Minimalism

How I Became a Minimalist
(Why I Choose to Live with Less)

September 5, 2015

Growing up (or even just a few short years ago) I never, ever would have imagined writing a post about how I became a minimalist.

If you’re not familiar with the term, a minimalist is, simply defined, someone who decides to be intentional about what things (possessions, people, ideas) they include in their life. Practically, this means minimalists generally own few things and strive to live smaller, simpler lives (less things = more joy!)

Adapting a minimalist mindset is one of the most powerful ways I have changed my life; it has reshaped how I spend my days and helped me find the freedom to follow my dreams.

But I’ll be honest – minimalism didn’t come easy for me (at least not at first.) It was a long and sometimes painful journey.

I’ll be sharing how I practice minimalism and details about how it has changed my life later in this post, but first let’s start at the beginning with a snapshot of what my life used to look like.

Why I choose to live with less. My journey from shopaholic to minimalist.

Before I share my story, I wanted to let you know I’ve created a free challenge called 7 Simple Days designed to inspire simple and intentional living. If you’d like to join, pop your details in below!

MY STORY OF TOO MUCH STUFF

I have always, always had a lot of stuff. I wasn’t raised to be particularly materialistic, but I grew up in middle class America and I think it was hard not to be in that environment. (I was a Girl Scout and we actually went camping inside the local shopping mall! We sang Kumbaya in the food court and then went shopping all night.)

Also, like many teenagers, I lacked self confidence and buying things helped me feel like I fit in. However, I was different from a lot of other kids because I started working at a very young age. My grandparents owned a restaurant and by the time I was sixteen I had two jobs. I think most teenage girls love shopping, but I could do much more of it because I had more money to spend. (Working so much also made me feel like I deserved to buy things.)

When I was 18 I moved into my first apartment. I was very independent and bullheaded at the time (some would say I still am!) I was studying full time but I didn’t want to live like a ‘student’ (sharing a flat, hand me down furniture), so I worked 70 hour weeks to afford to live alone and have nice things.

However, a few years into University, I met some overseas students that opened my mind to new ideas about travel. It’s a long story, but the short version is that within a few years I had sold/given away almost all my things, travelled around the world, and moved to Australia.

For two years I lived a nomadic life with almost no possessions, so one would think this would be the point in my life where I realised the value of living simply and learned to appreciate the freedom that comes with not having too much stuff!

But it wasn’t. Looking back, I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. For the next few years, I would still travel often and dream of a nomadic life, but I would also shop like a madwoman – I had a giant closet, nearly a hundred pairs of shoes, and then I bought a house and things just got worse because now I had a home to decorate and fill.

I also felt trapped and unhappy with where my life was going.

RELATED POST: Confidence + Minimalism: Finding the Courage to Chase Your Dreams

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.

Henry David Thoreau

DISCOVERING A LIFE WITH LESS

I’m not always very good at seeing the obvious, but looking back (with clarity that comes with time) it’s clear that I was unhappy because I was contradicting myself.

What I really wanted more than anything was freedom – to travel, to do meaningful work, to chase my dreams – but instead I had built a cage for myself. I was spending incredible amounts of money so I was trapped by debt and non-existing savings. I also had the responsibility of owning so many things – the cleaning, maintenance, and storage – all of which took up considerable time and space in my life.

Somewhere around 2010/11 I stumbled across a few minimalism blogs. The first was Rowdy Kittens and I was really interested in their story of downsizing to a tiny home. From there I found Miss Minimalist and heard about Project 333 (a minimalist fashion project).

I was fascinated by all the stories I was reading about people living intentional, simpler lives. The concept of more – of wanting to earn more, own more, and be more – was so ingrained in my mind that the idea that you might intentionally choose to want less shocked me.

I started to imagine how different my life could be without so much stuff and so many bills.

I could choose to work part time or to do more meaningful work (instead of focusing on my paycheck); I could have more money and time for experiences I enjoyed, like camping trips or yoga classes; or I could travel more and spend time with family overseas.

As wonderful as it all sounded, in reality it is hard to change habits and mindsets of a lifetime overnight. I tried to cut back and make small changes, but I wasn’t ready to let go. I was shocked to realise the emotional connection I felt to my stuff; it was strange to realise that something so simple as putting a shirt in the charity bin could draw such strong emotions.

My journey from shopaholic to minimalist. RELATED POST: Struggling with Minimalism? 6 Tips to Help You Make Real, Sustainable Changes

TIME FOR REAL CHANGE

This continued to for several years – I was fascinated by minimalism but unable to really apply it to my life.

