Minimalism Before And After: How It Changed My Life

I talk a lot about how “living with less” has changed my life but I don’t often share all the details, so here is my full minimalism before and after story for you.  

This was fun to write because it’s always nice to reflect and see how far you’ve come, don’t you think? 

Life never turns out quite the way you expect it to and that definitely holds true for me. After all, when I started down this path nearly a decade ago, I had no idea what I was in for. 

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 didn’t understand the fundamental ways a minimalist lifestyle would change me.

It goes far beyond my closet, my home and my finances … my career, my family and perhaps most importantly, even my beliefs have changed too. 

Here are all the details of my life, before and after minimalism.

Title "Minimalism Before And After" in white box with minimalist living room in the background.

My Home Before Minimalism

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

In the years before minimalism, I lived in a reasonably sized two-bedroom townhome. I don’t know exactly how big it was; probably small by American standards but it was definitely more space than I needed. 

I should have been very comfortable there … but I wasn’t. 

Instead, my home was overflowing with clutter and it was a constant source of anxiety. I struggled to shut my closet door, I had to shuffle papers and who-knows-what every time I sat down for a meal, and I was constantly tripping over things.

(Probably shoes—after all, I had more than a hundred pairs!) 

I felt overwhelmed and at the time, I thought it was because my house was such a mess. I was always cleaning yet somehow, the job was never done. There was just too much to keep up with. 

It wasn’t fun but I can see now that it was only the tip of the iceberg. Constant cleaning was a pain but the real cause of my never-ending stress and anxiety was the clutter in my mind

You see, the real problem with too much stuff isn’t with your physical possessions; instead, 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 my closet: “Why don’t you wear me anymore?
  • A rarely used sewing machine, hidden in the corner: “When are you going to finish that dress you started making last year?
  • Dusty books on shelves, wondering out loud: “Is she ever going to read us again?

It was a constant hum in the back of my mind and I was never at ease in my home. (At least, not without using TV or social media to escape from the world.) My stuff was asking tough questions and I didn’t have the answers. 

I didn’t know who I was or what I believed in, and I wasn’t ready to do the work. Instead, it was easier to keep my stuff hidden under the bed or in the back of my closet. 

Out of sight, out of mind—right? 

Unfortunately not. I learned the hard way that the things you own either contribute to or take from your life. There is no middle ground and my possessions were slowly robbing me of peace of mind.

My Home After Minimalism

It took me a few years but by 2013, I had significantly downsized my home. 

I was living in a 140 square foot studio apartment and those “last few boxes” were finally gone. Everything I owned fit easily into the back of my tiny Toyota hatchback. 

I felt clutter-free at last—and even though I’ve since grown my family and upsized to a two-bedroom apartment—that same “clutter-free” feeling has stayed with me over the years. 

This is what “after” minimalism looks and feels like:

As you probably expect, there are practical advantages to having a minimalist home. A small space is easier to clean and it’s a great knowing that everything has its place.

Tidying is mostly stress-free … a toddler does make things more challenging … but I still go to bed most nights feeling happy about the state of my home.

Even if I let things slide for a few days, it’s not a problem. I know that I can get caught up in a few hours and I never have that feeling of complete overwhelm that used to be all too familiar. 

But that’s not all that’s changed. The biggest difference is how I feel when I walk in the front door. 

Before minimalism, I felt suffocated. My home felt like a heavy weight on my shoulders … but everything is different now. 

Instead of feeling like a burden or a source of stress, my home is now a blissful retreat that actively supports me and gives me exactly what I need. It’s somewhere I can go to relax and recharge and I feel rejuvenated instead of drained. 

This shift was unexpected because honestly, before minimalism I didn’t even know it was possible. But now, I can’t imagine living any other way.

DO YOU WANT TO CLEAR THE CLUTTER FROM YOUR HOME?

If you need some help clearing the clutter from your home, then I invite you to download your copy of Mindful Decluttering, my free decluttering guide and workbook. 

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My Life Before Minimalism

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

Next, let’s move beyond the “home” and talk about my life before minimalism—and in order to do that, I need to talk about intentional living. 

If you’re not familiar with the term, intentional living means living on purpose. It’s knowing WHY you’re doing things and being happy with the answers (or if not, feeling empowered to change). 

It’s a simple concept but one that I completely overlooked before minimalism. 

I used to make major decisions about my life—everything from my relationships to my career and my finances—without ever questioning the motivation for my decisions. 

Instead, I was content to live on auto-pilot, letting the momentum of life carry me along. More often than not, I made choices simply because it’s “what everyone else was doing” and I just assumed that my life should follow the status quo. 

