How I Became a Minimalist: My Story of Living with Less

Growing up, I would never have imagined that I’d one day be talking about my life as a minimalist because, at the time, the idea of choosing to live with less was completely foreign to me.

In fact, by my twenties, I was a full-blown shopaholic and workaholic— about as far from a minimalist lifestyle as you could get!

But here I am, living proof that change is possible. Over the past decade, I have completely transformed my life. I no longer live in a constant state of exhaustion and overwhelm.

Instead, I feel a deep sense of freedom and ease that I didn’t believe was possible for many years. It was such a transformative experience that I decided to start writing a minimalist blog (this one!).

Having said that, minimalism didn’t come easy for me. As you’ll soon see, it was a long and often painful journey that required learning and unlearning a lifetime of beliefs about myself and my place in the world.

If you’d like to learn more about living with less, then here is the complete story of my minimalist life.

"How I Became A Minimalist: why I choose to live with less" in a white box with an image of a woman reaching for a tan hat hanging on a wall hook.

What Is A Minimalist?

Before we get started, I just want to clarify what a minimalist is because I think there are some common misconceptions.

Contrary to popular belief, minimalism is not about living life with as few possessions as possible—or at least, this isn’t the belief I subscribe to.

Instead, my definition of minimalism is rooted in intentionality and alignment.

I define a minimalist as someone who chooses to be intentional with what they allow in their life. This often refers to physical stuff, but it can also refer to people, tasks, or even ideas.

Overall, the purpose of a minimalist life is to have more of what matters and less of what doesn’t. It’s simple (but not always easy!).

Related Post: What Is Minimalism + Why Is Everyone Talking About It

A Tale of Too Much Stuff

Now on to my minimalist story. Let’s start at the beginning.

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.

(For some perspective, when I was a ten-year-old Girl Scout, 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. I was an awkward Asian child in a predominantly white town, and buying trendy clothes from the local mall helped me feel like I fit in (which at the time was what I wanted more than anything else in the world).

However, unlike most of the teenagers I knew, I worked all the time.

My grandparents owned a Chinese restaurant, and I can’t even remember when I officially started working because it was simply part of my childhood. Hard work was normal in my family, and by the time I was sixteen, I had a second job at a local pizza parlour.

I worked nearly 40 hours a week while attending high school full-time. I was constantly exhausted, and I developed the dangerous mindset of believing that I deserved stuff as a reward for all my hard work.

I was still a few years away from adulthood, but the seeds were planted. I was on my way to becoming a full-blown shopaholic and workaholic.

Torn Between Two Worlds

When I turned 18, I doubled down on my existing lifestyle. I moved to a new city for college and stubbornly decided that I wouldn’t live like a student.

I refused student housing, scoffed my head at the idea of living with roommates and instead, signed a lease on a tiny studio apartment on the edge of town. I then went on a shopping spree, maxing out my credit cards to furnish my new home.

Of course, this meant I needed two jobs to afford it all. Now I was working 70+ hours a week in addition to my full-time course load. I had very few friends and almost no social life; my only real joy in life was shopping.

Then one day, a chance encounter changed my life. I had a random conversation with an overseas student at a restaurant where I was working. He told me all about his travels around the world: exploring European cities, hiking in South America, and lazing on Thai beaches.

My mind was completely blown. I had no idea that travel was a possibility for young people like me … but now, ideas were racing through my mind.

To make a very long story short, he inspired me to travel too. At 22, I sold almost everything I owned and bought a one-way plane ticket to London. I had no idea what I was doing, but I ended up travelling around the world for several years, eventually moving to Australia.

It was a life-changing experience, and for several years, everything I owned fit neatly into a backpack … so one would assume that this was when my life as a minimalist began.

Unfortunately, I chose a very different path.

Old Habits Die Hard

By the time I reached Australia, I’d been on the road for nearly three years. I was a newly married woman and also newly bereaved, having lost my brother and father in separate incidents that same year.

I was ten thousand miles from home, and what I wanted more than anything was stability—I wanted to feel comfortable, familiar and safe—so I turned to old habits: shopping and working.

