Minimalism

How Minimalism Changed My Life

July 10, 2016

When I first started experimenting with minimalism, about five years ago, I had no idea what my journey would truly look like.

Of course I had a few expectations – a gorgeous but functional capsule wardrobe, an uncluttered, easy to clean home, and a much healthier bank balance – but looking back now I realise I really didn’t understand the fundamental ways minimalism would change my life.

Chances are – if you’re reading this – you’re at least curious about what minimalism has to offer, but you might still be on the fence. Maybe you have questions like:

  • Is minimalism anything more than decluttering and a tidy home?
  • Is it really worth the time and effort?
  • And perhaps most importantly – can minimalism truly change my life?

While I can’t speak for everyone, I can say my answer to these questions is a resounding yes. Minimalism has – without a doubt – been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.

Today I’m going to explain why and share a few of the many ways minimalism has transformed my life – so if you’re feeling uncertain about getting started, or in need of motivation to continue on your minimalist journey, keep reading – this post is for you!

When I first started experimenting with minimalism, about five years ago, I had no idea what my journey would truly look like.  Of course I had a few expectations – a gorgeous but functional capsule wardrobe, an uncluttered, easy to clean home, and a much healthier bank balance – but looking back now I realise I really didn’t understand the fundamental ways minimalism would change my life. I share all the details in this post - so if you're on the fence or in need of motivation to continue on your minimalist journey - this is a must read!

(Psst – this is a long post, but an important one. If you’re busy, consider bookmarking this to read later!)

WHAT A SIMPLE, CLUTTER FREE HOME ACTUALLY MEANS

Let’s start with that picture in your mind of a simple, clutter free home – and break down to what it really means.

Before I became a minimalist, my home was overwhelming and a constant source of anxiety. It was more than just the ongoing battle to keep it clean (although that was definitely part of the problem); it was also the way all my stuff served as a constant reminder of my never-ending to-do list.

You see, the real problem with clutter isn’t your actual things – it’s the decisions they represent.

On any given day, I’d come home after a long day at work and this is what I’d hear:

  • Unworn cocktail dresses calling out from the closet – questioning why I’m not going to nightclubs anymore?
  • My rarely used sewing machine, hidden in the corner – asking if I’m really serious about DIY fashion?
  • Books on overstuffed shelves, wondering out loud – would I ever be reading them again?

My stuff was asking tough questions, but I wasn’t ready to answer them. Doing so would require being honest with myself about my life and my priorities – which wasn’t an easy task.

(Sometimes it’s hard to admit to ourselves that we aren’t going to do all the things that we want to, or that our priorities and lifestyles have changed.)

So instead, it was easier for me to leave my stuff where it was, just in case, and to go on with my life.

Or so I thought.

The truth is the things you own either contribute or take from your life. There is no middle ground.

 

“Clutter is no more than postponed decisions.”
– Barbara Hemphill

 

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ALL THE CLUTTER GOES AWAY?

Late last year, in preparation for a seven-month overseas trip, I did what I think will be my final ‘big’ declutter (although time will tell!)

I truly dug deep – pulling out the last few boxes hidden under the bed, sorting through our mysterious junk drawer, and emptying the very back of the cupboards.

After that final round of letting go, I now feel confident saying that everything I own is either functional or beautiful. I am (officially) clutter free. ?

So how does it feel?

As you probably expect, there are certainly practical advantages to having a minimalist home. My house is tidy and super easy to clean. Everything has its place, so finding things (and putting them away) is stress-free. I don’t waste any time making decisions about where to put things or what to keep.

But the benefits of living in a minimalist home go far beyond housework and a tidy aesthetic.

The most important change is the way I feel when I walk in the front door.

Before minimalism, my home left me feeling exhausted, like I was carrying a heavy weight on my shoulders – but now things have completely turned around.

My home is no longer a burden or a source of stress; instead, it’s a blissful retreat that actively supports me and gives me exactly what I need.

We obviously spend a lot of time in our homes, so knowing that mine is a source of energy (instead of a drain) has dramatically changed how I feel in my day-to-day life.

