Minimalism

Struggling with Minimalism? 6 Tips to Help You Make Sustainable Change

January 26, 2016

I’ve considered myself a ‘minimalist’ for several years now, but if you’ve read my story, you’ll know I tossed around the idea of minimalism for a very long time before I started making real changes to my lifestyle.

I knew that minimalism would be good for me, I knew I was unhappy and I needed to make a change, and I could clearly see the benefits of becoming a minimalist … but it was really difficult to get started stay motivated. One day I’d get a crazy burst of energy and clear bags of clutter, but then the next weekend I’d go on a mindless shopping spree. It was a case of one step forward and two steps back and I struggled to make sustainable change.

So how did I eventually break the cycle and start moving forward on my minimalist journey?

I realised minimalism is not about decluttering, just like a healthy lifestyle is not about dieting. Of course, owning less things is part of minimalism, but binge decluttering without fundamentally changing your mindset is like crash dieting – it doesn’t last and ‘stuff’ will creep back into your life (spoken from personal experience!!)

Real change started when I stopped thinking about minimalism in terms of what I couldn’t have (a mindset that relies on willpower) and switched to thinking of it as an intentional choice to have more of what really matters.

If this resonates with you and you’re struggling with minimalism, here are 6 tips to grow this mindset and help you on your minimalist journey.
After years of failed attempts at minimalism, how did I finally make real, sustainable changes in my life? Read to find out.

FOCUS ON WHAT YOU WANT MOST

If you want to have more of what really matters in your life, then you need to start by knowing … what really matters in your life.

Spend some time thinking about your values: strip down to the bare bones of your life and ask yourself what’s important? What makes you feel happy, proud, and loved? What fuels your heart and gets you out of bed in the morning?

There are no right or wrong answers – it might be family, art, education or stability; everyone has different priorities and that is absolutely okay. But, whatever your answer is, make it your daily focus and use it to frame your minimalist decision making in a positive light.

  • Instead of saying ‘no’ to shopping, try saying ‘yes’ to less debt and financial freedom.
  • Instead of saying ‘no’ to going out every weekend, try saying ‘yes’ to more time with your loved ones.
  • Instead of saying ‘no’ to perfectionism, try say ‘yes’ to self love and care.

RELATED POST: A Simple Question to Ask Yourself (How defining my core values has changed my life.)

PRACTICE SELF CARE

When I’m feeling insecure, worn out, or overwhelmed, I catch myself going into survival mode. This means I’m not thinking intentionally about life choices (or even small choices like lunch); instead I’m floundering about and looking for any quick and easy way to make me feel better – like snacking on junk food, snapping at other people, or the good old “buying things to cheer myself up.”

In other words, when I don’t take care of myself, I don’t care about minimalism.

The solution? Prevention. Regardless of your feelings on minimalism, I’m a big believer that we all need to practice self care: drink water, eat healthy foods, make time to read or do activities that nurture your soul, stretch and move, write – whatever keeps you grounded and well. (More ideas here.)

When you take care of yourself, you’re better able to make good decisions and less likely to give into unhealthy habits – so make taking care of yourself a priority in your life!

SPEND ON EXPERIENCES

One of my biggest tips for new minimalists is don’t be too frugal (especially in the beginning.) Instead, use at least some of the money you’re saving by buying less things on fun activities like weekends away, nights out with friends, or unique experiences (wine tours, art classes, etc.)

I completely understand that many people choose minimalism to improve their financial situation, but I think in the early days it’s really helpful to make small splurges on experiences because it:

  • positively reinforces experiences over things
  • teaches you to have fun without shopping (as a serious shopaholic this was a big one for me)
  • reiterates that minimalism is about intentional living, not restrictions

Consider holding off on aggressive saving plans until you feel more comfortable with minimalism.

RELATED POST: 7 Things You Will Never Regret Spending Money On

PRACTICE MINDFULNESS

Have you ever thought “All I need is _______ and I’ll be happy?”

Well, I definitely have and this mindset was one the biggest stumbling blocks on my journey to minimalism. I was always telling myself that I needed one more thing (new shoes, a new winter coat, a dining set) and then – finally, I’d have everything I really needed and I’d be ready to start my minimalist journey.

