In our culture of consumer-driven greed, there’s a counter-revolution brewing. People are ditching their McMansions and storage facilities in favor of freedom and uncluttered living. Minimalism is gaining traction across the country. Maybe you’ve read about it or watched shows featuring this lifestyle, and been inspired to try it yourself. But where to start? Well, you’re in luck. Here’s your 101: Minimalism for Beginners crash course.
You may have heard certain rules, such as: 'you must own less than 100 items,' or 'get rid of things with no practical use,' or 'minimalists can’t own televisions.' While there are certainly those in the minimalist world who follow these rules, they’re not necessary or integral to the minimalist lifestyle. In reality, it’s most important to find a balance that works for you, even if that means keeping your television or owning two cars.
Rather than keeping to strict rules, I like to follow the five Rs as guidelines: Reduce, Reorganize, Replace, Reimagine, and Repair. Using these guidelines, my partner and I reduced our 'stuff' to the point that we now live in a truck camper, and travel as much as we like. Whether travel is your goal, or you just want to declutter your apartment, these tips may be the help you need to go minimalist yourself.
The most basic, core principle of minimalism is to reduce the number of things in your life. There are many approaches to this process, and everyone does it differently, but you’re going to need to sell, donate, and give away a lot of stuff.
The first step is to go through all your possessions to remind yourself of what you have. Now that you remember what's there, pay attention to what you actually use each week and each month. If you have something you haven't used in a month, consider donating, selling or recycling it. You can make exceptions for items with sentimental value, valuable collectibles (no, Beanie Babies don’t count), or items with a specific purpose for occasions that actually happen frequently and aren't just hypotheticals. Gradually begin getting rid of things. See if you miss any of it.
If you'd like to take an intermediate step, set aside items you’re not sure about for a few weeks or a month before donating them. See if you miss any of them. If you do, take them out of the pile and donate or sell the rest. I did this with a few things when moving into the camper, and some of the items I had decided to donate are now my most used. I just needed to remember I had them and work them back into my routines.
Focus on quality items, not quantity. It's OK to re-wear outfits and use the same pan for multiple types of meals. Keep the items that are the highest quality and can be used for the most purposes.
One of the worst parts about this process was attempting to make money off our stuff. People don't pay much for used items (except for TVs and other similarly valuable things). Unless you really need the money, save yourself the stress and annoyance of negotiating and trying to meet with people by simply donating or recycling your less valuable items.
I used a mixture of avenues to offload my excess things. Here are a few of them:
- OfferUp – You can sell anything on this app, however most things don't sell for much money (think $10-20). We made good money ($50-100 or more) off our TV, wall decor, outdoor gear, and some vehicle / dirt bike add-ons.
- Swap.com – This service only accepts nice, newer, brand name clothes. You only make about $3-6 per item. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure it was worth the hassle of sending in the clothes...
- Recycle or take advantage of buy-back programs for electronics via Apple and Best Buy – They pay pretty well for your used electronics! I made a good bit of money off of Apple.
- Donate to Goodwill – They take nearly everything and either sell it or responsibly recycle it, so it’s a good resource for anything you can't sell or give away.
- Giving to friends – Don't waste too much time on this. Most of your friends don't want your stuff either. Just donate it.
- Throwing in the actual trash – I tried to trash as little as possible, but when it came down to it, I couldn't get away from throwing a decent amount of stuff away.
- Signs in apartment complex - I was able to find my beloved plants new homes by putting up signs in my apartment complex.
At first blush, it may seem that living with less stuff would make organization a snap. But, especially if you’re also downsizing your space like I did, or if you’re getting rid of those extra furniture pieces that used to be used for storage, you’ll likely need to get a bit more organized.
Think of space the way climbers think of footholds. Every little piece of wall, floor, or ceiling is a potential place to store something. This allows you to do more with less area. For instance, there's a small space between our pull-out bed and the countertop in our camper. We were able to stick a metal ruler in this 3-3.5 inch space, magnetize our spice containers, and store them there. This freed up a lot of room in our food cabinet.
As you're reorganizing and reducing, think about replacing your low quality products with higher-quality items. It may seem expensive, but it will save you money in the long run because these items will last longer, usually be more multi-purpose, and often are easier to repair when there are issues so you don't have to repurchase as frequently. The word 'disposable' should be eliminated from your shopping. Why buy something that is designed to be thrown away? Instead, look for high-quality, long-lasting items that serve multiple functions.
Before buying anything, determine what can be replaced by the item you buy. Try to donate or recycle something you already have each time you make a new purchase. This will make you strategize a lot before each purchase, thus reducing the number of unnecessary ones.
Another tip is to not purchase anything the first time you see it. Let’s say you find a shirt that you simply have to have. Remember where you found it - maybe take a picture for reference - but don’t buy it today. If you still want it in a few weeks, and have decided it will fit in well with the rest of your wardrobe, and know when or where you’ll wear it regularly, go back and buy it. Most often, you’ll find that you don't need it badly enough to still want it a week or two later.
In a truly minimalist household, almost everything serves multiple purposes. Try to only buy products that can be used for multiple needs. Why have eighteen different single-use kitchen gadgets that can all be replaced by a good quality knife and a cutting board? Do you need to buy that new power tool that you’ll only use for this specific project, or can you rent or borrow it for the day?
I like to buy my clothes from nicer outdoor clothing brands, such as Eddie Bauer, Smartwool, and United by Blue. I can equally wear them on hikes or to a casual dinner or night out. This way I don't need separate clothes for the activities I do most. And, as a bonus, they're all quick-dry and odor resistant so I don't need to do laundry as frequently.
As another example, we have a long, thin rug in the camper. It can be used as carpet for the floor, a doormat for the outdoor deck, or a yoga/workout mat. That’s three separate needs all fulfilled by the same item.
This should be obvious, but - as Americans - we're much more conditioned to replace items than fix them. When something breaks, gets a tear, or begins to show a bit of wear, try first to repair it instead of immediately replacing it. This is more possible if you buy high-quality products (because most high-quality brands, such as Patagonia, Cotopaxi, etc., will repair items for you), but can work for anything. You may even find a new and profitable hobby in restoring old things and giving them a new life!
Remember: This is a long and frustrating process. But the good news is that it pays off with big rewards. We’re 6 months into our new lifestyle, and we're still finding things we don't need and/or want to replace with something else. It’s not a quick task that you do once and then are done with. Rather, it’s a new perspective on life, possessions, and what is most important. And your journey won't be exactly like anyone else’s — just like life itself!
The initial reduction and reorganization process is frustrating. Don't be too hard on yourself. Our culture has made us all believe we need a ton of stuff, and taught us to judge ourselves and one another based on what we have. We're all guilty of this type of thinking at some level. After all, we’re taught from a very young age that ownership equals success. But does it really? Does your stuff really make you happy? Or has your stuff started to own you and your life?
Power through the downsizing process. Give yourself breaks and pep talks when you need it. Once you're done, you'll be able to live a much simpler, cheaper lifestyle that gives you the freedom to pick up and go whenever you want, as opposed to trapping you to a particular 'place' filled with unnecessary things. You also will be helping the planet by reducing your consumer footprint!