[RELATED POST: How I Became a Minimalist (Why I Choose to Live With Less)]

When I first started experimenting with minimalism, about five years ago, I had no idea what my journey would truly look like. Of course I had a few expectations – a gorgeous but functional capsule wardrobe, an uncluttered, easy to clean home, and a much healthier bank balance – but looking back now I realise I really didn’t understand the fundamental ways minimalism would change my life. I share all the details in this post - so if you're on the fence or in need of motivation to continue on your minimalist journey - this is a must read!

BEYOND ‘STUFF’: MOVING TOWARDS INTENTIONAL LIVING

The joy that comes from living in a clutter free home is reason enough for me to recommend a minimalist lifestyle to anyone – but the good news is, it’s just the beginning.

I’ve learned that minimalism is actually a first step towards intentional living (and that’s where the magic really happens!)

I’ll talk about the connection between the two in just a moment, but first let’s step back and I’ll explain exactly what intentional living means to me.

Simply put, I believe intentional living is asking why do you do things – and being happy with the answers.

A simple idea, but surprisingly very often overlooked. For example, before I became a minimalist, I made huge decisions about my relationships, my career and my finances without truly taking time to ask myself why.

Instead, I let the momentum of life carry me along and more often than not – I did what everyone else was doing.

  • I bought a house that I didn’t really want because it seemed like the right thing to do.
  • I stayed in jobs that made me miserable because – again – it seemed like the right thing to do.
  • I even stayed in a marriage that I knew wasn’t right for me because … well, you get the picture.

I repeated this process of passively making decisions over and over, and perhaps unsurprisingly – I wasn’t very happy with my choices.

So now, let’s return to minimalism.

[RELATED POST: An Intro to Intentional Living (7 Things You Need to Know)]

 

“Live less out of habit and more out of intent.”
– Unknown

 

HOW DID MINIMALISM LEAD ME TO INTENTIONAL LIVING?

Consider this…

When you’re decluttering your home, you start developing a method of deciding what stays and what goes.

For example, imagine you own five pairs of jeans, but you only want to keep one pair.

You’d think about what you need from your jeans and then ask question, such as:

  • What’s more important – style or comfort?
  • Which pair do I feel best wearing?
  • What style best suits my lifestyle?

Next, you’d reflect on the answers and make a mindful decision about which pair is the best fit for your life – right?

Repeat this process over and over and your brain begins to think differently about decision-making.

You start questioning the value of your ‘stuff’ and the role it plays in your life – and with time, this way of thinking goes beyond physical things and spreads to relationships, mindsets, and how you spend your time.

Without realising it, you’ve embraced intentional living. ?

A PRACTICAL EXAMPLE: RETHINKING MY CAREER

To help connect the dots, let’s look at a practical example of how minimalism and intentional living have come together to change my life – my career.

I could write a novel on the topic but here’s the quick story of my last five years:

  • Before minimalism, I spent a lot time feeling stuck in jobs I hated.
  • My finances were out of control; I was in debt and living paycheque to paycheque.
  • When I discovered minimalism, I downsized my home and car, gave up shopping, and reduced my cost of living by more than 50%.
  • I became debt free, saved a nest egg, and for the first time had breathing space to start thinking about my career choices.
  • Intentional living inspired me to get back to basics and to question what a career really meant to me.
  • I realised that professional ‘success’ (in the traditional sense) didn’t really matter to me and I had only been chasing it because it was the ‘right thing to do’.
  • I gave myself permission to step back and do what felt right for me – even if it went against the status quo.
  • I quit my secure, full-time job and I now do casual, short-term assignments when it suits me. This flexibility has allowed me to travel around the world and to start this blog.

This huge change didn’t happen overnight, but I’m confident it would never have been possible without minimalism.

So going back to the questions at the start of this post – is minimalism worth it? And can it change your life?

I hope this example helps you picture how it absolutely can – and keep in mind this is only one part of my life. Minimalism has also transformed how I spend my free time, my health and wellness, and my relationships.