(You may recognise this as the “last meal before the diet starts” syndrome.)

But as I’m pretty sure you can all guess, there was always one more thing I really needed and it was a nasty cycle that never seemed to end. Why? Because I wasn’t being present; instead of paying attention to my behaviour and feeling gratitude for everything I already owned and loved, I was focused on an imaginary future (a fantasyland where a new dress would magically solve all my problems.)

I broke free of this cycle by learning to practice mindfulness. I started meditating, gratitude journaling, and I made time (and prioritised) doing activities I love (such as painting and yoga.) This helped me to feel content with the life and things I already had, which in turn made it easier to stop wanting more.

RELATED POST: A Practical Guide to Being Present (How to live in the moment and embrace the joy of today.)

DON’T EXPECT EVERYTHING TO CHANGE OVERNIGHT

If you’ve read this far, it’s probably because you’re serious about wanting to change your life. And I understand – you want change yesterday, not tomorrow, or next week, or next month. You’re ready for your life to look and feel different.

But let me tell you a story.

At twenty two I rather impulsively packed everything I owned into a backpack and travelled the world for two years. Although I didn’t consider myself a ‘minimalist’, I embodied a lot of the characteristics (namely, I lived with very few possessions.)

So what do you think happened when I finally ‘settled down’ after two years on the road?

I moved into a gigantic three bedroom apartment, drove a moving van to Ikea, and turned one room into a gigantic walk in closet (which I promptly filled to the brim.)

The moral of this story is that real change takes time. Even if you somehow managed to declutter your entire life overnight, you’d still be mostly the same person the next day. The truth is embracing minimalism is a journey and it takes time to unlearn a lifetime of habits. Everyone’s timeline will be different, so be patient and kind to yourself.

REFLECT ON YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS

Finally, if patience isn’t your strong point (it certainly isn’t mine) learn to reflect and revel in your achievements.

Celebrate your small victories: when you resist browsing the clearance rack, or when you donate your unused ski gear to charity, or even when you say goodbye to an unhealthy relationship.

Turn your focus towards how far you’ve come, instead of how far you’ve got to go.

Because, to be honest, I don’t believe there is ever a finish line. Minimalism, to me, is about making room in your life for what you want most and I don’t think this is a task that ever gets completed; instead I think it’s a constant cycle of reviewing your values, assessing your life, and adjusting accordingly.

I’d love to hear any of your stories or tips you’ve learned on your minimalist journey. Let me know in the comments! x

photo credit : Rowan Heuvel // Used with permission

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  • I love this guide so much. Thank you for writing it– so many people I know are interested in simple living but just aren’t sure how to start! I’ll be sharing this with them!

  • I loved this post, Jennifer! The self-care tip really bowled me over, especially the line on not caring about minimalism when you don’t care for yourself. I need to work harder on that.

    Also, the “Don’t expect to change overnight” tip has a little typo.

    Will be pinning & tweeting this post! Thanks for sharing with us!

    • Hey Daisy! My hubby felt the same way about the self care tip – I guess he see’s it in me firsthand (and not just about minimalism, about other habits like healthy eating or even just positive thinking.) I’ll be addressing this in my intention plan next month!

      Thanks for your help with the typo, I need a proofreader at times! And thanks for sharing!! xx

  • Sell All Your Stuff

    These are all great tips! I’m a big believer in self care. If you aren’t doing well, nothing in your life is doing well. Also, experiences are huge for us, that’s why we became minimalists!

    • Haha, yes – I think that experiences are a huge part of why I became a minimalist too! You’ll have to share your self care tips; I know it’s important but I’m still working to make sure I incorporate it in my life. Thanks for commenting! x

  • This is such a great post, Jennifer! I loved the analogy of minimalism and dieting!

    With our recent move to Seattle, we’ve downsized from a 2200 sq. ft. house (with a garage and shed) to a 980 sq. ft. apartment. We went through everything we owned prior to moving and got rid of a bunch of stuff using the mantra of “If it’s not beautiful or useful then it doesn’t have value to us.”, but watching how much the movers packed up, I have a feeling that we still have a lot of decluttering left to do when we finally get to move into our apartment in two weeks. πŸ™‚

    • Hi Mackenzie, great to hear from you πŸ™‚ Wow, that is a big move – how exciting!!