  • 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 again, and perhaps unsurprisingly—I wasn’t very happy with my choices. I felt stuck and trapped in my life.

A minimalist living room with a yellow sofa and a simple coffee table

My Life After Minimalism

So now, let’s return to my life after minimalism and invite you to consider this…

When you declutter your home, you make a lot of decisions about what to keep and what to let go of. You might struggle at first but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Whether you realise it or not, you get better at asking important questions. 

For example, let’s imagine that you own five pairs of jeans but you only want to keep one pair. You’d probably start by thinking about what you need from your jeans by asking questions, such as:

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

Next, you’d probably reflect on your answers and make an intentional decision about which pair to keep. It makes sense, right? 

If you’re decluttering your entire home, then you’re going to repeat this process over and over and over again … And before you know it, your brain will start to think differently about decision-making. 

At least, this is what happened in my life. 

It started in my home—I spent a lot of time questioning the value of my stuff—but then it spread to everything else. 

My time, my relationships, my money, everything.

MY CAREER BEFORE + AFTER MINIMALISM

Let’s look at an example of this mindset shift in action: my career. 

You can read the full story of how minimalism has influenced my career but here’s a quick summary:

  • Before minimalism, I spent a lot of 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, stopped mindless 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 matter to me and I had only been chasing it because I thought I was supposed to.
  • I gave myself permission to step back and do what felt right for me, even if it meant challenging the status quo.
  • I quit my secure, full-time job and started doing casual, short-term assignments instead. This flexibility allowed me to travel around the world and to start this blog.
  • Blogging led to various opportunities and now my blog is my only source of income. 

Admittedly, it took years for all these changes to occur (it definitely wasn’t an overnight change) but I’m 100% sure that if it wasn’t for minimalism, I’d still be stuck at step one: trapped in a job I hate.

More Minimalism Before And Afters

If you want to know more about my life before and after minimalism, check out:

My Hopes + Dreams

Finally, I  couldn’t hit publish without addressing the most important thing minimalism has changed in my life: my hopes and dreams. 

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 an amazing adventure (like moving overseas alone at age 22).

But somewhere along the way, as my life became busy and 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. I told myself to grow up and slowly began to accept that life wasn’t always going to be a great adventure.

There is where I was when minimalism found me: a little hopeless and very stuck. I was living on autopilot and just going through the motions of life. Without my dreams to inspire me, I felt suffocated and trapped.

But then slowly, as I decluttered my life, my old self reappeared! 

Looking back, I know I’m not exaggerating when I say that minimalism gave me my life back. I’m not that far from 40 now but honestly, I feel as hopeful and optimistic about my future as I did in my early twenties. 

I don’t have everything figured out—not by a long shot—but after minimalism, I know in my heart that I’m finally living true to myself. It genuinely feels like anything is possible. 

Resources for Minimalist Living

If you enjoyed this post, then here are some resources to help you get started with minimalist living:

Has minimalism changed your life? What does your before and after story look like? Let us know in the comments!

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29 thoughts on “Minimalism Before And After: How It Changed My Life”

  1. Hi. I’ve read that clutter is a sign of emotional issues. My mom Was not brought up in a supportive home and therefore could not teach me how to live more joyfully. But as I am now moving through my life I’ve become aware that I get to make choices of what works and doesn’t work for me. As it is about gratitude but the things that we have. It is about 130 it’s OK for me to make choices that work for me.

    This article really resonated with me as I am in the process of growing. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hi Christian! I can’t speak for everyone but I do have Christmas decorations: a small tree, a stocking for my daughter, and a stuffed Santa 🙂 For me, it’s just “enough” to put me in the holiday spirit without adding any stress or anxiety.

      I will add that before I had my daughter, I didn’t have any decorations and my favourite Christmas ever was actually spent on a remote island and was very minimalist! https://www.simplyfiercely.com/christmas-on-great-keppel-island/

      But things change with time and I’m okay with that. Minimalism is not one size fits all 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

      Reply
    • Personally for Christmas decorations, I have one box, and when that’s full, we don’t acquire more decorations. I have a small tree about three feet tall and stockings and one string of lights. Everything else is a tree ornament because we downsized all our tabletop ornaments.

      My mom has a habit of giving me ornaments without warning, so now that she knows we can’t have any more, she has been good about excluding me from her Christmas shopping.

      Reply
  2. 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!

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  3. 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 :)?

    Reply
    • 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 https://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

      Reply
  4. 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

    Reply
  5. 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!

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  6. 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!

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  7. 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. ❤️

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  8. 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

    Reply
  9. 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

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  10. “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! 🙂

    Reply
  11. “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.

    Reply
    • 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 🙂

      Reply

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