But then, around the end of 2012, my personal life went through a period of extreme change. Within six months, I moved across Australia, then travelled to Europe, my relationship ended, and I ended up living back with my mum in the States. Things became further complicated as I started a new relationship with an Englishman.

My future lay out before me and it was time to ask myself, “What do I want my life to look like?”

I had started thinking a lot about my values and about what really mattered to me. I realised that what I wanted most in life was to feel loved and healthy, to have freedom, to create and learn, to explore and enjoy the beauty in the world.

And finally, I realised that minimalism was a tool to help me achieve all these things. I stopped viewing minimalism as a restrictive lifestyle and instead as a choice to live the life I want most.

WHAT DOES LIFE AS A MINIMALIST LOOK LIKE?

Minimalists, like all people, come in different shapes and sizes. My life is extremely different from how it used to be, but I don’t consider myself an extreme minimalist.

I don’t count my possessions, but I know that all the clothes I own fit in a standard size suitcase. I still own a few too many pairs of shoes, but I’m finding as they wear out, I’m not replacing them.

All my other bits and bobs – journals, books, art supplies, sentimental items I can’t part with – fit in 2 small boxes. My linen (bedding, pillows, towels) all fit in a big bag. The Englishman has a record collection, so this takes up some space but brings us a lot of joy, and we own camping gear, laptops, and a few other electronics (but no TV.)

I’ve been living in furnished flats for the past few years, so I only own a few pieces of furniture – x 2 simple frame bookshelves, a towel rack, a coat rack. These items, along with about another box of odds and ends, will be donated in a few months when we head off on our next adventure.

Speaking of flats, for the past 2 years I lived in a studio with a shared kitchen/bathroom. At the moment, I’m renting a room with a friend. I sold my house a few months ago (I had been renting it out) and I drive a small, older model car.

HOW MINIMALISM HAS CHANGED MY LIFE

So what does this all mean for my lifestyle? How has my life changed?

In two years, I’ve gone from being in debt and living paycheck to paycheck, to living off 25% of my wage. I’ve saved an emergency fund for the first time in my life (at 34!)

But to be clear, I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a frugal person. When I really need or want something, I buy it. I enjoy drinks with friends, overseas trips, and probably a few too many meals out. But what I have given up is mindless purchases; now I spend with intention. I feel like I know myself better and I don’t buy things to try and suit a lifestyle that I don’t have.

Now that I’m comfortable living with less and created some financial breathing space, I’ve started to apply minimalist principles to how I spend my time. Earlier this year, I left my full time job to work as a professional office temp. This means I don’t have security but I have the freedom to choose my hours and spend more time working on passion projects (like this blog!)

RELATED POST: 15 Things to Declutter (That Aren’t Things!) Ideas + Mindsets to Let Go

When you need less, and have less tying you down, it’s easier try new things and go new places. I have some incredible dreams for my future that would be impossible to imagine before minimalism.

The number one gift minimalism has given me is freedom; financial freedom, freedom to spend more time doing what I love, and freedom to take chances and chase my dreams.

Is minimalism something you’ve considered before? Do you have any questions about my journey? Or are you a minimalist – I’d love to hear how minimalism has changed your life. Let me know in the comments! x

photo credit (top): Unsplash // (2nd) David Marcu // (bottom) leeroy.ca // Used with permission

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  • Beautifully written Jennifer. I enjoyed your post on minimalism immensely.
    Morgan
    http://relaxmuch.blogspot.com.au

    • Thanks so much for the comment Morgan! Thanks for sharing your blog – always nice to meet other people who appreciate simple living 🙂

  • Sell All Your Stuff

    Sounds like you have really embraced this lifestyle! I always enjoying reading the how and why people got into their minimalist lifestyle! Happy travels!

  • I really loved reading this post. God has been leading my family and me into a much more minimalistic lifestyle over the past few years. It is a process for us, and we are no where near where we want to be, but at least we are intentionally working towards it! You are so right…there is such a sense of freedom that comes from not having to worry about material things so much. We look forward to where this journey will take us, and we so enjoyed hearing about your journey! God bless!! 🙂

    • Thank you so much for your comment Cheryl. I think minimalism is more about intention than an ‘end goal’, so it sounds like you are on the right path. Best of luck for you and your family on your simple living journey!

  • This is wonderful Jennifer! When I sold up and set off travelling in 07 I put quite a bit of stuff into storage that stayed shut up for 18 months (costing me a fair packet too). Since moving into a van (in 2011) I’ve slowly been working through my belongings, which are now separated into friend’s attics and family basements. I know what you mean about being attached to things, I have given up trinkets and I live with a minimal wardrobe but I have a few boxed of recipe books and photo albums that I can’t part with. One day I may have a more rooted home and these books can be re-born. There are a few other boxes – that actually stress me out knowing they’re there. I want to be free of them, free of those possessions but I just can’t face sorting them! It really isn’t a lot now, but even so.