      I love your mantra and it’s so true. I’m sure once you settle in you’ll find a sweet spot that works for your family. Thanks fro you comment and all the best xx

  • I’ve recently discovered minimalism by total accident, but it was one of the best things that could have happened. I suffer with anxiety on an on and off basis. At one point when my anxiety seemed it was the highest, we moved from a 1,400 square foot house into one bedroom of my mother in laws how while we built a shop that included 600 square foot of living space. My anxiety was going to be the death of this experience, until I found minimalism.

    Since then, we have moved into our 600 square foot shop apartment, and I have gotten rid of tons of things I thought I needed. My anxiety has gotten under control quite a bit, but I still have a little ways to go before I am where I want to be with my journey. If I would have known living a more simple lifestyle could change my mental health this much, I would have done it years ago! I’ve also started writing about my journey, and it has helped on so many levels. I still have a ways to go, and I especially realize that after reading this post.

    I’ve also challenged myself to a 30 Day Minimalist Decluttering Challenge that I created myself. Here’s the link if you would like to check it out. http://www.awelderswife.com/2016/01/30-day-minimalist-decluttering-challenge/

    • Hi Erin! Sorry for my slow reply, but thanks so much for sharing your story! It’s so inspiring to hear about how minimalism helped you with your anxiety. I love your challenge, but I’m currently travelling (and living out of a backpack) so I won’t be able to participate right now. However, I’ll share the details on my social media accounts and spread the word. All theist on your minimalist journey and thank you for commenting!

  • Dana Lester

    Hi Jennifer, thank you so much for this post. I found it on pinterest, and since subscribed to your blog. This spoke to me a lot, as well as a few other of your posts I have been reading. We had/have a LOT in common, and I definitely struggle with a spending addiction. While I never got in a literal debt, I would be barely getting by each month living paycheck to paycheck, when I really didn’t need to be if I was just getting what was required. I saw you mentioned the topic of fashion blogs. I know that feeds my spending addiction, but I genuinely enjoy reading a few fashion blogs and I have built a connection with the women who write them. I struggle thinking about letting go of that, do you have any tips on what to do? I am glad I found your blog, and in time maybe I can make a transition to other types of blogs.
    Based on my personality, very few people know I have this problem, yet it affects my day every day. After being open about it with my partner, I feel empowered to change my life around, and take control of my life, and create freedom!
    Thank you for your inspiring words. <3

    Dana

    • Hi Dana, I’m so sorry! Somehow I missed seeing this comment until now. About fashion blogs, if there are a few that you enjoy reading here are a few things that might help:

  • I love the first tip on making it your daily focus and changing the way you word things in your head. It’s so helpful that these pointers can also be applied to all areas in life.

    – Charmaine
    http://charmainenyw.com

    • Hey Charmaine, yes, that’s such a good point about how being intentional can be applied to all areas in life – I definitely agree! Thanks so much for stopping by πŸ™‚

  • Gillian

    I read so many blogs about people who have thrown caution to the wind and set off on their journey of discovery around the world – I absolutely love the idea of doing that!
    But when it comes down to it, all I keep thinking is – How did you fund this? How did you survive for 2 years traveling around? Where did you get your food – where did you sleep? I would really like to know the practicalities of living out of a backpack while travelling the world for 2 years! I just can’t picture how to make that work….. Do you have incredibly rich parents who funded this? Did you have an awesomely well paid job that allowed you to save up to then take off? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be a wet blanket – I would really like to know, for myself, how this can be done – please!

    • Hey Jillian! Thanks for your question and don’t worry – I completely understand why you’re asking. I actually wrote a really detailed post about how I afford to travel http://www.simplyfiercely.com/how-i-afford-to-travel/ which might answer a lot of your questions. I definitely don’t have rich parents!! The quick answer is over the years I’ve done a mix of working abroad, travelling in very cheap countries (often with a budget around $150/week) – but the post explains in a lot more detail. If you have more questions feel free to comment again and I’ll try and be more specific ?