Before long, I was living in an overflowing three-bedroom apartment and working 70+ hour weeks. History was repeating itself …

Except for this time, something in my gut kept nagging at me, and I felt torn. On the one hand, I desperately missed travelling and the freedom I’d felt on the road.

But on the other hand, a voice in my head said, “Enough, Jen!”.

I told myself that the fun was over and that it was time to be a real adult and get to work. Shopping was OK, but travel was irresponsible.

For the next few years, I struggled with this inner tug of war, and at one stage, I even managed to escape. I travelled around the world for another year by myself and returned to Australia, intending to finally make some real changes.

But again, I didn’t. I came home, and it was all the same, all over again.

So I gave in. I bought a house, I found a “better” job and resigned myself to my life. I worked more, shopped more, and as each year passed, I got better and better at ignoring that feeling in my heart that something wasn’t right.

A woman reaching for a tan coloured hat that's hanging on a wall hook.

An Introduction To A Minimalist Life

I couldn’t see it at the time, but when I look back now, it’s clear that I was torn between two sets of beliefs.

There was a part of me that wanted desperately to be a “successful” woman with a big home, a fancy job title, and all the things that I’m sure my grandparents dreamed of when they packed up their entires lives and emigrated to America.

And speaking of my grandparents—they worked 365 days a year, every year until they retired in their late 60’s. Who was I to complain about a 70-hour workweek when I had so much good fortune in my life?

Yet … I also felt trapped and disillusioned. I wanted something more out of life, but to be honest, I had no idea where or how to begin looking.

After all, where was I going to go? I had a mortgage, a car loan, a mountain of credit card debt and a hundred pairs of shoes to look after (and that was just the tip of the iceberg). There was no time, money, energy, or space even to consider my options, so I stayed stuck.

Until one day, I randomly stumbled across a few blogs about minimalism.

The first was Rowdy Kittens (at the time a blog about living in a tiny home) and then Miss Minimalist, a kind but authoritative voice who lived happily with her minimal possessions.

These minimalist blogs fascinated me, and I became obsessed with reading stories of 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 tried to imagine what my life might look like as a minimalist, but it felt like an impossible dream.

Still, I couldn’t help wondering how different my life would be without so much stuff and so many bills. The possibilities were endless: I could work less, I could choose a new career (based on my interests instead of my payscale), I could go on more adventures, I could finally take yoga classes, I could travel, visit family, paint … the list went on and on.

I realised that obsessing over minimalist blogs every night wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I had to start “walking the talk”, and I decided to give minimalism a try …

But let me be honest—not much changed at first. I did a few rounds of decluttering, but I didn’t accomplish very much. I was still shopping, working crazy hours, and was still deep in debt.

It turns out that it’s hard to change the habits and mindsets of a lifetime. I wanted something different, but I also wasn’t really ready to let go. Even something as simple as decluttering an old t-shirt felt painful, and sometimes it just felt easier to continue with my old way of living.

Learning How to Be A Minimalist

This continued for several years—I was fascinated by minimalism, and I kept experimenting with decluttering, but I could not make any significant long-term changes.

I felt pretty stuck, and to be 100% honest with you, there was a part of me that started to wonder if minimalism was really worth pursuing.

Fortunately (although it didn’t feel like a good fortune at the time!), a series of events happened that changed the course of my minimalist life.

It’s another long story, but I turned 30, and my life started to unravel. Within a six-month period, my marriage ended; I sold most of my belongings, gave up my home, quit my job, and crash-landed on my mother’s couch.

It was chaotic and stressful, but at the same time, I had just enough self-awareness to recognise this as a rare opportunity. All of the stuff that had held me down was suddenly gone. I was starting over, and my future was laid out before me.

It was time to ask myself, “What kind of life do I really want for myself?”.

I started to really explore my values and dreams and my fears and insecurities— and this self-reflection was the missing piece of the puzzle.

Finally, everything began to fall into place. I realised that minimalism was a tool to help me achieve my dreams. I stopped viewing it as a restrictive lifestyle and instead as a choice to live the life I want most.

I began to untangle my sense of self from my productivity and my possessions. I was learning how to be a minimalist—from the inside out—and finally, everything began to change.