    Living so minimally in my van has forced me to realise that I don’t need ‘stuff’, I can live perfectly happily without the clutter: it’s wonderfully freeing!

    I often think about a quote by Victorian artist/designer William Morris: ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’.

    Living in a van – a lot of my friends can’t begin to understand why I would want to – has given me the freedom to not need to earn stacks of money, to pay bills, mortgages,and all the other tying traps of modern life. I’m blissfully happy and minimal!

    Chase those dreams Jennifer!

    • Hi Rachel – thank you for commenting and sharing your story! Your story is really inspirational (and so well written!) I have some dreams of van life for when I come back from overseas and I’ll be checking out your blog for lots of inspiration.

      Yes, I have a lot of friends that support me but don’t understand me. It’s not everyone’s dream but for me NOTHING compares to the feeling of freedom.

      That’s one of my favourite quotes too! Thanks again for commenting, see you around x

  • I found your blog yesterday and really, I fell in love with it. I’m at a point in my life here I question myself a lot, about every part of my life. I wonder what suits me the best, what are my values, my true interests… As I said in another comment, I find minimalism very interesting. In the next months, I will try to declutter my home, to keep only what is really necessary. I am like you were before, meaning that I enjoy buying a lot (thinking I will feel better about myself), but then I am not happier than I was before. I know I have to change that, and focus on what I love. I plan on travelling in 2016, maybe moving to another country. Saving money is hard but I know it would be easier if I reduced my spendings. Thanks a lot for your great post, they inspire me a lot! xx

    • Hi Marie-Pier, thank you so much for your kind comment! As you can probably tell from some of my posts … I know exactly how you feel. Good luck with everything, your minimalism and future travels. Just keep trying to be true to what your heart and it will lead you to where you need to be. Thank you again xx

  • I can’t stop clicking through! Love your blog and how you come across as so authentic and vibrant. It’s also fabulous to meet another minimalist living in the Southern hemisphere. This post in particular has also made me think that I’d love to write about what made me a minimalist-in-training. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Meryl – thank you SO much for your incredibly kind comment. And it’s definitely great to connect with other minimalists on this side of the world. I look forward to reading your post – feel free to share it here if you’d like 🙂

  • What an inspiring story! I’m so glad I found your blog. When I moved in with my boyfriend, we were very adamant that we didn’t want an apartment that looks like a college dorm either. But now we’ve got so much freaking stuff! And we only live in a one bedroom apartment! Minimalism has been popping up on my radar, especially with my very itchy feet. It’ll be an interesting conversation to have!

    • Hi Amanda! Thanks so much for your kind comment! Good luck with your conversation – if you have itchy feet then minimalism is definitely the way to go! The less things you own, the easier it is to go off travelling!! Good luck and happy holidays 🙂

  • Cornelia

    What a great article, I really like how you showed that it is not easy to turn your life around and that it might take some time. Recently I have noticed how small things like living in a cluttered room, working on an unorganized laptop and carrying way too much stuff in my bag really affect my mood and motivation. I will try to work on that, looking forward to getting some inspiration from your side.^^ Keep going!

    • Thanks so much for your comment Cornelia! It definitely was not an easy or overnight change, but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Thanks for stopping by and all the best to you! x

  • I’m definitely into decluttering. I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a minimalist, but I am conscious of what I own and for a few years now have consistently decluttered and been careful about what I bring into my home. I think minimalism is different for everyone. For me, it’s about owning less stuff, not necessarily making less money or living in a smaller place (not that I live in a huge place, mind you). I think some people become intimidated when they hear about minimalism and assume it means you have to downsize and live in a room with nothing in it. It’s about not feeling trapped by your possessions, and that’s different for everyone.

    • Hi Natasha, thanks so much for your comment and for pointing out that minimalism is different for everyone – I completely agree! Minimalism is about living the life that is the best fit for YOU and of course that ‘fit’ will be different for everyone. I think minimalism is becoming a buzz word right now and the focus is on decluttering, but the focus should really be on intentional living. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

  • Fernanda

    Im 18 years old from Peru. I start liking the minimalist style without even knowing what minimalism was. I liked the fashion style, the colors and the simple decoration. When I found out about this lifestyle I completely fall in love with it. This post is the first one I read about minimalism and it just make me keep reading about it and follow the minimalism lifestyle. Amazing blog!! Definitely following you on ig!!

