought from IKEA on super sale. They’re all white, though they have different lengths. I’m sure someone who understands interior design would say something about how they open up a space. I have two pairs of curtain panels in burnt orange. They block out the sun and match almost nothing I own. I have two burlap-colored curtains that I think match my bedspread, but really don’t. I also have a pair of yellow, patterned curtains that completely clash with the grey, patterned carpet I have in the same room. In the last five years, I’ve moved three times, moving my curtains with me each time. This may be the least minimalistic thing about me. But the thought of buying new curtains every time I move just seems ridiculous. So, I hold onto all my curtains — of different lengths, colors, and types — and just deal with the small amount of clutter so I have a lot of peace of mind.

Nevertheless, I am on a lengthy journey toward minimalism and I’m improving each year (curtains be damned). There are so many amazing resources I’ve used to inch my way up to a minimalist lifestyle. There are certainly an abundance of minimalism blog postsa lot of which were incredibly helpful when I first started this long journey. To avoid providing an overwhelming amount of links, I suggest starting with the wise women of one of my favorite podcasts, Honest Money Conversations. They have a lot of resources that will have you clicking around for hours. I also find that a podcast about minimalism is a great soundtrack to de-cluttering.

I’ve learned a lot on this four-year elimination expedition, and I think it’s important to pause and recognize one important thing: not everyone has the luxury of a) having stuff to get rid of and b) being able to get rid of stuff. Not everyone can reduce their belongings to 10 shirts and 10 pairs of pants at the (literal) drop of a hat. But every so often, it’s healthy for people to take inventory of the things in our lives and do what we can to reduce the excess. I actually find that each time I try to reduce, I ultimately notice how much stuff I actually own. It’s a very positive reminder that I don’t need to buy any more clothing — and certainly no more curtains.

I’m now at the point where I have reduced a significant amount of my belongings over the years, but I still feel as though I own too much. I’ve been very slowly reducing, starting with the biggest storage space in my home and hopefully moving to the nooks and crannies filled with all sorts of goodies (aka, old receipts, ties from bread bags, and coupons that expired in 2011).

I’ve been making a concerted effort to avoid keeping something just because it was free. It also has to add value to my life. And I have to use it. With this mindset, I was able to donate a large number of hangers, miscellaneous bed sheets, and some clothing I got as hand-me-downs. I also decided it was time to stop hoarding multiples. I’m such a creature of habit when it comes to buying clothing — I think I’ve owned 30 different black cardigans over my lifetime. But, like many people, I have my favorite sweater that I wear daily, leaving the others to collect dust.

I think anyone who has seen my apartment would not label me as a minimalist. And they’re right! I’m not a minimalist — I’m just someone who tries to be intentional about what I acquire. I love paper books, I enjoy weird pieces of art, I collect mugs. I’m never going to be that person with “a place for everything.” My home is always going to look lived-in, and that’s part of what makes it so comfortable and inviting. My goal is to make sure I don’t buy anything that doesn’t add value to my life, even if that value is a smile on my face, or a reminder of someone I love.

What are your key pieces of advice for other aspiring minimalists? Do you set a goal of a specific number of items? Do you have a list of rules you go by? Are you on a purchasing ban? Comment below and share your tips and tricks on how to reduce the stuff in your life.

Image via Unsplash

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