A beginner’s guide to minimalism

DSCF4591smallSo, you want to get rid of some stuff but don’t know where to start? Hopefully, this FAQ-style post will help you out.

What is minimalism?

Minimalism can refer to pared-down, simple styles in art, architecture and other areas but in this context we are talking about living with fewer material possessions.

Why would someone want to live with fewer material possessions?

For all sorts of reasons. Here are some of the main ones:

  • To save space. If you have fewer things, you need less space to store them. Simple.
  • To clear your mind. A cluttered space can be distracting and stressful.
  • To save time. Possessions need to be kept in good condition, cleaned and tidied. If you reduce them, you reduce the work required.
  • To save the planet. The stuff we buy takes energy and resources to make and often ends up in landfill or an incinerator. If we don’t need the stuff in the first place, this is incredibly wasteful.
  • To save money. Buying stuff is rarely a money-spinner, is it?
  • To prioritise other areas of your life. If you’re not shopping for the latest gadget or pair of shoes, you can be doing more interesting things instead.
  • To make your life lighter and more flexible. Stuff can tie you to one place but having less of it means it’s easier to move.

How many things can a minimalist own?

Right, let’s nip this one in the bud right here. Minimalism is not a competition. Yes, there are people with fewer than 100 things, who can put them all in a rucksack and go travelling the world, but minimalism is more of a mindset than a badge of honour.

Essentially, minimalism is about getting rid of the stuff you don’t need. But for goodness’ sake, keep the things you do need. You do not have to get rid of everything you own to be a minimalist. Everyone needs some stuff to function and you’ll probably also want to hang onto a few things which have no real purpose but light up your life.

What should I get rid of?

Well, this is the tricky bit, isn’t it? There are things you definitely need (say, a toothbrush) and then there are things you definitely know you can get rid of (say, clothes that don’t fit). But in real life, most things fall in that grey area in the middle. How far you go is entirely up to you.

What if I live with other people?

Then don’t get rid of their stuff. Even if you’re married to them. That’s not cool. In a similar vein, you can’t make someone else become a minimalist if they don’t want to. Instead, concentrate on yourself and your household may be inspired to follow suit, or may not.

Where do I start?

Start at the easiest point. This is not the time to tackle the huge cupboard teeming with belongings. Try one drawer or shelf to begin with and organise stuff into different piles: keep, bin, donate, sell.

What about sentimental stuff?

This is the most difficult area, so it’s probably not something you would start with. But in my experience, getting rid of your clutter will cause you to question why you’re sentimental about some items and make it easier to let go. You can also take photos of possessions which have memories attached to them, then give up the objects themselves.

I’ve hit a plateau, what do I do now?

There are loads of challenges out there to inject a bit of fun into this admittedly quite dull process. You could try wearing just 33 items of clothing in the next three months, in Courtney Carver’s Project 333 fashion challenge. There’s the month-long MinsGame, where you try to get rid of one thing on the first day of the month, two on the second day, and so on. Or try my own five-minute five-in-five decluttering challenge, where you have to beat the clock or a rival player by rounding up a quick five things to get rid of.

Isn’t this all a bit self-obsessed and inward looking?

Well, yes. But so is buying and accumulating all the things. The idea is to get this bit out of the way and start doing better things with your time.

Where can I find out more?

Here are some resources I have found useful:

  • Video: The Story of Stuff
    A quick film which helps explain why materialism is destroying the planet
  • Podcast: The Minimalists
    Best friends Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn host a show about minimalism, with some great Q&A segments
  • Blog: Becoming Minimalist
    There are lots of blogs about minimalism out there, but this is one of the biggies. It’s by Joshua Becker, who writes about how his family-of-four in the American suburbs became a minimalist household

7 thoughts on “A beginner’s guide to minimalism

  1. LMR says:

    I really enjoy your blog. It is very down to earth and your style of humor is definitely a humanizing touch. Thanks!

  2. Enjoyed this. I second the motion that a minimalist lifestyle helps lead to a more decluttered mind. I agree with your other points, too, but as an anxiety sufferer, minimalism = a more clear head, is at the top of my list always.

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