    • Hi Fernanda! Thanks so much for your sweet comment. It’s fantastic that you’ve fallen in love with minimalism so young – it will help you so much in the future. All the best x

  • Great post! Just happened upon your site and have read a few things, I love your style!
    hannah

  • Kelly

    I want to live this lifestyle but am having trouble with the financials. How do you travel as much as you do? Do you have a full time job that lets you take that much time off? How do you pay for the actual travel expenses themselves? This is the main thing that has always held me back from doing this!

    • Hi Kelly – thanks so much for taking the time to comment! The answers to your questions are a little complicated, so you’ve actually inspired me to write a post about it! I’ll try and get it posted early next week, but in the meantime the very quick answer is I live well below my means (and save a lot of my income) and I travel very cheaply. I know this is vague so I promise I’ll share more details in my post (and I’ll comment here to let you know when it’s live.) Thanks for the question and chat soon!

  • Mustafa Tarik Olmez

    I found myself here while searching for “minimalist study rooms” 😀
    Great post Jennifer. I always hated too many stuff around and owned. But somehow more and more added and it wont stop… Your post really inspired me. Please keep posting, greetings from Turkey, Ankara.

    • Hi Mustafa, thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment! I’m so honoured that I’ve inspired you. All the best! Jen (PS: I love Turkey, I can’t wait to go back and see more ?)

  • Morgan blair

    Over the years, my life has become way over complicated, partly due to my borderline spending addiction. I have way too many clothes/items. My home is always a complete mess due to having too many things. I am beginning to realize that my debts (although relatively small) and shopping habits are getting in the way of my dreams and goals. I am so ready to start my journey toward a minimalist lifestyle. Through the journey, I hope to discover things about myself, my relationships, and the world around me. I want so badly to be free from the burden of “stuff”. Thanks for this post. It has truly inspired me!

    • Hi Morgan, thanks so much for your comment and for sharing your story. I had a borderline spending addiction too, for a really (really) long time so I can definitely relate. It’s not easy to change a life time of habits, but it sounds like you’re in a good place to start. All I can say is take your time, do what you can, and look after yourself. All the best xx Jen

      • Morgan blair

        Thanks for your response! It’s definitely going to be a lifelong journey, that’s for sure.

  • I’m so happy I found this blog (found you through pinterest) i’m always looking for ways to uplift my life and get what I truly want out of it. Your blog is fascinating to me! I just went through a big move where I realized just how much stuff I really have..and the whole time I kept thinking “as soon as I get settled I am going through a massive decluttering” I don’t want all this stuff, i’m looking forward to living a more minimalist lifestyle and i’m looking forward to following your blog!

    • Hi Olivia – I’m sorry I missed this comment! But thank so much for your kind words about my blog and it makes me so happy to hear it’s inspiring you to simplify your life. Best of luck with everything and have a great weekend 🙂 x Jen

  • Lize de Jongh

    Hi Jennifer, wow, I so enjoyed your post! My husband and I live in our home country of South Africa with our 2 year old girl and another baby on the way. We decided after our 12 week scan to sell our house, that was exactly 17 weeks ago and this morning we signed the transfer deed! It is soooo unbelievably liberating! I must say I have forgotten along the way why we decided to sell and that we chose to LIVE in the moment, debt free, rather than create this unrealistic lifestyle that made us quite unhappy and tied us down. I would love to be an example to our children of carefree living and not just to teach them, but to show them practically that we are the CREATORS of our own reality. We also want to be able to travel as a family and make memories and live in the moment! Thank you so much for your article! It has really reminded me of why we decided to sell our house! I was already looking at new houses, but now have my eyes on the ball again 🙂
    So now we’re off to living by the sea side for about 4 months, whilst I am on maternity leave and who knows from there?! x

    • Hi Lize! Thanks for sharing your story and I LOVE that you want to be an inspiration for your children. Best of luck with your seaside move and the little one. Cheers 🙂 Jen

  • The Wandereuse

    I was immediately drawn to this post! I am myself just taking the first steps towards minimalism -this is, I’m barely starting to acknowledge the crazy amount of things we have but we don’t need-. I am happy to follow your blog to get inspired to continue in this journey!

    Carlota | TheWandereuse.com

    • Hi Carlota! Thank you for your kind words about my blog 🙂 And good luck on your journey towards minimalism – self awareness is definitely the most important first step!! xx

  • J.a. Ct

    Shouldn’t you credit Henry David Thoreau for?

