Minimalism: A Beginners’ Guide

Note:  Many of the resources in this post are no longer published.  You can find an updated version of this post here.

I had an interesting discussion on an online forum recently. The question was, “How do you get started living minimistically?“. I was able to quickly throw out some tips on decluttering, but the answer to the question is much more complicated. If it were just about stuff, we would all run to Goodwill a few times and be done with it.

So, I examined my journey toward minimalism, and I’ve researched the paths of other minimalists. What I’ve realized is that, in order to live a more minimalistic life, you need to consider four things: the reason you have so much stuff, they way you want your life to look, starting (and finishing!) e decluttering process, and preventing the clutter from returning. Let’s take a look at each of these.

How Did I Get So Much Stuff?

All the clutter came from somewhere. Francesca, from the blog Tasmanian Minimalist, found that she was shopping to meet emotional needs. Who hasn’t indulged in a little retail therapy? (Read Francesca’s story here). I found that not only did I clothing shop for fun, I couldn’t pass up a good deal. I also inherited a lot of items that I needed to store. I kept a lot of items for hobbies that I never engaged in, and I kept a lot of things “just in case”. I also owned a great deal of “must-haves” that I never questioned.

Realizing why I had so much clutter helped me to realize the downside of my situation. I spent so much time managing my possessions that I did not have time to do the things I enjoyed.

So look at your current situation. What don’t you like about it? How did things come to be the way they are? This is really the first step toward decluttering.

What Does Your Dream Life Look Like?

Decluttering, or even minimalism for that matter, is not an end in itself. If you are aiming to make minimalism your only passion and decluttering your only hobby, you probably won’t be happy. I found that when I decluttered for the sake of decluttering, I seemed to make sure I was never finished!

So, why do you want to be a minimalist? Erin from Healthy Branscoms wanted to improve her health and make life less stressful for her family, (Read Erin’s story here). Gigi, from The Ramble, wanted to travel throughout Europe. (Here is her story).

In our case, we were first intrigued by minimalism because it seemed like a stress-free lifestyle. But we were lukewarm until we spent last summer living on the boat. Then, we had found our passion. We wanted to sail. We wanted to have the time and the money to pursue our passion, and that required some (still ongoing) restructuring of our finances and our priorities. We wanted to eventually live aboard full time, and that led us to seriously reduce our material possessions.

Minimalism will not look the same for everyone. Your dream may be to have a clean house and frequently entertain friends. In that case, you will want enough dishes and probably a dishwasher. You will be more likely to purge knick-knacks and items for hobbies you no longer enjoy. However, if you want to homestead or live off the grid, you will likely go extra dishes and a dishwasher. Without a vision, you will just purge for the sake of purging, and run the risk of living a life of doing-without. Minimalism is not about martyrdom, it’s about only having what you need, to live the life you envision.

All Right, So How Do We Begin?

Pick something manageable, and get started! (See “It Starts With One Box“.)

Francesca started by giving her excess clothing away (see her story, referenced above, for more information). Here is her tally, of the possessions she’s purged so far.

Erin recommends filling one bag, from any part of your house, per day (see link to her story above). Sarah, from Teenage Minimalist, recommends a similar approach.

Some minimalists were forced into the lifestyle, by unfortunate circumstances. Tony, from Writing From Afar, went through a divorce and had to leave with whatever would fit into his car. (Read his story here). Hulya, from A Minimalist’s Musings moved away, then lost the possessions that remained at her parents’s house in a flood. (Here is a link to her story.). If you’re reading this, studying up on minimalism, you probably haven’t experienced a life event that has thrown you into the lifestyle. But thinking “what if” can get you started with decluttering. Heather, from Wanting What You Have, often wonders “what if we were moving?”

There are lots of “how-to” articles for the task itself, so I don’t feel the need to re-invent the wheel. All I can add is that, if you’ve got a passion you’re working toward, you will have success with any method. We went through the house, multiple times, questioning anything that we hadn’t used on the boat. We preferred to “rip the Band-Aid off” rather than taking a gradual approach.

Here are some links to articles about decluttering:

How to Win the War on Clutter

Twenty Questions to Clear Your Clutter

Exorcise Your Clutter Ghosts

No Regrets

Declutter Your Fantasy Self


How Do I Keep the Clutter From Coming Back?

This is the challenge. We would declutter, then it all would mysteriously come back. Here are some lessons I’ve learned, that have helped keep our house clutter-free:

–Just because something is a freebie, doesn’t mean we need it.

–Hand-me-downs are tough. Often, I’ve realized, the person giving them away is also trying to declutter, but doesn’t have the heart to donate the clothing. In that case, I take anything I might need (that would still fit into my wardrobe–probably replacing something!), and I donate the rest. If there are other people who might want the clothing, then it is easier to say “No thanks.”

–Make sure friends and family understand, in the gentlest terms possible, what you are trying to do. Christmas used to be a great clutter-fest, until I started writing about minimalism.

–Look back at your reasons for gaining clutter. Address those specifically. For example, if you take in a lot of retail therapy, find some other way to release stress.

–Tony recommends keeping an inventory of your possessions, in order to keep,the clutter under control. Here is his article.

Now, all that’s left is for you to get started!

6 thoughts on “Minimalism: A Beginners’ Guide

  1. Pingback: 7 Tips on Convincing Your Partner to Dive Into Decluttering | homemakerforallseasons

  2. Gives me a lot to think about . . . hmmmm. Guess, I never really understood the term “minimalism” but got it now. I could use help in getting on board here.

    I’m not like some you mentioned where I buy for comfort. I don’t like to shop. In fact, I’m the one when I need something will just go in for that one item and leave. My problem is I hold onto everything for ever until its use is finally exhausted — really exhausted.

    My stuff is old cause I hold onto it forever. I also hold onto things like notes, lists of resources, etc. because I don’t think I’ll remember where to get back to them. By the time, I look them up again, they’ve moved on.

    Good place to start for me would be my email inbox — hmmmm. Good post, Bethany, you’ve got me thinking.

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