What I’ve Learned (And What I’ve Saved) After 1 Year Of Living More Simply


I’ve always been a little extra. That’s just who I am. I’m not a minimalist. I love collecting clothes and all things fashion-related. I decorate the absolute heck out of my living spaces. I like when my stuff is the best version of the stuff it could possibly be. And it is tricky, because while I totally agree that “things” are not always quite as important as “experiences,” I do consider many of my things a huge part of my life experience, and I don’t like to write them off as unimportant just because they’re material objects. They bring me joy, and are all somehow useful in my life, which is really all I could ask for.

However, this time last year, I set myself off on a little journey. This was pre-TFD for me (although I was reading the site daily!), but I was somehow set off on my very first closet-cleanse obsession. It was early autumn, just starting to become chilly, and I was going through some personal problems that convinced me the greatest way to spend the season was in my cozy bedroom alone, burning fall candles and cleaning the fuck out of my closet. I made a Pinterest board for my bedroom journey. But what would I call it? I went through a couple of titles: Fall Project: Room Overhaul Edition. Bedroom DIY. Clean Room 2015. Eventually, I settled on the title for the board that still exists today: Living More Simply. Life had become chaos, and boy do I hate chaos. I needed to gain control over just one tiny thing, and that thing was my bedroom. I had to give it a little cleanse. I had to take my metaphorical sage stick to that disaster zone, and make it a space where I could feel like me.

The bedroom project came out really nicely (if I do say so myself), and eventually, the principles I began to live by in order to create a living space I loved bled into many other areas of my life. I didn’t adopt a capsule wardrobe (obviously), I didn’t go on a restaurant or shopping ban, and I didn’t cut beauty products out of my daily routine. What I did do was slowly and methodically cut those things back to the things that truly, deeply enriched my life. Instead of having 75 lipsticks that I didn’t wear, I chucked them all in favor of two or three that didn’t make me look like a damn clown. Instead of having a collection of 100 DVDs that I never watched, I saved the few movies I loved and donated the rest. Instead of feeling anxious about ridding my closet of clothes I didn’t wear because I wanted to keep my options open, I let go of things I really didn’t like, and the anxiety that came along with owning them. This was an important process for me for many reasons; first of all, it taught me how to live with less. Which is a really good goal, I suppose, but it taught me something a lot more important than that – it taught me the difference between living with less for the sake of having less and being able to call myself a “minimalist”, and living with less because I genuinely felt like the best possible version of myself required less things. It was more than just cleaning out my bathroom cabinets — I actually had started to clean out some of the insecurities that were genuinely plaguing me.

Because the truth is (and I’ve written about this before), it is not my belief that people with a lot of stuff are less genuine or enlightened, or people with minimal belongings are happier and more enlightened. However, it is my belief that sometimes, people can fall into a lifestyle that requires so much stuff for them to feel okay, and it is doing more harm for them than good. I still probably have more things than the average stuff-owner, but I now have an amount that feels more comfortable to me than the excessive amount I had before. Before, I truly didn’t feel like myself if I didn’t go through my 12-step process of getting ready in the morning. That included a shower (with full shampoo and conditioner routine), a range of pricey skincare products, a full face of makeup, and heat-styled hair. Living by such a routine isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it was for me. I was so reliant on it that I felt anxious at the thought of going without it. I panicked at the prospect of spending a night over a friend’s house without preparing a day in advance, because I felt like I couldn’t function and feel comfortable with myself if I didn’t have my stuff.

And don’t get me wrong – I still shower, I still have products, I still blow dry my hair, and I still wear some makeup. But I am so much more comfortable with the smaller amount of required products and items it takes for me to feel like the truest, realest version of me. I feel more comfortable – not at all minimalist, but minimal-er, and not obsessed with collecting things that might make me feel a little better about myself.

Recently, Chelsea wrote about what her lifelong struggle with “problem skin” taught her about the way people view what we spend our money on. She noted that having tons of products that are genuinely a necessity in order to feel comfortable in your daily professional life shouldn’t be looked at as a frivolous expense. This was the “yassssss giiiiirl” post I deeply needed this week, because I feel like even after the past year of trying to change the way I feel about owning things, I am still trying to strike the perfect balance between “comfortably owning all necessary items to make my life work easily” and “getting too excessive and relying on tons of shit to feel like a stable person.”

