Guest Post: My Journey Towards Minimalism

Today’s post was written by Courtney Miller. Courtney is a Financial Analyst from South Central Pennsylvania. In her free time, she is the Vice President of Internal Affairs for a local nonprofit, Animal Advocates of South Central PA. She also likes to travel and eat too much food. Thanks for sharing your story and tips with us, Courtney!

Decluttering, KonMari Method, tiny homes, capsule wardrobes… These terms have been trending lately, and with good reason. Actually, many good reasons. How often have you misplaced something and spent more time searching for it than you’d like to admit? Maybe you’ve looked “everywhere” and couldn’t find it. It got lost somewhere among your stuff. How much time have you spent organizing, dusting, and cleaning your stuff? Or bought something and had to “make room” for it?

How much stuff in our lives is necessary? How much of it do we actually use? Do you ever ask yourself, “Why do I even have this thing?” You’re not alone.

According to becomingminimalist.com, minimalism is defined as “the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.” Everyone has their own version of minimalism that works for them.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment in time when I became a minimalist. I would say that it began in college and has been a continuous, rewarding journey ever since. Even as a teen, I liked to be organized. It gave me clarity. In high school, instead of purging items, I organized them in storage carts and bins. I would get rid of old school papers, class notes, etc., but I still had so much stuff. So I bought another bin. And another cart. Then ANOTHER… I am sure my bedroom looked like a storage container warehouse. My parents divorced while I was in college. I commuted to school and had to share a room with my sister. Between work and school, I was only home to sleep and shower, so it didn’t bother me much. Of course, not all of our stuff could fit in one bedroom, so some of my handy-dandy storage containers went in the garage. That would have been a great time to get rid of some things, but that didn’t cross my mind…yet.

Fast-forward to my last days of Senior year of undergrad. Although I didn’t have a “big kid” job lined up, my retail job was enough to get my own apartment. My sister and I moved everything to my new place except a futon (needed muscles for that!). All of those containers came with me. Every. Single. One. You’d think moving out would have been the opportune time to purge, but I still didn’t do it! BUT one thing that had slowly been progressing over the years continued when I moved. I was very frugal and rarely bought myself anything. I wasn’t adding to the chaos. Sadly, though, I still had way too much stuff in that little apartment. When I moved out of my mom’s house, I didn’t take my bed. My futon was my couch and my bed. That seems like a very minimalist move, but part of my reason for doing that was because I didn’t have room for my bed in my bedroom. I had that much stuff!

A year after having my own apartment, I bought a three-bedroom house. Of course, again, I didn’t purge when I moved. Living alone in an entire house allowed me to spread out my stuff. My house actually looked pretty empty, and I loved it. My containers fit in the closets and attic, so they were out of sight. I did not decorate much and I left very little out on the counters, shelves, tables, etc. Cleaning went smoothly. The rooms felt nice, open, and clean. It was great. My boyfriend, TJ, moved in a year later. He seemed to have more stuff than I did! He gradually moved things in, which actually made me feel worse about it. I think it would have been better to just get it all over with at once. A lot of it went to the attic. Thanks to that wonderful attic, the house still looked somewhat empty and open. I spent five years in that house, and during those years, I began to tackle all of that stuff. Even the things in the attic. I few times a year, I would go through my belongings and part with things I no longer used. I boxed them up, put them on the porch, and a donation truck would take them away. The less I had, the better I felt. Donating to those in need and the tax deductions were nice incentives, too.

The author's former living room

When we sold the house, we moved into a two-bedroom apartment to save money for our next home. (Usually owning a home is a smarter investment than renting, but that was not the case for us since this wasn’t a long-term thing.) We no longer had an attic, so I had to do some serious purging to fit an entire house into a (really) small two-bedroom apartment. I sold and gave away a lot. Even as we were in the process of moving, I decided to get rid of stuff. Offering things on Facebook to friends and family made everything disappear pretty quickly. I had a real bed by then and also had the futon. We had the futon on the truck, took it to the apartment, and realized that it wasn’t going to fit! Luckily, TJ’s friend took it off our hands. The remaining items fit in the apartment, but some of the boxes and containers had to sit out in the open in the second bedroom. That really bothered me. They just sat there and collected dust; rarely, if ever, opened. My several-times-a-year purging increased to once-every-couple-months. Each time, I found something to get rid of that I previously felt I couldn’t part with. Every round of purging felt like more weight off of my shoulders. I wouldn’t say that it became addictive, but I was always brainstorming on what else to purge. Seeing “stuff” distracts me. I cannot think clearly when there is clutter. My desk is so clear at work that it almost looks like no one works there! And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I wish I could say that I’m done rambling about my journey, but I am not! To save more money, we decided to move into a one-bedroom apartment. One bedroom! I previously struggled to fit just my belongings in a one-bedroom apartment, and now we have two people’s belongings. Are we crazy? Maybe. But we did it, and it doesn’t even look cluttered! TJ started to part with some of his items a month or so before we moved. I wouldn’t say I inspired him. I think he did it to “shut me up.” But to be fair, he did have a lot of things that he hasn’t touched in years. He didn’t purge as much as I would have liked, but I was thankful for what he did purge. Shortly after we moved, we purged again. It seems that it really is never-ending. I am finally to the point where I am somewhat content with what I have remaining. I think TJ has some work to do, yet, but he has definitely come a long way. As I mentioned earlier, I feel better when I get rid of things. TJ said that he “feels nothing.” I think he has an attachment to some items and either doesn’t realize it or doesn’t want to admit it.

