Getting Started with Minimalism: 5 Things Not to Do

May 30, 2016

I’ve learned so much from my mistakes, I’m thinking of making a few more.

I’ve been a minimalist for about 5 years now – long enough to be able to reflect back on my journey and realise there were a few things that I could have done differently.

I thought I’d share a few of these things with you today, not to pass judgment, but to hopefully help make your own journey a bit smoother. Here are 5 things not to do when you’re getting started with minimalism.

Getting Started with Minimalism: 5 Things Not to Do


One thing that really held me back from getting started with minimalism was I viewed it as an ‘all or nothing’ lifestyle.

I read so many blog posts about people who only owned 100 things or lived in tiny houses and I thought, “That’s not me … and I’m not sure it ever will be. Maybe this ‘minimalism’ thing isn’t going to work for me.”

I liked the idea of living with less, but I didn’t like all the rules; I wasn’t ready to let go of all my sentimental items (old letters, etc), I have some knickknacks I’m never going to part with, and I still wanted to keep a lot of my shoes!

But then I realised … there is only one rule with minimalism.

Minimalism is about living with intention; it’s about being mindful of what you allow in your life (things, ideas, people, etc.)

What this means is that minimalism is personal and how it practically plays out in your life is up to you. As you long as you’re being true and honest to yourself about what add value or brings joy to your life, then you’re a minimalist. Your version of minimalism might not look like my version of minimalism – and that’s ok.

Remember, minimalism is a tool to help you live a life you love, it’s not an end goal.


If you’ve read the story about how I became a minimalist, you might remember that there was a gap of several years between when I first discovered minimalism and when I actually started applying minimalist principles to my life. There were a few reasons for this – for example, I definitely had some underlying issues to deal with (see #4 below) – but one huge culprit stands out.

The ‘one last shop’ syndrome.

It’s a bit like bingeing before starting a new diet; you say you’re ready to get started with minimalism … but you just need to pick up a few things first.

For me, this really played out with my wardrobe. I kept telling myself I’d be ready to downsize one I found the perfect _______.

  • the perfect pair of black trousers
  • the perfect tan sandals
  • the perfect chambray shirt
  • etc, etc, etc …

My list went on and on … but I think you get the picture. There were always a few more things I needed and I was never ready to get started.

If you’re struggling with this, here’s something to keep in mind:

The first step to living with less should never be buying a bit more.

Part of minimalism is quality over quantity, so I understand if you want to upgrade or replace a few things, but don’t start there; you need to become comfortable with owning and needing less first.

If this is a challenge for you, this post may help: 6 Tips to Stop Mindless Shopping

Mindful Decluttering


I can remember what is was like when I finally overcame the above hurdles and jumped head first into minimalism and decluttering; I was excited, motivated, and I just wanted my stuff gone (as quickly as possible!)

As a result, I choose the quick and easy route to downsizing. I sold a few things, but most stuff ended up at a local charity shop* or even worse – in the dumpster.

*donating your clothing to a local charity is not necessarily a bad thing, just be aware that most of it is not being resold locally. A lot of it ends up in landfills or is sold in bulk overseas, which can be destructive to the textile industry in developing economies. You can read more about this here, here, here or here.

So what’s a better solution?

One place to start is to put effort into researching the best places to donate your goods.

Different charities are better equipped to handle different donations (and they also have varying needs.) By putting in a little extra time to research your donations (instead of just dropping 8 bags at your local Goodwill) you can make sure your stuff is reaching the people who most need it.

A few resources:

Where to Donate Your Stuff: 101 Places Your Clutter Can Do Good [US}
Givit [Australia]
(As you can see this is small list, so let me know in the comments if you have anything to add!)

Also, please read this post from the Litterless for more tips on sustainable decluttering.


I’ve used this analogy before: Minimalism is not about decluttering, just like a healthy lifestyle is not about dieting.

Of course decluttering is a good place to start, but you can’t stop there.

First of all, owning too much stuff is often a symptom of a bigger problem that needs addressing. If you declutter without addressing the underlying issues, it’s very easy to end up accumulating things again (the decluttering equivalent of a yoyo diet!)

Also, minimalism is a tool to help you create a life you love. If you want to get the most out of it, you have to know a bit more about yourself and what you want out of life. If you want to make lasting, meaningful change then you need to dig deeper.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Why did you own so much stuff in the first place?
  • Why do you want to be a minimalist?
  • What do you want your life to look like?
  • What’s holding you back from your ideal life?

And here are a few resources that might help as well:

15 Things to Declutter That Aren’t Things
An Intro to Intentional Living (7 Things You Need to Know)
Confidence + Minimalism (Finding the Courage to Chase Your Dreams)
A Simple Life is Not the End Goal [via Be More With Less]


When you finally get to the point where you ‘get’ minimalism – you’ve downsized your stuff and you’ve started to think mindfully about your life – it’s easy to start judging people who aren’t minimalists. (Sometimes this isn’t intentional; you’re just excited about how your life has changed and you can’t understand why everyone is onboard!)

