Minimalist Living: How to Start Today

messIf you’ve ever thought about chucking it all in and selling most of what you own, then you might be ready for a Minimalist lifestyle. But it’s more than less is more, and decluttering. Living a minimalist life allows you simple freedoms that you can’t have when you are drowning in possessions.

When I left Europe two years ago I worried that I would have trouble maintaining the lifestyle I had become accustom to in Prague. In my seven years there I didn’t buy any furniture, television, phone, car or major appliance. I never wanted for anything. I had hand-me-down furniture, and it suited me just fine. Minimalism isn’t really about stark, empty rooms with hardly anything to sit on. It’s more about removing from your life anything that is unnecessary or distracting. Finding alternatives to spending. It is about getting rid of excess and living with only essentials. *Essentials will vary from person to person.

I find television excessive. And expensive. So I choose not to own one. And I would never, ever have more than one. I’ve been in homes (mostly stateside) where I have seen multiple televisions. One in the living-room. One in the bedroom. One in the kitchen? Aside from the abundance of televisions, I found a desktop computer with an oversized monitor which the kids seemed to use as yet another source of televised entertainment. While some of you may think I’m old-fashioned, let me explain a few things. When you don’t own a television (or a car or a house or…) you are not only saving money on the purchase price of the item, but also on its upkeep. I don’t pay cable bills. I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t pay for gas or car maintenance. Living a Minimalist lifestyle allows me to be mindful about what I own, what I buy, and how I spend my time and money. Basically it boils down to this – My life is about experiences, not possessions.

Minimalism hasn’t really caught on here in the US, and I’m not surprised. After 9/11 our (then) President (the glorious Mr. Bush) chose not to mobilize the country or summon his fellow citizens to economic sacrifice, but rather he told us to … go shopping. Spend money. That’ll help! And we (as a country) did. And we still are. Americans seem to think it is their solemn duty to spend money on shit they don’t really need. It’s difficult to live a minimalist lifestyle in a country that doesn’t support it. But it is possible. You’ll have more time, more money, and more joy. How is that a bad thing?

  • What you need to do: Mentally prepare. This is a commitment. It doesn’t do you any good to get rid of things and then replace them with new versions a few months down the road. The idea is to take stock of your life. Go room by room and make a decision for each thing you own. Not only will you realize exactly how much “stuff” you have, you’ll realize how much time, money and energy each item requires of you.

    It won’t happen over night. It will take time, and it should take time.You’ll want to say goodbye to those ugly plates Aunt Grandma left you, and the hand me down bed your Uncle built that’s so short your feet hang off. Getting rid of things that hold sentimental value is difficult until you realize you can remember people, places and the good times without the tangible evidence. It’s kind of hard to live in the present when you are surrounded of memories from the past.

  • First step: Put a box in every room. When you come across something you haven’t used in the last six months (seasonal clothing not included) or ever, toss it in the box. Think with your brain, not with your heart. I always ask myself three questions: Do I need this? Is it usable, in good shape? When is the last time I used this? If my answers to these questions come up wanting, I toss it. No matter what it is.

    toomuchstuffIt can be overwhelming at first since, let’s face it, we like our “stuff”. But when you begin to look at your stuff not as stock-plied treasure, but in terms of time, energy and money, it becomes much easier to let go. That big house you have full of things takes time, money and energy to keep clean and maintained. Why not make it easier for yourself? Look at an item and think about how many hours you had to work, or will have to work, to pay for it. Every piece you own is a chance to regain time and/or money if you sell it or give it away. Once you’re ready to start purging, you’ll feel truly liberated.

  • Dig in: Now that you’ve thrown a few things in the box its time to step it up. Is there a closet you are afraid to open because the contents might fall out and suffocate you? How about that junk drawer that lives up to its name? Pinpoint these areas and deal with them first. No use putting it off. The time is now. Once these dragons have been slain, you’ll feel momentum to move forward. Nice clothes, household items are great choices for eBay… I hear. I don’t have the time or patience for that so I just give my things away. Yard sales are another great idea. It’s absolutely incredible the things folks will buy at a yard sale. Half a tube of toothpaste for .50? You got it!

    If this seems too scary, then start small. Keep those boxes for six months and then give them away. Another trick is to set a timer for fifteen minutes, and de-clutter until it goes off. Get rid of the easy things first, like your notebooks from Chem class… in high School. Ugly gifts you’ve received and kept “to be nice”. List those TV’s on Craigslist and sell that juicer you bought but never used. Having intent isn’t the same as doing.

  • Save for later: Once you’ve started to de-clutter, you’ll get to start on the fun part: Thinking about what to do with all of that free space, time, and money. I read of one couple that was able to pay off their home in less than seven years, and quit their days jobs in order to pursue writing full-time – all thanks to a Minimalist lifestyle. My fella and I have been able to travel across America thanks to a Minimalist lifestyle. When you don’t fritter money away on junk, you have more to put toward the essentials — and experiences.

    canuimaginedouglasfriedmanYou’ll also want to be smart about your future purchases. Let impulse buys be a thing of the past. You are better than that. Stop shopping at huge warehouse stores. Nobody needs that much of anything all at once. Shopping shouldn’t be something you do for fun or entertainment. It isn’t something “to do” like go to the movies. It is something you do when you actually need something.  Shop for multi-purpose, utility items. If you need to, inventory your home before you go to a store. Knowing that you have six black shirts at home will hopefully stop you from buying a seventh.

  • Remember it is an ongoing process: It’s not a one time purge. This is a commitment. The awesome rewards of this lifestyle only come to fruition if you stick with it. That means de-cluttering is an ongoing process. I have a one in, one out rule. For each new thing I bring in, one old thing has to go. That way I keep my personal mass of stuff to a minimum. I take books to a little sharing library. I give clothes to Goodwill.

    I’ve been doing this for two years in America and I’m super comfortable with it. Looking around my flat you’ll see dozens of books in stacks on the floor. And that’s about it. Everything else is either to sleep on, wear, or cook with. No excess. And it feels great. We live in a smaller flat than ever before and we are pretty happy. Downsizing isn’t easy, but having less space to put things definitely keeps you from buying things. And the things we do have actually matter. Each and every thing.

  • You are not your neighbor. Everyone knows that playing “Keeping Up With the Joneses” is a losing battle. But that never stopped anyone from comparing themselves to their cool friend or neighbor. Try to avoid doing this. It doesn’t help, and chances are the person you are comparing yourself with has different goals and values than you do. Make yourself happy and you win. If your friend just brought home a new flat screen TV, a new pair of shoes, and a patio set – don’t feel jealous or lacking. That’s a lot of cash to drop on non-necessery items. Use that money for a trip, or move someplace new. Or save it. Purchase art supplies or interesting ingredients to cook with. Try to infuse your daily life with your passions and hobbies and spend your money there.

    If your passion or hobby is shopping, then you’ve got bigger problems than clutter.

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2 thoughts on “Minimalist Living: How to Start Today

  1. I have too much stuff but I like so much of my stuff that I think I’ll keep it for now but i do sort out every now and then, especially my wardrobe and books

  2. What a great post! I have to tell you, I got halfway through reading and I felt compelled to go to my closet, sort out a bunch of clothing I haven’t worn in forever, drove out and dropped them off at a local thrift shop, came back home and finished reading your article. So there. You inspired me to take the first step!!

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