It is a hard thing to deal with when you have problem skin (which I do as well, and heartily agree with everything Chelsea had to say in her post), and I’d imagine it is also a hard thing to deal with when you don’t, and are just trying to figure out how much stuff is too much.

For now, I am still unsure. Sometimes I get a weird feeling deep in my belly when I sit in my boyfriend’s apartment and see how few belongings he has, and I think about my tightly-packed closet and how I must be a shitty person because I have so much. I try my best to make each purchase purposefully, and that itself has saved me a lot, both emotionally and financially speaking. I feel less stressed about accumulating items I may not end up having any use for, and it reflects really nicely in my bank account — I’ve been reaching my savings goals months earlier each time than I was a year or two ago. I’ve been feeling less inclined to spend any amount of money on something I’m not sure I deeply want or need.

It isn’t a perfect system, and it is by no means a destination or an end point, but rather a journey I hope to continue on in becoming a version of myself that I feel completely comfortable with on its own, minus all of the “extra.”

Mary writes every day for TFD, and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at mary@thefinancialdiet.com!

Image via Unsplash

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  • Smashley

    Of course this is a Mary article! I freaking love this and I really identify with it. I’m a “stuff” lover as well, through and through. I love having a cozy home that has all my favourite things in the cupboards and on the walls. I am not, and never will be, a minimalist but I really love the idea of simplifying your life while still maintaining what’s important in your home/life through being more strategic with your purging or purchasing.

  • Jack

    Mary I was totally like you, and I have to say, it’s a LONG process. I really hated the idea of minimalism because I loved fashion and decoration and crafts, but over years of practice and simplicity, I feel like I really understand that “minimalism” is very different for everyone and different for yourself at different points in your life.
    You’re still in school and doing all sorts of different jobs so it totally makes sense you still have a bunch of stuff. I’m glad you’re not stressing and feeling bad about it. Just be mindful, and one day in 10 years maybe you’ll look around and be like – hey my closet is actually pretty empty now and I’m not sad about it!
    Hah this was a bit rambly. I just really like posting on your articles <3

  • Andrea

    This is great. I love, love things. I grew up in a cozy house with lots of tchotchkes and books and photos and throw pillows. Having a lot around me, especially when they are memories and tokens of people and things I love, or experiences I’ve had, is comforting. But I also feel so overwhelmed by all the stuff I have. I’ve taken little steps to help alleviate the stress, like cancelling my Ipsy (more makeup that I’ll never actually use), and throwing out half of the 30+ tshirts that I literally only wear for sleep.

    I admire people who live the minimalist lifestyle so much, and wish I didn’t feel like I need two black vneck sweaters “just in case.” But it’s a process! All your articles are wonderful, happy that you are reaching your goals! 🙂

  • andnowlights

    Loved this. I am very much both a “stuff” person and someone who gets easily overwhelmed by clutter, so I totally get this!

  • Mary Harman

    From one Mary to another, this piece rocks. The writing is excellent and enjoyable. I just want to hang out in this article all day.

  • I’m still in the cleansing part of this process. Slowly but surely I’ve been replacing or purchasing new things when they’re needed as the best that I can afford. Now it’s time to do another purge of the things getting in the way of enjoying my nice stuff. 🙂

  • Violaine

    I love all of Mary’s articles – this one too!

  • Judith

    Getting rid of stuff and just generally figuring out how much you really need to be comfortable is hard af, especially when people around you are constantly buying just whatever (and throw it in with the other stuff a week later)… I feel left out easily, especially with friends who are very much “stuff people”. What got me to downsize was simply finding myself broke to the point where I was literally unable to afford anything but the most basic food items. I used to make up a game where I was brutally honest about “Do I need this? Do I need this more than food today?”. Luckily I’ve moved on to a very good job with a good salary, but I was scared how I would react to having money again, if I would go back to spending and all my past bad money habits. Well, I didn’t and aside from the occasional splurge on yet another new shampoo and conditioner or a new shirt, I pretty much save a lot. It also helps my security issues to see my savings account grow, even as I might come off as pretty much like a dragon counting my shiny, golden coins.