Usually when we hear the word "minimalism" we envision a white room with very few items in it. We think of having a scarce few items in our possession or throwing everything away that doesn't "spark joy" as Marie Kondo would say. I have personally read a handful of books on minimalism and may have binged the popular Netflix series in one night, but who hasn't? After consuming as much as possible on the topic, I decided to start taking a minimalist approach to our home and life.
To me, minimalism is much more than cleaning out the clutter in your home. It is a lifestyle choice that is filled with intentionality and purpose. It is not simply throwing away a bunch of junk, but also about thoughtfully choosing what you bring into your home after you have purged the clutter. I am on this journey myself and am learning so much along the way. I have chosen to start pursuing a minimalist lifestyle because I constantly felt like I was drowning in stuff. I was sick and tired of the endless toys to be picked up after a long day. Tired of laundry strewn across the house whether it was dirty or simply tried on and discarded for a different outfit. Most importantly, I was tired of never feeling like I could breathe under the weight of all the junk taking up precious space in my home and life. I desire to purchase and hold onto items that help tell the story of who I am and what I love. I want people to walk into our home and feel welcomed. I want our home to tell the story of our life and not overwhelm visitors or ourselves with meaningless chunks of plastic or decorations bought on a whim.
I am continually pursuing a minimal lifestyle and it is truly a journey. I have found so far that I am enjoying my home more. I am learning new things about who I am as a person and what I value. It is an ever-changing adventure, and it is one I want to share so you can feel the freedom that comes with letting go and taking control of your home. That's why I am sharing with you three steps that I have taken to begin the process of living a more intentional and minimal lifestyle.
1. Divide Your Clutter Into Zones
When you first begin your minimalism journey it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the junk you've accumulated over the years. I found little plastic baggies filled with extra buttons for shirts we hadn't owned for years, shoeboxes stacked ceiling high that hadn't held a purpose since the day we purchased the shoes, and so many more items which provided no purpose to our family. When I stood there and took in the weight of the journey in which I had embarked, I felt like defeated and I hadn't even started. In order to make my clutter into something manageable, I divided my house into zones. Each space in the house that had its own door was its own personal zone. That means in our master bedroom I would have three zones, the bedroom itself, the closet, and the master bathroom.
When I divided the house up this way, it was less terrifying to look at a project and contemplate beginning to go through the clutter. I was able to choose one area of the house to work on at a time and not have several areas of the house being worked on all at once. I know that I am guilty of starting a project and not finishing it. Working in zones was a way for me to challenge myself to finish one zone before moving onto another.
Once you've divided your home into zones you can start listing projects you want to complete for each of those zones. If we take the example of my bedroom closet, my list of projects were as follows- baby clothes, dresser, my clothes, Ryan's clothes, shoes, and overhead shelves. Making the list helped me understand what truly needed to be done in the room. I would then tackle one project in that zone each time I had to work on decluttering. Once all the projects were done, I could check off that zone and move onto the next one.
Take the time to divide your home into zones and then projects. I promise your journey to a minimalist lifestyle will be much more enjoyable and achievable.
2. Don't Overwhelm Yourself
The most important advice I could give to anyone wanting to pursue a minimalist lifestyle is to take the process slowly. When I first started, I was so excited to get rid of everything and just start over. I tried to start several projects at once and quickly became overwhelmed with all the piles I had made and all the trips I needed to take to the Salvation Army or our local thrift shop. The whole point of minimalism is decreasing stress and here I was adding more and more stress to my life. That's when I stopped what I was doing and reevaluated the situation.
Instead of trying to do ALL the projects at once, I decided to give myself grace and develop a plan that would help me accomplish my goal. I looked at the list of zones and projects I had made. Then I chose one project each week to accomplish. Some weeks I was able to get multiple projects done. While other weeks I didn't get to any projects at all. The beauty of it was that I was able to go through each project more thoughtfully and without the stress of trying to finish everything as quickly as possible looming over my head.
Once you have made your list of zones and projects, pick two of the projects to start with that seem easier, such as going through your utensil drawer. After those are finished, pick two more to go through. When you are just starting to go through your list of projects only commit to two at a time. This way you will avoid the eventual burnout of trying to do complete all of the projects at once.
When you start your minimalist journey, take a deep breath, make a plan, and have grace with yourself. After all, the whole point of this journey is to reduce the stress in our lives, not add more.
3. Feel Free to Revisit Projects
Going through all of the material goods in your home can be exasperating physically and mentally. As I started making my way through my projects, I found some were easy to push through. I had no problem going through our craft cupboard. I was happy to throw away all the coloring books that were filled with scribbles and all of the miscellaneous broken craft supplies. It took me about 15 minutes to go through the craft cupboard. When that project was done I had a full trash bag and an organized craft cupboard that my children were excited to explore.
After the craft cupboard project I decided to attempt going through my book collection. I spent over an hour going through my books and had only placed one books in the donate pile. I had easily parted with items in the craft cupboard, but when it came to my books, I could not part with anything. I was frustrated beyond belief because I didn't want hundreds of books taking up space in my life, but I couldn't part with any of them either.
Feeling defeated, I put the single book in the donation box and put the never ending keep pile back on the shelves. A few months later, I was sitting in the sun room and my eyes kept finding their way to the book shelf. I couldn't stop stressing about how cluttered it looked and how much space it took up in one of our favorite rooms of the house. So I grabbed a box and attempted to sift through them again, this time I was able to put 17 books in the donation pile! Since then, I have revisited my personal library several times and I am proud to say my collection is no longer in the hundreds, but now comfortably under 50.
