How to Start Living a Minimalist Life (it's not as hard as you think)

You could sit and drool over all the Pinterest images of clean, white spaces and clutter-less rooms for hours.

You can see yourself twirling around in an empty room while your husband looks on lovingly and your children play quietly and respectfully in the background.

And then your phone goes off or your child falls down or your dog throws up and life is back to reality REAL quick-like.

But, I’m here to give you some really good news.

Living a minimalist life is not just a daydream.

It’s not a lifestyle that exists only in your head.

In fact, getting started on a minimalist life is actually a lot easier than you might think it is.

Because the truth is, you don’t have to do it all at one time. Living a minimalist life does not mean backing a dumpster up to your house and throwing everything in it except a bucket, a stool and a sun dial.

Minimalism is just about living with less. So, any time you can look at something and decide, “hey, I really don’t need this”… you’re already one step closer to being a minimalist! Whether it’s just a few shirts out of the closet or the cake ball maker out of the kitchen.

It’s about getting rid of all that extra “stuff” that just takes up space most of the time anyhow and focusing on the things that really matter. It’s about streamlining, lightening your load and really, when it comes down to it… finding your actual life.

And the even better news is, you can start simply and easily right now.

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The Closet

The place I always like to tell people to start de-cluttering is in their closet. Now, for some people, this might seem like an intimidating place to begin. But, let me clarify. This is just a way to get started on minimalism. So, even if you can’t bring yourself to do a whole, comprehensive sweep of the closet right off the bat, there are some things you should be able to do pretty easily:

  • Get rid of any clothes that are ripped, have holes, are stained, faded or otherwise damaged

  • Get rid of duplicates (Now, if you work at a restaurant and have to wear a white shirt and khakis every day, then obviously, you need duplicates. But, if on the other hand, you just have four black cardigans because they somehow accumulated and you actually only need one, get rid of the extras.)

  • Get rid of anything that’s out of date. (Think Melanie Griffith in “Working Girl”)

  • Get rid of anything that’s no longer age-appropriate. (I won’t even ask you to start addressing the too big/too small debacle at this point - unless you want to! - but I can say with absolute certainty that unlike the possibility of gaining or losing pounds off of your weight, you are not going to suddenly lose years off of your age.) Time to say goodbye to the Daisy Dukes!

Hopefully, these items should be pretty easy to get rid of and by the time you finish purging them, you’ll begin to realize - you can do this. Of course, by all means, if you want to go further and start purging the items that don’t fit you or that you don’t wear anymore… go ahead! But, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not quite ready yet. Baby steps are still STEPS!

one in/one out

The next thing you can do to start living a more minimalist life is to institute a new “one in/one out” rule. This can apply to any room in the house, but most often seems to come into play in the bathroom. Instead of picking up a new shampoo or shower gel just because it smells good or you like the packaging, start a new habit of only buying something new when you run out of the old one. Or in the case of things like shoes or purses, only buy something new if you are willing to go home and get rid of one that you already have in exchange.

This one in/one out rule will help minimize the overall number of items you have in your home at any one time because you’ll always be releasing one thing in exchange for acquiring a new one. If you absolutely have to have that new pair of jeans… go for it, girl! But then, make sure you go home and find a pair that you can donate in its place. And the next time you see a new scent of shower gel or body spray that you just must try, make a mental note of it, so you can get it when you run out of the one at home.

(Important: this is not about depriving yourself or punishing yourself. But, it is about having some level of self-control. Because without it, well… isn’t that how you ended up with all the clutter in the first place?)

digitize

Chances are, you probably have a lot of clutter in the form of papers. Whether it’s bills, invoices, product manuals or tax returns. If you have an overflowing filing cabinet or a desk that looks more like the aftermath of an avalanche, don’t feel bad. We all have at one point or another.

So again, even if you’re not quite ready to dive into all that clutter to make sense of it just yet, you can take steps to prevent future clutter from adding to the mix.

  • If you haven’t already, sign up for e-bill services with your utilities, credit cards and other lenders.

  • Stop printing out recipes from the internet and just reference them on your tablet, phone or laptop as you cook instead.

  • Opt out of paper receipts at the store when you’re given the option and for the ones you do come home with - either shred them immediately (if you don’t need to keep them) or scan them onto your computer and then shred the paper copy (if you do to keep them).

  • Cancel unnecessary magazine and catalog subscriptions.

  • Go through your mail everyday as soon as you get it and take care of each piece appropriately (don’t just toss it on the counter).

put it to the test

One of my favorite minimalism “tests” and an easy way to get started in de-cluttering your kitchen is to use the cardboard box test.

At the beginning of the month, put all of your utensils into a box on the counter. Not your everyday silverware, but all the big stuff - the spoons, spatulas, ladles, whisks, peelers, grinders, thingamabobs and thingamajigs. Then, every time you need something during your regular everyday activities, take it out of the box, use it and after you’ve cleaned it, put it away in its regular home (drawer, cabinet, utensil crock, etc.). But, only take an item out as you need it.

Then, at the end of 30 days, take a look inside the box and see what’s left - those are all the things that you can go at least a month without even touching. So, now you can ask yourself more realistically… do I actually need this?

Again, we’re not even getting into the cabinets or the pantry yet, but just starting with this simple step will get some momentum going and help you see what you really need and what you don’t!

start thinking about “doing” instead of “having”

This last one isn’t a tangible step, as much as a mindset shift. But, the more you can do it, the easier minimalism will become. In a society that’s all about consuming as much as possible, it’s easy to automatically think in terms of “having” things. But, like one of my favorite mottoes says… you’ll never see a U-Haul following a funeral procession.

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In other words, you can’t take it with you.

So, instead of focusing all of your time, energy and money on having things, change your perspective and focus more on doing things. Spending time with your family, helping others, traveling, developing a hobby or talent - they all will mean more than any item you could own or possess. And the best part is, they don’t take up any space.

Instead of buying the latest iPhone just because you feel like you “have” to or picking up something out of the dollar bins at Target just because it’s “cute”… think about what you could do with that money instead. Go on a romantic date with your spouse, donate food to a local food bank, finally take that art class you’ve always wanted to take. The options are endless.

But, the point is to change your focus.

Stop worrying so much about what you have. And start focusing on what you do.

Stop accumulating and start living.

You can do it!

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