But wait … there’s still more.

[RELATED POST: Your Salary is Not Your Self-Worth (and Why I Gave Myself Permission to Earn Less) via Cait Flanders]

THE GREATEST GIFT: MINIMALISM + HOPE

I know this post is getting really long, so if you’re still reading this – I really appreciate it!

I’ll tie things up shortly, but I really couldn’t hit publish without addressing perhaps the most important thing minimalism has brought into my life.

HOPES + DREAMS

You see … growing up I was always a daydreamer.

I’m very fortunate that I was raised in a family that taught me to believe anything is possible and this relentless optimism served me well throughout my life.

It carried me through difficult times (like the passing of my younger brother) and inspired me to go on amazing adventure (like moving overseas alone.)

But somewhere along the way, as my life became more cluttered, I started to lose my ability to dream.

Thoughts of exploring and learning new things were too often crushed by the weight of my responsibilities.

  • Maybe I could move to Thailand! … but what would I do with all my stuff?
  • Maybe I could study to be a yoga teacher! … but how I could study AND afford my mortgage?
  • Maybe I could start my own business! … but where would I find the energy when my life’s already so busy?

So little by little, I stopped dreaming.

Instead, I began to believe that maybe it was time to grow up and accept that life wasn’t always meant to be a great adventure.

And this is where I was when minimalism found me; a little hopeless, living on autopilot, and stuck just going through the motions. I felt suffocated and trapped.

But fortunately, I found that as I decluttered my life, my old self reappeared – and looking back, I know I’m not exaggerating when I say that minimalism gave me my life back.

It was a truly priceless gift and now, at 35, I feel as hopeful and optimistic about my future as I did in my early twenties. I don’t have my life all figured out – not by a long shot – but I feel in my heart that I’m living true to myself and that anything’s possible.

What do you think? Are you sold on minimalism? Or if you’re already a minimalist – how has it changed your life? Let me know in the comments! xo

Photo credit: Me!

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  • Julie@ChooseBetterLife

    “Clutter is no more than postponed decisions.”
    This is a fabulous statement. I’d never thought of it that way before, but it’s true. It’s like a giant to-do list and test all in one, so it’s sometimes easier to just ignore it. But getting it out of my life is freeing, refreshing, and energizing.

    • Thanks Julie! I felt the same way the first time I read that quote – it rang so true for me! And yep, sometimes it easier to just ignore (for a while) but it’s definitely liberating to deal with it and move on. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • This is so refreshing to read, Jennifer! This is what I love about minimalism– it really helps us become the people we’ve always wanted to be. x

  • Mackenzie

    “You see, the real problem with clutter isn’t the actual things, it’s the decisions they represent”. Yes, yes, yes! Every time you look at something that isn’t being used or utilized, it represents a decision that you haven’t filled but still feel this compulsion to do so. Great post Jennifer! 🙂

  • I have been learning to appreciate minimalism. At first I thought minimalism was about decor and fashion and living a specific lifestyle but I really believe it’s much more than that. I feel like minimalism is a mindset that can be applied to any area of your life. It’s really about compartmentalizing and getting rid of anything that weighs you down: negative thoughts, friendships, etc. It’s literally seeking clarity and just getting rid of anything that distracts you. It expands so much past what most of us see it as surface wise.

    xo, N

    • Hi Natasha! I love reading how your views of minimalism have changed. I definitely think that it’s something suitable for everyone, because it’s just about making your life as ‘you’ as possible and cutting out everything else. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts – I think they will really resonate with a lot of people. All the best xo

  • And I agree — clutter reflects where you are at life. It is definitely postponed decisions. In order to have great things in life, you have to get rid of the old to make room for the new. <3

  • When you were like “Thanks for reading this far”, I was still excited to read more. There’s so much good stuff in here I don’t even know where to start, Jen! You have a great way of explaining and connecting ideas that just makes them more powerful. The thought of my stuff crying questions to be answered really stuck with me. I will now remember the way you described how you feel going in your home now as I declutter. I think it’ll motivate me a lot.