Still, intentional or not, being judgemental is unkind – and unproductive.

Passing judgement or making critical comments does not inspire change.

(PSA: This applies to all alternative lifestyles, not just minimalism!)

I understand your enthusiasm about minimalism, but the best way to spread the word is to be a positive role model with your own life. Talk about how minimalism has changed your life and answer questions if they’re asked, but don’t comment negatively on other people’s lives (either to their face or behind closed doors.) Life is a journey; we have different paths and we’re all at different stages.

Encourage, but don’t preach. Inspire, but don’t judge.


I wrote this post in retrospect, as someone who has made all of these mistakes – and in many ways I still make them! We all make mistakes so use this post to inspire mindfulness, not to beat yourself up if you’ve done a few of these ‘don’ts’.

Do you agree or disagree with this list? Do you have anything to add – or any resources to share? If so let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you! xxx

PS: I wrote a free, 18-page guide and workbook called Mindful Decluttering to help you finally clear the clutter for good. If you’d like a copy, don’t forget to subscribe below or click here! Here’s what people have to say about it:

“I loved the connection you made with mindful decluttering – others talk about becoming more mindful as part of a minimalist journey, but the fact you’ve made it part of the framework of the process itself sets it apart. It’s brilliant – excited to see this coming into the minimalist landscape. You have a fresh, supportive and enquiring voice.” —Christina J, 38, St Albans UK

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  • Hi Jen! What a super useful post you’ve written here! 🙂
    I don’t know a lot about minimalism, so this post was very insightful. You’ve explained minimalism really well. And I love how you lay down the action steps of how to get there (and how not to). Thanks for this! 🙂

  • Jaqueline Matteson

    I love number one. I have just started my journey towards minimalism but I have a few collections that mean a lot to me, and that I have no intention of parting with. I love that there are no rules and that my minimalism will be unique to me. I love where you say “minimalism is about living with intention, it’s about being mindful of what you allow into your life” Thanks for this great post.

    • Thanks Jaqueline! That definition of minimalism is pretty important to me too. I appreciate you stopping by and taking time to comment ☺️

  • Love how you put resources to learn more and take action after each step. So many to look over! Your words were also nonjudgmental and with the right tone that could appeal to a non-minimalist (instead of scaring them away from this path!). Thanks, Jennifer, I’ll be sharing this soon!

    • I’m so glad that my tone came across that way! One thing I try and be really conscious of with this blog is to not judge or preach to anyone about minimalism, but I’m not always 100% sure I’m successful, so your feedback is a big relief. Thanks for reading Daisy x

  • Jennifer

    This is a really beautifully written post on a fabulous blog. Your wise words about the “one last shop” are just what I needed to hear today. Thanks very much.

    • Hi Jennifer! Thank you for your kind words and I’m glad my “one last shop” advice resonated with you. This was probably my biggest hurdle as well … it sounds like such a simple thing but it was really quite tough in practice! Best of luck on your minimalist journey and thank you for taking the time to comment xx

  • Julie@ChooseBetterLife

    It’s so true! Just start. It doesn’t have to be perfect right away… or ever. Just work on better.

  • Thank you for the shoutout! 🙂 I like your first tip especially. There is so much minimalism around that looks the same – neutral colors, stark interiors – which I happen to love, but it’s okay to love color and consider yourself a minimalist! It can look like anything.

    • You’re welcome! Your blog is such an inspiration to me so I try and share it whenever I can ☺️

      I’m one of those neutral minimalists too, but I totally agree – minimalism can be bright or however anyone wants it to be!

  • Minimalism is definitely a personal choice and journey, excellent point. As with most endeavors, fear holds us back and thinking we have to do it this or that way – just gets in the way! Sooner or later we figure what works best for us.

  • Judy Johnson

    Spot on!

  • Thanks Judy! ☺️

  • This is a great post — and very liberating. Thank you.

    How would you say your minimalist mindset has influenced your blogging? I find myself getting sucked into an endless list of “things I should be doing to have a more successful blog” (posting daily, guest posting, more original images, more social media, more, more, more…). Would love your thoughts!

    • Hi Kate! Thanks for your kind words about my post – I really appreciate it! ☺️

      And it’s so funny you should ask me that question right now … it’s like you’re reading my mind! I’m actually working on a post that will address this in part.

      To be 100% honest, for the most part I’ve been completely un-minimalist in how I work on my blog; like you, I feel constant pressure to be creating more, posting more, etc, etc!