So where is our next move? To our new home! We purchased land and are currently working with an architect to design our home. We plan to live there until we are no longer able to care for ourselves. As much as I wanted to have a tiny home, that was not realistic. Our house will be much smaller than the average American home, though. Every room has a purpose, and the spaces are not large. This will prevent us from adding clutter and it will be easy to clean and maintain. We have a year or so until we move. I’m sure we will find some things to purge before then!

So aside from feeling “better,” what else can minimalism do for you? Here are the benefits that motivate me:

1. REDUCED STRESS – Less stuff means less clutter. It’s easier to find something in your home, it’s easier to put things away, and it’s easier to clean. There is quick cleanup (or no cleanup at all) when company shows up unexpectedly. If you have pets or children, there is less for them to get into or knock over. If you have a small selection of clothing, shoes, and accessories, it is much less stressful to choose an outfit each day. This is one reason that the “capsule wardrobe” has become so popular.

2. MORE MONEY – Everyone can use more money, right? When you are content with what you have, you are less likely to make impulse purchases. You no longer “need” that handbag that’s on sale or that pair of shoes that you’ve seen all over Facebook. If you’re making a recipe that calls for an odd appliance that you’ll never use again, you borrow it from someone else. The money that I’ve saved is all currently going towards our new house and traveling. TJ and I try to visit at least one new country each year. If it weren’t for our frugality and minimalism, it would be very difficult to achieve these two goals. Everyone has their own money goals. For many, it is to get out of debt. Wanting less stuff can lead to less debt. Amazing!

3. MORE TIME – This one is related to the benefit of reduced stress. When you only have what you need (or what you feel is important), you spend less time organizing and cleaning. Less time looking for an item you misplaced. Less time shopping. Less time deciding what to wear. This frees up time for you to do more important things in life, whether that be visiting friends and family, picking up a new hobby, enjoying a book, or maybe just catching up on sleep!

4. SMALLER FOOTPRINT ON THE PLANET – When you consume less, you create less waste. Less gas driving to the store, less packaging, and fewer items that ultimately end up in landfills. This is better for the planet and all of its inhabitants. Many people enjoy “fast fashion,” which is clothing that is currently in style that is made so cheaply and affordably, that it is sometimes thrown away when no longer wanted or considered stylish. Not only is this wasteful, but the pollution that is created from the production of synthetic materials is horrendous and detrimental to garment workers’ health. Every purchase is a vote with your dollars. Mindful consumerism benefits everyone.

If you’d like to begin your own minimalism journey, there are many ways to approach the subject. For some, it may be easier to do a large purge. You could collect everything you own and put it all together and evaluate. Or you could tackle things room by room. Or maybe just start with something that has been bothering you, like the “junk drawer.”

My approach to minimalism may be a bit more time-consuming than other approaches, but it worked for me. I periodically looked through everything I owned and purged things that I no longer wanted or needed. Compared to many people, I didn’t have much to begin with, so this wasn’t difficult for me. I thought about whether I still used the item or if I see myself using it often enough in the future to keep it. Some of the first things to go were clothing, handbags, jewelry, and some childhood things, like porcelain dolls and little trinkets. I would revisit everything again a few months or so later and ask myself the same questions. As I mentioned earlier, I was able to part with things that I couldn’t part with before. As time went on, I realized how insignificant most of my stuff was. There were many regretful purchases from which I’ve learned. They taught me to really think long and hard before I buy something.

