How to Be a Minimalist: 5 Things Not to Do + What to Do Instead

Are you wondering how to be a minimalist? Perhaps you’re just getting started with the minimalist lifestyle but you’re not sure what to do first.

Don’t worry! I’ve been there too and I remember exactly how overwhelming it was when I first got started with minimalism. I was so excited because I knew that minimalism had the potential to change my lifebut where to begin?

After all, as a former shopaholic and workaholic, my life was one big cluttered mess! I was already so busy and decluttering just seemed like another item on my already overwhelming to-do list.

Can you relate?

If so, keep reading. The good news is I’ve been a minimalist for close to a decade now and I’ve learned A LOT along the way! Here are some of my top tips and resources to help you get started with minimalism.

Blog Post about How to Be a Minimalist titled "Getting Started With Minimalism" in white box with scandi minimalist decorated home in background.

HOW TO BE A MINIMALIST

Let’s get things started by talking about a few things NOT to do when you’re getting started with minimalism.

These are the mistakes that I’ve seen people make time and time again. I’m pointing them out not to pass judgement; after all, I’ve made all of these mistakes myself!

Instead, my intention is to save you time, energy and even money so you can have the best possible start—unlike myself. It actually took me several years to go from deciding to be a minimalist to actually making meaningful changes in my life.

I don’t want you to make this same mistake … which brings us to the first thing on my list.

1. DON’T PUT OFF GETTING STARTED

There are usually two reasons people procrastinate getting started with minimalism.

First, they struggle to commit to being a minimalist because they aren’t sure they like the “rules”.

For example, one thing that held me back from getting started with minimalism was my false belief that it was an “all or nothing” lifestyle.

I’d search online for articles on how to be a minimalist and all I’d find were stories of people who only owned 100 things or who lived in tiny houses. I was fascinated by their lifestyles, but I also knew it wasn’t for me.

I was always going to keep some sentimental items, I liked having a few knickknacks, and I was never going to get by with just one pair of shoes! In other words—I liked the idea of living with less but I knew I was never going to be like the people I read about online.

But after a few years, I came to realise that there is only one rule when it comes to minimalism: you must be intentional about what you allow into your life.

The goal of minimalism is to align the “things” in your life (your physical stuff, your commitments, and even your relationships) with your what matters most to YOU.

This means that minimalism looks like different things to different people. As long as you’re being honest with yourself about what adds 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.

The second reason people struggle to get started with minimalism is they think they don’t have enough time.

After all, most people want to know how to be a minimalist because their lives are busy and cluttered in the first place!

But here’s the thing you need to know: you don’t change a lifetime of habits overnight. There is no shame in starting small. You don’t have to clutter your entire house overnight!

Instead, you just need to put one foot in front of another. Even if you have no time for decluttering, start by reducing what you’re bringing into your life! This is actually the easiest way to get started with minimalism and it takes no time at all. (In fact, it actually saves you time and money!)

You can find more tips on minimalism for busy people in this post.

So to recap, the number one advice I would give anyone who wants to know how to be a minimalist is to just get started! Do one thing today to move you in the direction of your goal.

An easy place to begin is by downloading Mindful Decluttering, my free decluttering guide and workbook! You’ll learn step-by-step how I decluttered my home and life and there’s even a troubleshooting guide for hard to declutter items. Subscribe below and get your free copy instantly.


2. THE ONE LAST SHOP SYNDROME…

Now that you’ve decided you’re committed to minimalism and you’re ready to take action today … there might still be one more thing standing in your way:

The One Last Shop syndrome.

The One Last Shop syndrome is a bit like binge eating before starting a new diet; you’re almost ready to get started with minimalism … but you just need to pick up a few things first.

I was SO guilty of this for so many years! For me, it was all about my wardrobe. I kept telling myself I’d be ready to get started with minimalism once I found the perfect _______.

  • the perfect pair of black trousers
  • the perfect tan sandals
  • the perfect chambray shirt

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 too, I clearly understand—but here’s what you need to know:

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

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

Also, be mindful of the ways perfectionism can sabotage your minimalist efforts. A good friend of mine taught me that most people using perfectionism as a way of procrastinating. Perfect is an illusion; there’s no such thing as the perfect little black dress (or for that matter, the perfect time to get started!).

3. NOT TAKING THE TIME TO DISPOSE OF YOUR STUFF PROPERLY

Your next “how to be a minimalist” tip is to plan what to do with your excess stuff before you declutter!

Now, I’ll be honest with you and tell you that I didn’t do this when I first got started with minimalism. I was so excited after I finally overcame the above hurdles and I just wanted to build on that momentum. I filled trash bag after trash bag with unwanted stuff … and then two things happened.

First, I felt overwhelmed about what to do everything, so much so that I did nothing. Those big black bags of stuff sat in my guest bedroom and the boot of my car for months.

This put a huge damper on my enthusiasm and in the end, I chose 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.

This might not sound like a big deal but I’ve since learned that many charity shops are overwhelmed with donations. A lot of stuff is not resold locally. Instead, 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?

When you’re getting started with minimalism, a good place to begin is by 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 need it most.

Here are a few helpful resources:

If you plan what to do with your stuff before you declutter, you’re more likely to follow through with your plans, you won’t end up with bags of stuff you don’t’ know what to do with (I can’t tell you how many people tell me they have this problem) and you’re more likely to make responsible decisions.

I know this feels like a lot of extra work but I promise it’s worth it. If anything, it will definitely make you stop and think twice about what stuff you bring into your life in the future!