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 my wardrobe is smaller than most. I still own a few too many pairs of shoes, but I’m finding that I’m not replacing them as they wear out.

I own stuff—my husband collects records, I have art supplies, and my daughter has toys—but we all live comfortably in a 660 square foot apartment.

I broke a life-long addiction to mindless shopping, and I no longer waste entire afternoons browsing the shops. I go weeks and sometimes even months without buying anything new, and it’s not hard to do.

I’ve learned how to be happy with what I have and how to genuinely stop wanting or needing more.

Over the course of nearly a decade, I’ve gone from working full-time at a job I hate, to working part-time by choice, to finally being self-employed and setting my own terms. I’m now a full time minimalist blogger, and I also teach decluttering courses.

After living paycheque to paycheque for most of my adult life, I’m debt-free, and I have savings. Minimalism transformed my financial life too.

But you know what? Despite all these outward changes, the way I feel is what really strikes me about my life as a minimalist.

There is a lightness of spirit, a sense of hope, and a feeling of freedom and ease that I can feel in my bones. Life’s not perfect by any means, but I’m actually living my life—good and bad—instead of numbing myself in the shops and at the office.

I feel like I’m finally able to move through the world as my true self.

How to Live With Less + Write Your Own Minimalist Story

If my story has inspired you to learn more, here are a few tips to help you achieve your own minimalism goals.

First, I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter and get your free copy of Mindful Decluttering, my free decluttering guide and workbook.

Next, take some time to understand why your life is busy and cluttered in the first place. I also recommend learning more about your core values—because the more you know about what matters to you, the easier it is to see what doesn’t.

Finally, check out one of these popular posts for further inspiration:

Do you identify as a minimalist? What does your road to minimalism look like?

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66 thoughts on “How I Became a Minimalist: My Story of Living with Less”

  1. That was a very interesting story Jennifer! They should make your life a movie! I really enjoyed your honesty.
    I feel like many people underestimate how much of a process minimalism is. It isn’t going to happen fast. It takes time to be ready and see the benefits of keeping life simple because all the messages we receive from the outside world are that we need more to successful, secure, and happy. It’s not till you truly want freedom that you can start to really achieve minimalism.

    Reply
    • A movie? Hehe, that made me smile 🙂 And I 100% agree with everything you said. You might be able to declutter quickly, but I think very few people are capable of making a lifestyle change overnight. Thanks for reading! x

      Reply
  2. Hello!

    I am a third year student currently working on my dissertation which explores how excess has pushed consumers to wanting less. I am seeking for industry experts to answer some quick questions and I’d love to ask you guys some questions, I’d be honoured. Please let me know, if you are interested. Thanks Elizabeth 🙂

    Reply
  3. I really related to this article.
    I was torn between two cultures – dreaming of a free life but also yearning for stability. I attempted minimalism a few times before and would declutter the whole house, but then somehow end up accumulating possessions. I realize now it was because I was just going through the actions without really understanding the core of minimalist as a tool for my life.
    Funnily enough, my marriage ended in 6 months too last year, and now I have an opportunity to get rid of the house and really reflect on how I want to live. I don’t want to go through the cycle of wanting stability and happiness from possessions.
    Thank you for sharing your life in your article. It is so encouraging to know that you made something difficult in life into an opportunity to change from inside and change you whole life from it.

    Reply
  4. Amazing article, thank you for sharing your experience, Jennifer! It is crazy to realize that we are so impacted by consumerism and endless will to acquire new things. I experienced the same situation: full wardrobe of shoes, hundreds of tshirts, multiple phones, cameras, tech – complete madness. And all of this started to suffocate me a little by little. Minimalist helped to unclutter all of the useless things as well as uncover what matters most. Good job, keep it up!

    Reply
    • Thanks Nick! I love how you use the term “suffocate” — this is so accurate and exactly how I felt in my old life! And it is crazy when you come out the other side and realise all the way your stuff keeps you living small. Thanks for reading! ?

      Reply
  5. Wow I am so happy I found you! I have been reading about minimalism and reading Marie Kondo and so on.. but I also always get stuck. I am trying to change my lifestyle and actually live by what I care about the most.. I’ll be definitely browsing through your blog

    Reply

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