    “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it” Henry David Thoreau
    Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/h/henrydavid106427.html

  • tam2kids

    I would love to enjoy a minimalist lifestyle. I find it hard because I have 2 teens, who have way too much stuff. I have started purging with my own stuff and I find that I hold back on getting rid of it because I think it has value and I worry that one day I will need to have it in order to sell it and have money. I have tried selling it on various websites to no avail. What should I do to just get past this block? I feel like I am going one step forward and two steps back all the time.

    • Ooh – I completely understand that feeling (one of the hardest parts of decluttering is realising how much money you’ve spent on stuff along the way). The 2 things that help me deal with this are:

      1. Accepting my stuff probably isn’t worth what I think it is, so there is no point in holding on to it … after all, you’ve tried to sell it and had no luck. Unfortunately, what we pay for things is rarely representative of what we get back when we sell them 🙁
      2. Focus on what you want for your future – is it more time with your family? More time for yourself? Flexibility? Freedom? Then ask yourself what it’s worth to you. Sometimes you have to think of the money you’re ‘losing’ (really you’ve already lost it) as the price you pay to move forward. Sometimes the best thing you can do is learn from your mistakes, forgive yourself, and move on.

      I hope this helps! I know it’s not easy and it’s especially tough when you have people in the home who aren’t on board with minimalism, but try and stay focused on what matters most to you and you’ll get there 🙂

      All the best! x Jen

  • Tori Shultz

    Do you have any advice on how I can accomplish a simpler life whilst still maintaining a progressive relationship? We plan to get married in a couple of years, but right now we live in a 2 bedroom apartment that is FULL of stuff. My fiance is just as bad as me when it comes to cluttering (he came from a military family that kept original boxes for EVERYTHING because they moved so often, and he’s had a hard time breaking the habits.)

    I’ve been leaning towards starting a minimalist lifestyle, and I can freely purge my things, but do you have any ideas for helping him see why I want a life like this and to help him with his emotional clutter?

    • Hi Tori, so sorry for my slow response to your question! One thing I recommend when trying to get partners or family members onboard with minimalism is to focus on the conversation on what life with be like with less stuff. You can start with the practical (we’d have more time to do “x” if we owned less stuff and spend less time cleaning) and you can build up to bigger dreams (if we spent less money on things, we could chase “insert your dream”). Focus on the life you’ll be gaining, not the stuff you’ll be giving up.

      Also, lead by example but don’t push too much. I know from experience that it can take a long time to connect the dots and, for the most part, people prefer to be inspired vs. be told what to do.

      Hope this helps! All the best for your future and thank you for reading 🙂 Jen

  • I’ve been on a mission for over a year now to reduce the amount of stuff we have. It was getting to the point where it was just out of control and all it did was stress me out.
    We downsized 2 years ago which has really helped! It’s quite a long process but with everything that goes out the door I feel lighter, more free and less stressed.
    Loved this post 🙂

    • Hi Gina! It really is amazing how living with less stuff can help clear stress!! Thank you for reading and have a lovely weekend 🙂 Jen

  • samuel132

    Agree with you that minimalism isn’t always about having a certain colour of clothes. These days I’m trying to cull my wardrobe. I’ve been buying quite a few winter pieces this year as in the past I’ve never shopped for winter clothes properly. Now I’m left with some pieces I don’t want but luckily I’ve managed to sell some of them off. A lot of my clothes are ‘wear and wear until you can’t wear anyone’ – so if a piece of clothing starts tearing apart, that’s when I start replacing it.

  • Denise Stephens

    Hi, wow. Great writing. I am on my way too. Got rid of 11,000 pounds from Germany while in US a year ago. Now I have 35 tubs (16 gallon rubbermaid), three Macs, and one bike in storage in US. Trust me, cutting that in half or more when I get it overseas to where I am at. I still feel that is WAY too much. Go into a room if you have not pulled it out, read it or wore it in one year (most of us like 5-10 years, like old photos!) get rid of it. And keep doing it. We do bring things into our lives, but try to bring one thing out when you bring something in. I am not there yet. I am looking for tiny houses or living on a farm in Europe. You want something bad enough, and I want freedom and outside living, it will come to you! Yes, Thoreau, he was a master, wasn’t he?

    • Hi Denise! Thanks for stopping by and reading 🙂 Wow, it sounds like you’ve come really far already and best of luck on getting where you want to go. Freedom and outside living are definitely powerful motivators! xx

  • Frankly saying, people never get fully satisfied with amount of things they posses. Minimalism is somehow a way to set yourself free, and even if you cannot eliminate everything – it still can show you, that things are not the primary purpose of life. Good article.