    I loved the ideas on decluttering + decision-making, and minimalism + hopes and dreams too! Like I said, too many gems in this post. I’ll bookmark this to reread every time all this change seems so hard. ❤️

    • Wow Daisy, thank you so much for your feedback! I’m glad you didn’t find the post too long – I just found I had so much to say on the subject and once I got started I couldn’t stop!

      And seriously – having a decluttered home is so blissful, just being home feels like self care! Good luck on your minimalism journey xo

  • Jennifer, every single time I read a post like this I get closer and closer to taking the leap. Honestly, it is the connection to intentional living that makes me feel the most excited. And maybe going on a long trip myself. 😉 I will say that I’ve brought it up to my boyfriend (we share an apartment) and he does not seem as jazzed about either of those things. That is one of the big challenges I’m facing right now – kind of like if you go on a diet but your partner doesn’t. I’m sure I’ll work through it, as it is becoming increasingly more important for me, and these posts (and you!) are incredible supporters and motivators.

    Thanks for this post, lovely!

    • Hi Amanda – this (the partner thing) is definitely a challenge! I think one thing to remember is that for most people there that can be done as an individual and this is where you need to keep your focus at the start. I know a lot of people find that when they start living simply (and enjoying the benefits) their partners get on board!

      Anyway, good luck and thank you so much for your feedback – it means a lot to me! xo

  • I really appreciated the part about intentional living. I have not taken the leap to full minimalism, in part because I feel like some treat it as another extreme. I have fully embraced a simple living lifestyle, which has greatly contributed to my living much more intentional. This was an excellent post, thank you!

    • Hi Kristal! Thank you so much for your kind words, they mean a lot to me. ❤️

      I agree that sometimes minimalism is taken to the extreme, but I also think what minimalism looks like is a personal choice and will look different for everyone. I like to say that as long as you’re being honest and true to yourself about what you want and need in your life, you’re a minimalist – so by my definition, you might be a minimalist and not realise it yet! xo Jen

  • Christine Snoke Bouquin

    Kudos to you! I just found your website (via this article) and can’t wait to read more. I’m at the (somewhat) beginning of my minimalism journey and your words are definitely an inspiration. Thank you!
    Christine

    • Thank you Christine! It has been a long but very worthwhile journey. All the best to you and thank you again for stopping by. x Jen

  • I like the idea of decluttering the house, but at the same time I find it difficult to decide which things stay and which have to be thrown out. Was it difficult to get rid of the unused things? What about the more expensive objects? Did you just throw them out or did your family and friends get some unexpected gifts :)?

    • Hi Mila! At first it was SO difficult to let go of things, but with time and a mindset change it got easier! (I talk about it a bit more in this post http://www.simplyfiercely.com/struggling-with-minimalism/ <- the first tip, about focusing on what matters most, is what really helped me.)

      I definitely ended up giving away some things to friends, I also sold some things on Ebay and donated a lot to charity too. I tried not to focus too much on how much I paid for things – it's never nice to feel like you're wasting money, but once the money's spent, it's gone. Very few things actually retain their value, so I just tried my best to learn from my mistakes and move forward.

      Thanks for your question – I appreciate you taking the time to stop by! x Jen

      • Thank you for the very thoughtful response. I will keep the things you pointed out during my next decluttering session :).

  • Minimalism is about being assertive in your relationships and being true to yourself. It’s infinitely rewarding. Thank you.

    • Hi Michelle – I love what you said about being assertive in your relationships! It’s something that’s not talked about as much, but creating boundaries is definitely an important part of minimalism. Thank you for the reminder!

  • Fara Reid

    Wow! I really feel inspired to work harder on getting rid of the stuff I do not need in my life. I am in a place of hopelessness. I hate so many areas of my life. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Hi Fara, thank you so much for stopping by. I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through a tough time right now but it makes my day to hear that I’ve helped inspire you. All the best for your future and just remember – small changes every day eventually add up. Much love! xo Jen