Some projects, for whatever reason, may have sentimental value to you and may be harder for you to go through. I had no sentimental attachment to anything in our craft cupboard, but my books each held a special memory of the time in my life when I enjoyed the words the held. It took more time for me to find the strength to part with the books.
I have found the more projects I finish, the easier it is to part with things. With each project you complete you start to feel the weight of your clutter being lifted off your shoulders. Once you feel the freedom that comes along with minimizing your worldly goods, you start to become eager to purge more. I would go as far as saying it gives you an adrenaline rush.
This eagerness may take a while with some of the huge or more sentimental projects on your list. That's why it is important to know you can revisit projects. If a project is starting to feel too overwhelming to you for any reason at all, put it aside and take a break from it for a while. You can move onto another project or simply take a break from your project list for a couple days. Taking a break or revisiting a project later on is a critical step to successfully achieving a minimalist home.
4. Consider the Usefulness
When going through items it is essential to consider the usefulness of each individual item. Thinking about the usefulness of each item will help you decide whether you actually need the item or if it is something you can part with. There are two ways to decide the usefulness of an item.
First, you need to think about the last time you physically picked up and used the item to help you complete a task. If you have a pair of overalls that haven't been worn in over a year, it's either time to start wearing them or they need to be donated to someone who will. My rule of thumb is to think about the last time I physically used the item. If I haven't used it in over a year, then it is time to let go of that item. It no longer serves a purpose in my life if it hasn't been used in a year. You may come across some items that you forgot you had and would have used if you knew where they were. In this case, I put them item in a place where I will remember to use it and start its one year trial period then. If a year from when I found that item I still haven't used it, then it is time to donate it and move on.
The second way to decide whether or not an item is useful is to think about its emotional impact on your life. I have a pile of photo books of each of my children as a baby. I may not pick these up and look at them on a daily basis or even every year, but I have a significant emotional tie to those books. They remind me of when my children were babies and bring back fond memories of those younger years. These books are useful to me emotionally. With items that may have an emotional usefulness to you the one year rule does not apply. Instead, I want you to revisit these emotional items several times over the next year and ask yourself, "Do these items really bring me joy?" If the answer is "no", that is okay! It is okay, to let go of items that once had an emotional significance in your life, but no longer do. If you still can't seem to get rid of them even if they don't bring you joy, I suggest taking photos of the item. I have done this with all of my art work from high school. I wanted to be able to show my children all of my artwork someday, but I was tired of lugging the art with me when we moved and having it take up space in our storage room. So one day I decided to take pictures of each art piece and in the trash they went. I was so nervous that I would regret this decision, but three years later and this is honestly the first time I've thought about all of that art.
With each item you go through on your minimalist journey, take the time to think about the usefulness of the item. If you use it often or have an emotional tie to it, then it is okay to keep. If not, don't feel guilty in getting rid of some of the extra clutter or noise in your life.
5. Practice Intentional Purchasing
Most of the time the hardest part of our journey to a minimalist lifestyle is not clearing out the clutter in our home. Instead, it is the holidays and shopping trips that come after you have finished your projects. It is all the items you think you have to have that are purchased on a whim and start to take up space in your home. That is why practicing intentional purchasing is the final step in starting your minimalist lifestyle journey.
The practice of intentional purchasing is when one puts time and thought into each and every purchase they bring into their life. This means there will no longer be decorations bought on a whim because they're adorable. Instead, if you want to purchase decorations, you will go to the store with the specific intention of purchasing decorations for a specific part of your home. Then, you will only purchase those decorations if you know for sure you will put them up and enjoy them for years, not just a couple months.
This step was the most impactful for me when I started to clear out all the extra stuff in our home. I noticed the girls' closet was still overflowing with clothing even though I had donated boxes of clothes already. The reason it was still a nightmare of a closet was because I was buying them clothes every time I stepped foot in Target. Most of the time, they wouldn't wear the clothes longer than 30 seconds and the outfits would end up in heaps on the floor. I had to start practicing intentional purchasing when it came to their clothing. I now ask myself these questions when purchasing clothes for them: Will this match some of the other items they already have? Do they need this item? Does it align with their clothing preferences? If I can't answer "yes" to each of these questions then I do not need to purchase the item unless it is a gift. Not only has this saved me from buying clothes that just take up space and cause chaos in their closet. It has also helped reduce my time spent folding laundry and the amount of money I spend on clothing.
Being intentional in your future purchases will save you money that was previously wasted with items bought on a whim or without a specific purpose. It will also allow you to continue your minimalist lifestyle and not fall back into the cluttered chaos you fought to escape.
As you begin to go through the items in your home, tackle all of the projects, and intentionally purchase new items in your home remember why you started this journey. Why did you want to take a minimalist approach to your home? Are you seeking freedom from all the clutter in your life? Are you taking back control of your home? Are you telling a story through the items in your home? Whatever it may be for you, focus on why you started this journey in the first place and don't loose sight of your why. In fact, you may even need to write it down and remind yourself from time to time as to why you don't actually want to purchase that snarky coffee mug that is so you. Stay focused on your goal and be patient. This won't happen overnight and it most definitely will not always be easy, but it will be worth it.