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What Is Minimalism? 5 Tips For Living A Minimalist Lifestyle, From Actual Minimalists

Morgan McBrideFebruary 26, 2020

Lately, the terms “minimalism” or “minimalist” have been catching the attention of interior decorators and designers. From the manifestation of multipurpose furniture to Pinterest pins prodding you to clean out your closet, the concept has become quite appealing.

But what does it mean to truly live a minimalist lifestyle? Oftentimes images of empty living rooms – save a single chair – come into our minds and we’re confused as to how such an open space could create a peaceful atmosphere.

We reached out to interior designers, financial experts and those who identify as minimalists, begging the question of the benefits that minimal lifestyles boast. What follows are their tips on how you can adopt this fad into your everyday life – some actions you can even take today!

What Is Minimalism?

While every influencer’s answer varies, minimalism can generally be defined as a life lived simply, possessing only the necessities that can be defined as a need versus a want. (Although some interior designers suggest that this application is more lax when it comes to home decor.)

“Ultimately, living a minimal lifestyle means that you’re not focusing on acquiring extraneous things – you only get what you really, really need,” says Chloe Wilson, self-proclaimed minimalist.

However, minimalism isn’t exclusively applied to home decor. In fact, the concepts of simplicity and necessity can also be applied your finances and overall psychology and mental health.

Through their website, books, podcast, and documentary, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, the creators of The Minimalists website, have helped over 20 million people live meaningful lives with less.

They developed the 90/90 rule, which is a system to help you decide whether to keep or get rid of something. The 90/90 rule requires you to ask yourself two simple questions about each item: Have I used this in the last 90 days? And, will I use it in the next 90 days? If the answer to both of these questions is no, you should get rid of the item.

This method can be a bit ruthless and difficult for people with sentimental attachments to unused items, but it’s an excellent way of purging excess and achieving a minimalist home.

What Are The Benefits Of A Minimalist Lifestyle?

The benefits you may reap from minimalism are uniquely and entirely your own. Are you cutting down on spending in order to save for a down payment on a home? Are you deleting social media accounts to be more present with your family and friends? Or are you even cleaning out some of your unused clothes and home decor because you’re feeling cramped and overwhelmed in your current living situation?

Whatever reason prompts your decision to dive into a lifestyle of less, the end goal is usually associated with some sort of freedom – from possessions, social distractions, financial debt – you name your end game.

Superficially, adopting minimalism into your everyday behavior can reap dramatic home decor changes, such as having cleaner rooms filled with less clutter or less laundry to fold during down time.

While these benefits are excellent advantages for time management (less time spent cleaning or reorganizing), minimalism is also psychologically proven to positively impact your mental health.

According to Psychology Today, “Physical clutter begets mental clutter,” meaning, our minds are often distracted by things (clothing, electronics, furniture), and we can experience information overload, yielding mental and physical exhaustion.

That being said, a minimalist mindset might not only help you clean out your hallway closet, minimalist home decor can help you mentally de-clutter, opening opportunities for “brain breaks,” as the article mentions, with a calmer mind and body.

5 Tips For Living A More Minimalist Lifestyle

Now that we’ve looked at the concepts of minimalism and the possible benefits it can pose, you can start to take action with these steps on how you can live a more minimalist lifestyle.

1. Clean Out The Clutter

Start with a drawer in your dresser or a coat closet in your hallway and examine the contents. Are there any items that you haven’t used (or even seen) in the last few months? Purge it. More importantly, donate it. Put it in a box and send it off to your nearest thrift store.

Not only will you reap the simplicity and openness your space now offers, you’ll feel good knowing your unused items will be repurposed in another’s home.

It is important, however, not to burden thrift stores with unsellable items. Assess each item you purge and donate, or recycle, accordingly. Donation of unsellable goods just puts a burden on charity-based thrift shops that have limited resources to go through all donations.

Sarah Donawerth, writer, blogger and minimalist, always has a donation box at the ready.

“In order to obtain a minimal lifestyle, find a way to constantly be clearing the clutter out of your life, whether that’s having a donation box or just resisting impulse purchases at the store,” Donawerth advises.

It’s important to note, however, that living a minimal lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to part with your treasured possessions. It simply means that you only keep things in your home that make you happy and fills a need.

Bonny Ford, president of the blog and online shop FurnishMyWay, suggests this could be anything from basic necessities to a treasured book or nostalgic record collection.

“The key isn’t to get rid of everything, just to get rid of what you don’t use, wear or what doesn’t make your space prettier or better in your eyes,” Ford explains. “The whole point of minimalism is to leave yourself with only the stuff that adds value to your life.”

If you’re having difficulties getting started, Ford suggests “The Minimalist Game,” a 30-day challenge that prompts you to get rid of various items, such as unworn clothes and shoes, unwatched DVDs and so on. The whole point is to rid yourself, and your home, of unused or useless clutter.

Ask a friend to join the game with you, as both a motivator and accountability partner, and try to incorporate minimalism into your home.

2. Choose Quality Over Quantity

Being a minimalist doesn’t mean you can’t have any possessions. Instead, you should be more thoughtful with your purchases to follow this “less is morelifestyle. Low-quality goods often need to quickly be replaced, which can add up to more spending compared to just buying one quality item the first time around.

One of the benefits of living a minimalist lifestyle is that you will buy less things, but still have things of higher quality. When investing in staple clothing, such as a heavy winter coat, it’s often a better investment to buy one high-quality jacket than to have to replace a cheap coat season after season.