Here are some actions I’ve taken to minimize my “stuff”:

1. GO DIGITAL – Technology makes minimalism easier. I used to have tons of CDs, and now I have zero. I still have all of my music without the clutter. It’s all on my phone and backed up on an external hard drive. Music subscriptions like Spotify are also an option. I only had a handful of DVDs to begin with, but now I am down to two, and they’re just exercise DVDs. I either didn’t watch the other DVDs, or I found them available to view online. I got rid of all of my cookbooks because the recipes that I wanted were available online. Almost all of my photos are digital and backed up on an external hard drive. You can also scan printed photos and important documents to your computer and get rid of the physical copies. I strongly recommend backing up your files, though!

2. CREATE A CAPSULE WARDROBE – There are various definitions and guidelines out there, but typically, a capsule wardrobe is 30-40 versatile items of clothing, shoes, and coats that are worn for an entire season. Some people include workout clothing, pajamas, undergarments, accessories, and/or jewelry in their wardrobe count and some do not. I live in Pennsylvania, where we experience four seasons; so essentially, I should have 120-160 items for an entire year. I have much less than that, though, even when I include optional items like workout clothes. I wear my fall and winter clothing year-round due to working in air conditioning in the summer months. I have 49 shirts total, and that includes workout shirts, pajama shirts, undershirts – everything! I own few of other types of clothing. For example, I own two pairs of jeans, one handbag (I do have three wristlets, though), and one tote bag that I use as a handbag. I no longer wear any jewelry. I own 12 pairs of shoes, and that number includes everything – rain boots, snow boots, flip-flops, etc. I used to own a ridiculous amount of band t-shirts and hooded sweatshirts. I am now down to two band t-shirts and three sweatshirts. It took a few years to get to that point, and I do not miss anything that I’ve purged. The best way to work towards a capsule wardrobe, in my opinion, is to eliminate items that don’t seem to match well with your other items. I had so many different colors of flip-flops that I never wore because they looked silly and were also difficult to match to my shirts. I got rid of all of them but a black pair and a brown pair. I also eliminated handbags that were unique colors or prints. I still have color in my wardrobe and am pretty content with what I have.

3. GET RID OF DUPLICATES – Duplicate items aren’t always a bad thing. For example, maybe someone gifted you a hairdryer, but you already had one. Some people would get rid of the duplicate, but personally, if I had the space, I would save it as a replacement for when the current one stops working. Duplicates are often unnecessary, though. In my case, I had coffee mugs that I never used. I saved two (that I actually used) and got rid of the rest. I also had two sets of measuring cups. I donated the one set. I have a small album of photographs, and I went through and threw away all of the duplicates and negatives.

4. HELP THOSE IN NEED – Sometimes I wanted to purge, but couldn’t think of anything to get rid of. Scour Craigslist and local “buy nothing” groups to see if anyone wants something that you have. Or when someone in your community loses their home to a fire, see what size of clothing and other household items they need. You might realize that you have things to give away.

5. GO EASY ON THE FURNITURE AND DÉCOR – Less is more. Are all of those end tables, coffee tables, and sofa tables really necessary? Or all of those throw pillows? Oftentimes, these items just collect dust. We got rid of our desk before moving to the one-bedroom apartment. We never used it as a desk. It held our printer and was a catch-all for things that TJ didn’t want to put away. Decorative items such as sculptures, vases, and wall art should also be used sparingly, in my opinion. It will make the room feel less crowded. I think it’s easier to appreciate each piece when there aren’t many other pieces competing for your attention.

6. ONLY SAVE THE MOST IMPORTANT SENTIMENTAL ITEMS – You should commemorate people by the memories you shared with them – not their stuff. For example, my grandmother gave me some of her costume jewelry that I knew I would no longer wear. I donated it. I have a few pictures and a plethora of memories with her, and that’s all I need. I recently purged my elementary school yearbooks. I still have my classroom’s picture for each year, and all of my junior high and high school yearbooks. I’m sure I will eventually part with the other yearbooks. Those are a little more difficult since there are choir pictures of me in those. But now that I think about it, there were choir pictures of me in the elementary school yearbooks, too. Hmmm… I had also kept a container of little projects and papers that I thought were “cool” or important. I think I got rid of everything but two papers that I wrote. I also had a couple stuffed toys from my childhood packed in a storage container. I was holding onto them to show my kids someday. I’m no longer having kids, so that made it easier to purge, but I also realized that they were nothing special, and it would be just as easy to Google the toys and show someone. I recently sold my Jammie Pie for almost $100 on eBay, so that was a nice reward.

Like I said, minimalism is different for everyone. Do what works for you. I hope that my story and tips inspire you! And if you read this entire post without falling asleep, congratulations! 😊 Thank you for reading!

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