      But right now I’m trying to change that. I don’t have as much free time lately and I also have a few big projects planned – so I’m being forced to step back and reevaluate, whether I want to or not!

      One thing that has really helped me recently to is to constantly ask myself what my big picture goal is – and then I have to look at everything on my to do list and pick the top things that will get me there and just focus on those. It’s not easy (a little voice inside is always crying out haha) but I’m slowly getting there!

      Thank you again for stopping by and good luck with finding your own balance. We’ll all get there eventually! x

      • Thanks for your reply! The reminder to look at the big picture is helpful. Always. Maybe tell me again in the post you’re working on 😉

        I’m curious what your “big picture” looks like. I have an idea from from poking around the site, but it’s always interesting to hear the idea behind the reality. (And on the other side of it, I’m pretty sure my overall intentions are often different from what shows up on my site — like my work wants to go somewhere other than where I can consciously plan.)

        All that to say, looking forward to that post!

        • Hey Kate! I just realised I never replied to this – whoops!

          I actually frame my ‘big picture’ by thinking about the small picture and what I want my everyday life to be like. I want to wake up feeling refreshed, find time to reflect and recharge, do meaningful work, explore and learn new things, and spend time with the people I love! I try not to focus on big goals and instead look for little things I can do to bring my life into alignment 🙂

  • Hayley

    I really needed to read this today, thank you!

    I’m just starting out on my minimalist journey, I’ve already had one big declutter and massively downsized my wardrobe but I keep thinking “What more do I need to be doing? I am missing important things out and not doing it properly?” So number 4 is really helpful. Going off to read the suggested links.

    Thanks again!
    Hayley x

    • Hi Hayley! I’m so sorry for the very slow response, but I’m so glad you found this helpful. It’s definitely easy to get caught up wondering if you’re “doing it right” but just remember the end result will look different for everyone. As long as you feel like you’re being honest with yourself about what matters in YOUR life, you’re on the right track. Thanks again for stopping by – I really appreciate it! xo

  • Geri Cobwebs

    I am a newbie and just the thought of going through all of my things and disposing of them is making me feel better already….already started and enjoying the journey…:-) x

    • Hi Geri! Letting go of things that weight you down is definitely one of the best feelings ever! Congrats on your decision to get started and thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • Laura Brassie

    Loved this post, thank you!

    The “one last shop” is often what has held me back before, as well as not wanting to give up sentimental things. But what I’ve begun to realize is that if I just take the time to sort through my wardrobe and pare it down to what I really love, I don’t really need to go out and buy anything else. So starting there has been so helpful for me, as you mentioned with talking about learning how to live with less first.

    I loved #4 as well. I would get frustrated with my stuff and think about minimalism for that reason, but what actually encouraged me to take real steps with it was seeing the impact of being intentional with my time, and how that could affect my freedom and flexibility in life. It impacted me so much that it has become a general theme of my own new blog.

    Thanks again for the encouragement!!

  • Kathleen Kauffman

    I read this for the second time as a suggestion from someone I found from Pinterest. I also found this website on Pinterest. In getting down to cleaning, I think being a minimalist helps encourage the process. I have been wanting to downsize but, maybe, I have just decided that I’m a minimalist, and that just sparks a total new concept!

    • HI Kathleen, thank you so much for reading! And I definitely encourage you to explore minimalism and see if it’s right for you. It’s so much more than decluttering – for me, it was a whole new way of thinking and it changed my life 🙂 You might find this post interesting, it explores what minimalism really means (to me and to my readers) Thank you again for reading – all the best! xx Jen

  • Stephanie Pirrotta

    Thank you for this post. Starting my journey as a minimalist I have felt the same way. I will also do more research about disposing of my unwanted clutter (thanks for the above sites) because I thought I already was being sustainable by using op shops but I can put more thought into which ones. Living with intention and having my room be a place that is calming not cluttered is the goal. Minimalism for the win!Love your work and look forward to hearing more about your journey.

    • Hi Stephanie, thank you so much for your kind words!! They really mean a lot to me 🙂

      I’m so glad you found this post helpful and all the best to you! xx Jen

  • Emily Sorensen

    This blog post is great! However, as someone who is trying to discard responsibly, I have found that’s actually one of the things that throws off my momentum. I don’t just dump stuff off at Goodwill, but I realized that I have to sort of dump otherwise I get OBSESSED with making sure each item goes where it is supposed to and then nothing gets done. So I just wanted to add that here if someone else is also allowing that to stop their progress.

    • Hmm, that’s a good point Emily! It’s a tough one and I think it’s about balance. Of course, it’s ideal if we could all dispose of our things as sustainably as possible but if it doesn’t happen … it doesn’t happen. We’re all just doing the best we can and learning to own/consume less is a huge step forward anyway. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Cheers Jen 🙂