When buying power tools that you’ll use frequently, such as a battery-powered drill, cheaper options will often result in frustration. Spending a bit more on a reputable branded tool with a good warranty will help ensure that it’s the only drill you ever have to buy.

Buying fewer items of higher quality will benefit you in many ways. You’ll spend less money in the long run, you’ll accumulate less stuff in your home, and you’ll consider purchases more carefully before making the investments. Buying fewer, higher-quality items is a staple of the minimalist lifestyle. 

3. Focus Your Finances

While cleaning out your closet may seem like an easy and almost liberating purge, you may find that adopting a minimalist mindset to your finances may be a little more taxing.

Once again, minimalism means focusing on needs. That being said, a minimalist lifestyle means simplifying your spending habits and focusing your finances on the very basics, like rent, loan payments, monthly savings, gas bill – any financial responsibility that is defined as a need, or as Wilson describes it, “a non-negotiable expense.”

On the other side is your flexible budget, like food, health and beauty – any expense that can be controlled by a budget adjustment, such as switching from brand name groceries to store brand. Everything else that falls outside the non-negotiable or flexible budget can be expendable, explains Wilson.

“There’s no shopping sprees, no en masse grocery store trips and no home decor store shopping trips,” Wilson explains. “If it’s something you can live without, you don’t get it.”

Lyn Alden, founder of Lyn Alden Investment Strategy, attributes minimalism as the cause of financial freedom in her life, allowing her to pay off $50,000 in student loans in 5 years and build a six-figure portfolio in her 20s, while still being able to enjoy luxury expenses from time to time.

“It’s a matter of prioritization,” suggests Alden.

Alden recommends a “financial audit” – taking a look at your financial accounts, home and retirement plan.

First, make a list of all your financial and credit or loan accounts to measure your net worth and then observe your monthly income and expenses. This will give you a “snapshot,” as Alden explains, of your financial situation.

Additionally, she emphasizes the need to “pay yourself first,” by increasing your automatic paycheck allocations and putting more money into your retirement plan at work. By putting more money into your retirement, you’re able to focus more on minimal spending efforts, i.e., the more you’re saving, the less you’re spending.

4. Tone Down The Technology

Laptops, television, smart phones, tablets – it’s no surprise that we can feel overwhelmed at times, surrounded by technology. While they can be useful tools in your professional and personal life, overexposure to multiple forms of technology for prolonged periods of time can lead to a cluttered mind.

Millburn and Nicodemus – the Minimalists – compare technology to a paint can. On one hand, a can of paint can be used to beautify a home’s facade; on the other, it can be used to graffiti a wall at a public park. In that same way, the Minimalists suggest that technology could be used for good or bad: connecting with a family member or being stuck in an endless stream of social media.

Keeping in theme with the idea of living simply, consider applying a minimal mindset in your perspective of technology and social media usage.

Do you find yourself scrolling through Pinterest for prolonged periods of time or skimming your social feed for stories and posts from friends? Set down the smart phone and take a breath.

At the end of the day, however, it’s up to you to determine your use of technology. When used correctly, as suggested by the Minimalists, it can enrich the world, creating a closer connection with family and friends.

Take time to reflect on your technology usage. If you’re up for the challenge, applying a minimalist mindset on your social media use might open your mind and attention to focus on the things around you, like a child’s sport’s game or a loved one’s wedding.

5. Refresh With Minimalist Decor

Giving your home a refresh will help the newly minimalist decor feel less sparse and more intentional. You don’t need to spend money on this refresh – just be intentional with the pieces that you keep and invest in and you’ll soon feel right at home with your decor.

A staple of minimalist decor is a neutral color palette. Bold colors can feel overwhelming and exciting, while neutral colors will let your mind relax. You don’t need to replace all of your things – and you shouldn’t – but keep calm colors in mind as you decide what to keep and while you invest in any new pieces. If you want to bring interest into your space, think about using different textures instead of lots of different colors.

Minimalist decor doesn’t have to feel boring or bland. You can still have decorations or accessories – just focus on displaying things that really bring you joy. Think of your accessories as each getting a grade in school – if everything gets an A+, then your home will have a 4.0 GPA in home decor.

Another way to cut down on excess in your home is to focus on items that serve multiple purposes. For example, a bench in your entryway that opens to provide storage offers both necessary seating as well as a place for personal items. For every item that serves two purposes, that’s one less thing you need in your home.

Updating your home with minimalist decor can feel counterintuitive to the minimalist mindset. Focus on not buying anything new but instead curating the items you already have. Keep only your favorites and then work to make the space feel cohesive and cozy.

To Each Their Own

Perhaps the most important concept to take away from our discussion of a minimalist lifestyle is to remember that everyone’s situation is uniquely their own. What works for one individual may not work for another.

“I think the thing that confuses most people about a minimal lifestyle is finding out where the bar is set for being considered minimalistic,” says Donawerth.

For example, it might be harder for a family of four or more to adopt this mindset compared to a single person living alone. Therefore, take time to reflect on why you’re delving into the world of minimalism. Determine your personal goals for this experiment and don’t compare your journey with another’s.

“Minimalism is about being purposeful about what you own, so your minimalism may not be someone else’s minimalism,” Donawerth says. “Don’t put pressure on yourself to achieve a number, but instead evaluate the decisions and habits that you already have about the stuff in your life.”

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    Morgan McBride

    Morgan McBride is a DIY-lover and home decor enthusiast living in Charleston, South Carolina. She has been blogging at CharlestonCrafted.com alongside her husband since 2012, where they empower their readers to craft their current home into their dream home through the power of DIY.