Growing up (or even just a few short years ago) I never 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 (fewer things = more joy!).
Adopting 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.
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 furnished with secondhand 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 who 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 assume this was the point in my life when I realised the value of living simply … 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.
DISCOVERING A LIFE WITH LESS
I’m not always very good at seeing the obvious, but looking back I can see clearly now 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.
TIME FOR REAL CHANGE
This continued 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 a six month period, I moved across Australia, travelled to Europe, ended a long-term relationship, and then moved back to the States with my mum. (And to make things more complicated, I started a new relationship with an Englishman.
My future was laid 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 and I realised 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 of 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 it brings us a lot of joy, and we own camping gear, laptops, and a few other electronics.
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!)
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
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