Yellow sofa and minimalist decor

4. MAKING IT ALL ABOUT THE STUFF

OK, I know that so far I’ve been talking a lot about decluttering and that’s because it’s what most people focus on when they’re first getting started with minimalism.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of decluttering and it’s tempting to judge your progress by the number of trash bags you’ve hauled off to Goodwill. But here’s the thing: just like a healthy lifestyle is not about dieting, minimalism is not about decluttering.

Of course, decluttering is one piece of the puzzle but if you stop there, you’re missing the point.

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 more stuff all over again (the decluttering equivalent of a yo-yo diet!).

Next, it’s important to realise that owning less is not a goal in and of itself. Instead, minimalism is a tool to help you create a life you love.

You’re getting rid of the stuff that doesn’t matter so you have more time, money, energy and space for the things that do.

What this means is that doing the inner work and cultivating a minimalist mindset is just as important (if not more) than decluttering your closet.

Ask yourself: What are your values? What do you really want out of life? What are you creating space for? If you can’t answer these questions, then you’ll never know the full benefit of minimalism.

If these questions leave you feeling overwhelmed, then I invite you to check out 7 Simple Days, a short program I created to help you kickstart your simple and intentional living journey.

Over a week, you’ll get daily emails with journal prompts and mini-challenges that will help you clarify your values, define your priorities, and take first steps towards a minimalist life.

Click here to find out why over 2,500 like-minded souls have already taken 7 Simple Days.

“Very thought-provoking exercises. They really helped me to understand what I value most and take steps to make sure I’m dedicating more of my time to those things. Thanks for sharing this mini-course. It was fun, eye-opening and helped with self-improvement.”– Tonya E 7 Simple Days participant

5. JUDGING YOURSELF + OTHER PEOPLE

Finally, when you’re first getting started with minimalism, the first thing you need to “declutter” is judgement—both of yourself and of other people.

Let’s talk about yourself first.

Decluttering is hard because it means facing up to hundreds if not thousands of mistakes. More than likely, you’re going to realise that you’ve wasted a lot of money on things you may never have even used. This can be really painful and it’s enough to make you want to throw in the towel before you’ve even begun.

Trust me—former shopaholic here—I understand! I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent beating myself up for all the stupid purchases over the years.

But you know what? That kind of harsh self-judgement got me nowhere. All it made me want to do was shop more (to dull the pain I was feeling) or to give up.

Instead, what helped was learning to practise self-kindness instead. I let go of the anger I felt towards myself and learned to view my mistakes as lessons to learn from. This made a huge difference in how I approached not only decluttering but also life in general.

Also, when you’re getting started with minimalism, you need to be careful about judging other people.

There will come a point where you “get” minimalism—you’ve downsized your stuff and you’ve started to think mindfully about your life—and then it’s tempting to judge everyone else.

It’s not always intentional; sometimes you’re just excited about how your life has changed and it’s hard to understand why everyone else isn’t on board too!

Still, intentional or not, being judgemental is unkind and unproductive (especially if you’re trying to get your family on board with minimalism).

Instead, become an advocate for minimalism by living your life to the fullest. Let others learn how to become a minimalist by watching your example. Encourage, but don’t preach. Inspire, but don’t judge.

FINAL THOUGHTS + RESOURCES ON HOW TO BE A MINIMALIST

This sums up the most important things I know about how to be a minimalist, after nearly a decade of personal experience.

  • Begin by getting started, don’t procrastinate, and just take the leap. The time to start living your best life is now.
  • Even when you’re too busy to declutter, you can always control what you allow into your life. Stop shopping and you don’t need one last thing to get started!
  • Think about what happens to your stuff when it leaves your home.
  • Cultivate a minimalist mindset and invest in self-reflection. This is SO IMPORTANT and an often overlooked part of being a minimalist.
  • Be kind to yourself and others. Don’t beat yourself up about the past—just choose to do better next time.

If you’re looking for more decluttering tips, remember to download my free Mindful Decluttering guide, or check out these posts:

Alternatively, if you’re still not 100% sold on the idea of minimalism, then you might be interested to hear about how minimalism helped me become debt-free or about how minimalism has impacted my career.

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 commentsI’d love to hear from you! x

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35 thoughts on “How to Be a Minimalist: 5 Things Not to Do + What to Do Instead”

  1. One of the things that I’m working on is decluttering my email inbox. For one thing, seeing all those unread promotional emails gets exhausting! Then if I do open one, there’s the possibility that the marketing schemes will get to me, and make me long for that thing that they assure me will make my life easier.
    So as I see them, I unsubscribe, and then delete the old emails from that sender. I used to be all about freebies (so I got on a Lot of email lists), but I’ve come to realize that free doesn’t always mean useful or valued. I’m a work in progress, but at least it’s progress!
    I’m also going to hold a clothing swap with all my closet clean-out. 🙂

    Reply
  2. 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.

    Reply
    • 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 🙂

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    • I feel the same way. Things tend to be put in very specific piles and before I know it there is more clutter now than before because of the obsession of where it should go! Something that could help is asking your friends or family to come by and pick up anything they like. Otherwise I don’t know what to do in the situation because most of the time I just give up and give everything to charity.

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    • This is my issue also. I think trying too hard to seek out the perfect place puts me in a tailspin and then the stuff ends up in my car for weeks!!!

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  3. 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.

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  4. 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!

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  5. 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!!

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  6. 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

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  7. 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

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  8. 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!

    Reply
    • 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

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      • 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!

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        • 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 🙂

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  9. 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.

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  10. 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.

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

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  12. 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.

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    • 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

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  13. 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!

    Reply
    • 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

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  14. 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.

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  15. 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! 🙂

    Reply

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